Community-based Mitigation and Adaptive Strategies for River Flooding and Erosion in Alaska Native Communities


Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) is one of NSF's 10 Big Ideas. NNA projects address convergence scientific challenges in the rapidly changing Arctic. This 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, enhances efforts in formal and informal education, and integrates the co-production of knowledge where appropriate. This award fulfills part of that aim by supporting planning activities with clear potential to develop novel, leading edge research ideas and approaches to address NNA goals. It integrates aspects of the natural environment, built environment, and social systems, and addresses important societal challenges, builds significant educational opportunities, and engages with local and Indigenous communities.

Many Alaska Native (AN) villages located in the Yukon-Kuskokwim (Y-K) Delta in Alaska have been affected by a large number of flooding events due to torrential rains, melting snow packs, and river ice jams causing erosion along riverbanks. Communities have begun developing hazard and adaptation plans, however many communities lack accurate models that are needed to predict flooding and erosion risk. Currently, models required to forecast flooding and erosion in the Y-K Delta are limited, due in part to the minimal data in the region, the large number of rivers, and the lack of monitoring equipment in rural areas. Furthermore, too often climate mitigation strategies do not incorporate local cultures or community priorities; in fact, they often reflect technical decisions only. The need is urgent to identify solutions at the convergence of local knowledge and engineering and scientific approaches. Convergence of field measurements and data with Indigenous knowledge can guide better responses to immediate threats, such as relocating imminently threatened homes away from an eroding shoreline or elevating buildings above flood lines.

This planning grant is the first step toward a long-term goal of addressing flooding and erosion risks in AN villages in the Y-K Delta region. The project creates methodologies and tools at the intersection of hydrologic modeling, soil characterization and Indigenous knowledge; these tools are necessary to protect AN residents from the environmental threats. This project draws from diverse areas of expertise to assemble a team of researchers that bridge distinct areas, including physical and engineering systems (civil engineering), natural and ecological systems (atmospheric sciences, flooding, geomorphology) and social systems (anthropology). The project team trains students, including Alaska Native students, in community-based methods for co-generation and co-production of data and scientific methods. These convergent approaches promise to improve our understanding of hazard mitigation and adaptation planning due to changing Arctic conditions, and commence the assembly of a new research community which is geographically and disciplinarily diverse and integrative.

Logistics Summary

This project aims to understand how researchers and agencies can better support communities in responding to climate change impacts such as flooding and erosion in the Y-K Delta. Through a transdisciplinary approach using social science and quantitative models, this work aims to understand multiple perspectives on the river and how to address issues that impact community wellbeing based on community priorities. A Y-K Delta regional workshop will be conducted in Bethel, AK and semi-structured interviews with community representatives will be conducted in the Y-K Delta in Fall 2022.


NNA Planning: Community-Based Mitigation and Adaptive Strategies for River Flooding and Erosion in Alaska Native Communities
Cassandra Rutherford, Cleo Wolfle Hazard, Kristie Franz, Cristina Poleacovschi, Amelia Wells, Kellie Cutsinger, Pratik Poudel, John Seagrist, Chief Mike Williams Sr., Joel Niemeyer

Here we present preliminary planning work to inform village and regional decision making on mitigation and adaptation strategies. This work has been completed in collaboration with communities on the Kuskokwim River between 2021 and 2022, with the goal of co-generating a research design and approach for a multi-site study integrating local knowledge, Indigenous science, and western science.

Project PI(s)
Funded Institutions
Iowa State University
Other Research Location(s)
Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
Project Start Date
Sep 2021
Award Year
Funding Track