Developing Arctic village resilience to changes in the water cycle, river systems, and coasts


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 Arctic is responding rapidly to global climate change, which is driving Arctic temperature increases at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. Sea ice is retreating, permafrost is thawing, sea level is rising, and the timing of precipitation cycles in rain and snow are changing. As the Arctic continues to warm, it is essential that scientists and Arctic residents develop plans that holistically consider how communities might adapt to changes in their physical world.This new warmer Arctic presents challenges to Arctic peoples and ecosystems as traditional ways of life are altered. Adaptation requires knowledge of how, and at what rate, the Arctic is changing. To do so, this project will deepen existing partnerships with Arctic people in western coastal Alaska through the Alaska Native Tribal Health Council (ANTHC) and to collaborate with communities at risk. The research will grow a comprehensive view of community needs and prepare community members for responding to three important areas of concern to society: the impact of a changing climate on municipal water use; the impacts of coastal erosion and river derived sediment delivery to harbor facilities, infrastructure, and health; and the future of access to abundant and clean community water resources.

This planning process will set the foundation for a larger project in the future. While the content and intellectual merit of this future science plan is purposefully not set given the need for community planning and dialogue, it is expected that the three focus areas will yield hypotheses and science goals that will answer important open science questions, while at the same time serving local communities and other stakeholders looking to the future. This planning process will identify new and exciting science questions as conceived by Arctic residents based on their own knowledge and observations. The approach is to hold four hub workshops in Alaska (2 in Bethel; 2 in Kotzebue) allowing local residents to express their concerns and desired science goals. The researchers will invite residents and other stakeholders from as many as 30 regional villages and subsistence camps to engage with the researchers to identify key concerns, threats and opportunities for resilience. The researchers will then use the intersection of societal needs and the scientific method to develop an integrated plan that both addresses emerging issues but also serves to build capacity (skills, knowledge, tools, equipment) in the hubs and villages as the Arctic continues to change in the coming decades. This phase one planning period will include direct training and support of multiple community members from each village, especially young people, empowering them to take charge of their own science as they navigate their own New Arctic.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Logistics Summary

Beginning in spring of 2020, a field team of 3 in partnership with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) will conduct two workshops at each of two community hubs in remote Alaska (Bethel and Kotzebue), and then one culmination meeting in Anchorage. The purpose of the Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) meetings are to address issues around potable water, water sanitation, and needed infrastructure as conditions change in the Arctic. In addition to preparing for a much larger study involving the needs and hazards facing communities in western and northwestern Alaska.

Principal Investigators

Co-Principal Investigators

Research Collaborator(s)

Project PI(s)
Funded Institutions
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Alaska Pacific University
Other Research Location(s)
Kotzebue, Alaska
Bethel, Alaska
Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska
Coastal Alaska
Project Start Date
Sep 2019
Award Year
Funding Track