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Cold Comfort: Arctic Communities

Shishmaref, Alaska, is a town of 600 people, located on a small barrier island off the northwest coast of Alaska. This island is going through an erosion process put on steroids by climate change. Loss of sea ice and permafrost thaw mean the coastline is being worn away, bringing the cold Arctic water closer and closer each year, circling this village in an ever-tighter noose. When a major storm hit Shishmaref in 2005, the town became a poster child for climate change in the Arctic. Dramatic pictures of houses falling into the sea showed up in news outlets around the world. But climate change isn’t the only threat this community is facing — to truly understand why Shishmaref is at risk, you have to start way before that storm.