Overview: The Arctic is responding most rapidly to climate warming in the face of altered earth system processes at the global scale. This ‘New’ Arctic presents grand challenges to peoples and ecosystems as traditional rhythms of life are altered across the geosphere and biosphere: sea ice is retreating, permafrost is thawing, sea level is rising, and terrestrial hydrologic cycles are changing their timing. These geophysical challenges require detailed and innovative study, leveraging Indigenous knowledge, fieldwork and satellite observations. As we Navigate this New Arctic, it is essential that we chart a course that holistically considers both the physical world and human dimensions of these new realities. Accordingly, any rigorous study of the New Arctic must be grounded in the lived experience and self-determination of its inhabitants and provide opportunity for people to take ownership over their own short- and long-term response to these grand challenges. Therefore, this research proposal embraces the Yupik and Cup’ik cultural relationship with the changing phases of water (“meq”) in the Arctic environment of the outer Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, including the impact of rising sea level, coastal erosion, river flooding, permafrost collapse and its impact on traditional ecosystem services as well as safe and sustainable water and sanitation infrastructure. Following on from an NNA planning grant, we have deepened existing partnerships with Arctic people in Mekoryuk and Kongiganak, through collaboration with the Alaska Pacific University/Alaska Native Tribal Health Council (ANTHC). We have coproduced new dialogues with communities at risk to emerging environmental threats caused by climate change. Specifically, the goal of this proposal is to join traditional knowledge systems with western science tools to quantify the rate of landscape change in an uncertain Arctic future and evaluate how this change impacts long range planning to meet regional needs for sustainable livelihoods and infrastructure. We also plan to use these data in partnership with the Alaskan regulatory ecosystem and other NNA projects to suggest changes in structural barriers faced by underserved communities in Alaska.
Intellectual Merit: This research proposal embraces five of the six key elements driving the Navigating the New Arctic Program with actionable science. Using the holistic role of water in all of its forms in the Yupik/Cup’ik culture, we seek a shared convergence of new knowledge of the relationship between people and a moving/evolving landscape caused by global warming. We plan to co-produce data and observations to converge on the interplay of how permafrost and landscape change, including flooding and erosion threaten already outdated approaches to water and sanitation. Our approach is intellectually linked to both formal and informal education in the villages of Mekoryuk and Kongiganak, but also builds and integrates new scholars from the Alaska Pacific University (a Tribal university) in careers in environmental sustainability, community engagement, and climate communication. Our work sharing Indigenous knowledge through an Indigenous educational philosophy and the newest scientific approaches will provide a means of forecasting the outcome or rates of landscape change that will not only inform our partner communities planning for future water/sanitation infrastructure but also provide a predictive framework for similar communities over the coming decades in contrasting deltaic mud and bedrock foundation systems.
Broader Impact: Our NNA project is aimed specifically at actionable science, documenting and forecasting landscape and seascape changes over the coming decades that directly impact ecosystem services essential to Arctic communities. Our research plan involves a partnership with village communities to use village-based internships and training as a means to develop futuristic village leadership on environmental change. We value the opportunity to train leaders from village youth to look forward and advocate for change in understanding barriers to state and federal funding related to governance and clarifying a proactive plan building village resilience beyond the funding of this proposal. Post-doctoral fellows from both UMass and UAF along with students from APU, a tribal college, will provide a means of tiered mentoring reaching out to village high school students and village residents. Arctic art and culture are intrinsically related with landscape and we propose programs involving high school education as well as the emotional expression of environmental challenges using a Photo voice program and village mural program. We are committed to using our project with other NNA projects to develop a dialog concerning barriers to underserved communities and developing a voice for future residents.