Responding to the housing crisis in the Arctic: A transdisciplinary approach across physical, natural, and social systems


Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) is one of NSF's 10 Big Ideas. NNA projects address convergence scientific challenges in the rapidly changing Arctic. The Arctic research is needed to inform the economy, security and resilience of the Nation, the larger region and the globe. NNA empowers new research partnerships from local to international scales, diversifies the next generation of Arctic researchers, and integrates the co-production of knowledge. This award fulfills part of that aim.

The housing conditions of Alaska Natives are significantly less developed compared to other parts of the United States. Such conditions result in poorer ventilation and indoor air quality, both of which negatively impact the health of the occupants. Additionally, housing durability is threatened by biophysical changes occurring as a result of climate change-driven permafrost thaw and erosion. The combination of issues that threaten household health emphasizes the critical need to consider housing risks and solutions using a holistic research methodology that rely on multiple disciplines and local knowledge unique to a community. This planning project aims to form a research team that consists of experts in diverse fields that collectively partner with communities to address the complex issues of housing in the Arctic. This research addresses the root causes of the housing crisis by bridging the divide between disciplines and communities to identify culturally appropriate solutions of housing challenges in Alaska. As a result, this project contributes to a more comprehensive and complete understanding of housing vulnerability. The collaborative and community-centered nature of this research develops an understanding of housing vulnerability grounded in the priorities and needs of communities, thus improving the sustainability of resulting programs and policies.

The overall goal of this research is to form a multi-disciplinary research team that is fully prepared to assess and identify housing vulnerabilities in two Alaska Native communities using a community-based research methodology. In this research, housing vulnerability is described as the housing susceptibility to biophysical changes (e.g., permafrost thaw and erosion) and household exposure to substandard living conditions (e.g., poor thermal comfort, poor ventilation). The team of researchers includes experts in physical systems (geotechnical, energy and thermal performance), natural systems (atmospheric sciences, erosion) and social systems (sociology, psychology). Throughout the proposed two-year timeline, the research team will strategically organize a series of events to work towards this goal, including: (1) Planning Grant Kick-off Meeting; (2) Need Assessment Study in two Alaska Native communities using Community-based Participatory Research; (3) Workshop in two Alaska Native communities; (4) Curriculum design and implementation on Arctic Resilient Housing and Communities; and (5) Planning Grant Summary Meeting.

Logistics Summary

This project will assess housing vulnerabilities and identify culturally appropriate solutions to these vulnerabilities in two communities in Alaska (Oscarville and Point Lay) using a community-based research methodology. For this project, vulnerability is described as the housing susceptibility to biophysical changes (e.g. permafrost thaw and erosion) and household exposure to substandard living conditions (e.g. poor thermal comfort, poor ventilation). Background research will include climate modeling using historical and future weather data and photogrammetry along selected stream corridors to conduct measurements on the rate of channel streambank failures occurring due to increasing flows. In addition, a research team of 5 will collect and analyze the soil temperature data from 78 Transportable Arrays (TA) from the EarthScope stations. EarthScope TA is a dense network of established seismic stations. Data collection will include interviews and surveys with household members in Oscarville, Alaska and Point Lay, Alaska. The interviews with household members will seek to identify their perspectives on the relationship between household vulnerability and social health. Prior to the interviews, the research team will build relationships with the Elders and tribal councils and share the feasibility of the sampling methods. Due to travel restrictions related to COVID-19, the planned travel for face-to-face interviews has been postponed to 2021. In 2020 researchers will conduct work virtually and conduct a preliminary needs assessment of the current house stock using existing data from the Cold Climate Housing Research Center. In addition, in 2021, a field team of five will conduct a workshop in these native communicates to create opportunities for knowledge exchange between stakeholders and for increasing understanding and interest of the complexity of the housing crisis.

Season Field Sites:

2020 Alaska - Oscarville

2020 Alaska - Point Lay

2021 Alaska - Oscarville

2021 Alaska - Point Lay

Project PI(s)
Other Research Location(s)
Oscarville, Alaska
Point Lay, Alaska
Project Start Date
Jan 2020
Award Year
Funding Track