Oral histories highlight Alaskans’ climate change observations for World Ocean Day

wreckage of buildings at a fish camp in Nome, Alaska
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Edwards, FEMA
Fish camp near Nome impacted by Typhoon Merbok in September 2022.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program and the National Park Service have created a series of web articles to highlight World Ocean Day June 8. 

The articles, "Conversations About Change," focus on changing ice and ocean conditions and other climate change impacts seen by long-term residents and NPS Alaska Region employees in the coastal communities of Skagway and Nome.

UAF’s Project Jukebox recorded conversations in 2018-2019 with more than 20 people who live and work in these two distinct coastal areas. The conversations revealed both similarities and differences in how people in the far-flung locations experience the impacts of climate change on weather, the seasons, ice conditions, permafrost, vegetation and wildlife.

People with deep connections to the land and sea around them are key witnesses to environmental change. Their observations are essential for building a broader understanding of the past, how things are changing, the effects on people, and how to plan for future adaptation. Documenting traditional local knowledge is also critical to interpreting previously collected scientific data.

In one of the featured recordings, Jacob Martin discusses the effects of climate change on people’s homes in Nome.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘Yeah, we can head out earlier, a week earlier next year hunting,’ but sometimes you’re not always thinking of that. You’re thinking, ‘I have a giant puddle under my house and my house might get swallowed by a sinkhole,’” he said. “So it’s very real, because sooner or later things are going to change, and they’re going to change so fast people can’t adapt."

The articles are available on the NPS website, and the oral history recordings can be heard on the Project Jukebox website.

The project was funded by a grant from the NPS Ocean Alaska Science and Learning Center.

ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: UAF Project Jukebox – Karen Brewster, karen.brewster@alaska.edu, 907-474-6672, or Leslie McCartney, lmccartney@alaska.edu; Bering Land Bridge National Preserve – Katie Cullen, kathleen_cullen@nps.gov, 907-434-2263