Forces of Change

More at Stake than Land

Melting ice is eroding not just land but a way of life. Coastal erosion is forcing the village of Shishmaref, Alaska, to relocate to the mainland. The price tag could exceed $180 million.

In Shishmaref, Alaska, where food costs are triple those of typical U.S. cities, hunting is an economic necessity. Bearded seals­—the staple of the community’s diet—have become harder to hunt as sea ice has decreased.

Map The M Factory © Smithsonian Institution
At the village’s present site, no places remain to move houses away from the eroding coastline. Other coastal villages may face the same fate. 
Photo © Gary Braasch /
Two Shishmaref residents relax at the site of their former home that was eroded by the sea.
Photo © Bryan and Cherry Alexander Photography