Sustaining Vulnerable Infrastructure

Shishmaref, Alaska

Featured image for the project, Sustaining Vulnerable Infrastructure

Photo courtesy of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve


The Native Village of Shishmaref is located on Sarichef Island, a barrier island in the Chukchi Sea, on the coast of northwestern Alaska. It is a traditional Inupiaq Eskimo village, and home to approximately 500 individuals. Rising temperatures have caused reduction in the sea ice that protected the community’s land from storm surges for hundreds of years. This, combined with thawing permafrost has made the shoreline in the community vulnerable to erosion, particularly during fall storms. One storm can result in 70 feet of erosion on the 1.5-mile wide island.

The community is concerned about the consequences of this erosion for their Sanitation Road, a coastal road 150 feet from Shishmaref Airport (the community’s primary means of connecting to the rest of Alaska). Erosion near and of the road threatens the community’s access to supplies. Although the community is exploring relocation, this road must be kept functional in the coming years. A central question faced by the community is how to build a strategic road that will last?

Shishmaref seeks to coordinate with a scientist to collect and compile information to support siting and protection of the sanitation road. This project will leverage already-existing community resources to improve sea-ice and erosion monitoring in order to better understand options for keeping the road functional in the next years. We envision that modeling coastal erosion and landscape evolution, paired with geotechnical understanding of the local setting, will provide the community of Shishmaref with more power to take ownership of the development process and disaster relieve as they work with FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and Alaska Department of Transportation.

Collaboration with a scientist will grow the community’s access to and ownership of scientific data, and support development of strategies to prevent the road from being compromised. Ultimately the community seeks to build a road that doesn’t need to be rebuilt every 1-2 years. This collaboration will proceed in parallel to road revitalization by FEMA/DOT, providing inputs to that process where feasible.

Project Team

Community Leader

Annie Weyouanna, Local Coordinator, Native Village of Shishmaref



Michele Koppes, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia

Photos and biographies coming soon!