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What Brought Eight Community Leaders to a Scientific Meeting

Think of AGU’s Fall Meeting and the first impression that comes to mind is probably “huge.” Coming in at a close second is probably “science.” So why would community leaders from the far reaches of the Arctic to the marshes of the Louisiana bayou wade into this 24,000-person whirlwind of Earth and space science?

A scientist discusses New Orleans’ 7th Ward with community leader, Angela Chalk

Because they see science as part of the solution to their problems.

Take, for example, the Native Village of Shishmaref. It’s a tiny community located where Alaska meets the sea and where the rubber hits the road when it comes to climate adaptation. The village has seen dramatic impacts of climate change in recent years as sea ice and permafrost melts out from under it and homes fall into the sea.

The village, located on an island, has decided to expand to a new site on the mainland, which will give it surer footing to withstand the changes ahead. But those plans will take some time—and funding—to implement. In the meantime, residents face major challenges from erosion and infrastructure problems that have left them without running water.

Annie Weyiouanna, local coordinator for Shishmaref, came to AGU’s Fall Meeting to see how Earth science expertise could help address the village’s problems.

“I didn’t know something like this can happen to people around the world,” says Weyiouanna. “I hope we figure out something to help our community with erosion, and also with how to bring running water to our community. It would eliminate a lot of health issues that we as a community are dealing with.”

In her view, partnering with scientists also offers the possibility of better leverage. “We are a self-sufficient community, but we also need help with expanding to the new site. I think scientific information would help with the funding part of trying to get what we need for [improving] the quality of life for now, while we are in transition to expand to the new site.” 

Weyiouanna is one of 10 community leaders who joined conversations with TEX and AGU scientists at AGU’s Fall Meeting. Our hope is that these conversations will lead to fruitful projects that will bring real value to communities and their struggles. Please stay tuned for calls for volunteers and partners as these projects move forward!

Participants included a number of Louisiana communities and organizations:

  • 7th Ward/Healthy Community Services, focusing on water management, healthy homes and community education
  • Atakapa-Ishak Tribe, focusing on coastal erosion, sediment control and sea level rise
  • Clairborne Reborn, focusing on air quality, health, stormwater, urban development and community engagement
  • National Food and Beverage Foundation, focusing on food security, water issues and coastal resilience
  • Plaquemines Parish, focusing on air quality, coastal issues, disaster resilience and community engagement
  • Pointe Au Chien Tribe, focusing on coastal erosion, climate change impacts, air quality and youth engagement
  • Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, focusing on vanishing tribal heritage of traditional medicinal, food and fiber plants

They were joined by:

  • Native Village of Shishmaref (Alaska), focusing on coastal erosion and preservation of infrastructure and cultural sites


mgoodwin editor

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