J7.1 Understanding climate change: a dialogue between natural science and indigenous communities in Alaska

Thursday, 27 January 2011: 8:30 AM
4C-4 (Washington State Convention Center)
Nicole Herman-Mercer, USGS, Boulder, CO; and S. Koester and P. F. Schuster

Although the concept of climate change is straight forward, the many ways that it may manifest itself in different regions is complex. The complexities arise from the various feedback mechanisms that may be put into motion as the planet warms, making predictions difficult using strictly natural science techniques. One approach to better understand these complexities is to focus on climate change in a particular region as described by the experiences of the Indigenous community. In the spring of 2009, with the help of colleagues from the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, the U. S. Geological Survey undertook qualitative research in the villages of St. Mary's and Pitka's Point, Alaska, which lie in the Yukon River Basin. Interviews were conducted with residents to elicit their experiences and perceptions of change in the plants and animals of the region as well as the rivers (Yukon and Andreafsky) and the region's weather. The goal of this research was to link the experiences of Indigenous residents with findings from the natural sciences. The coupling of these two approaches allowed us to understand how scientific findings supporting a warming arctic and sub-arctic climate played out on the ground in real people's lives. We found that not only did the experiences and observations of the people of St Mary's and Pitka's Point confirm the findings of natural science literature, they pointed out impacts of climate change that could not be captured through natural science methods. We found that the people of St Mary's and Pitka's Point were experiencing a variety of issues related to climate change such as economic welfare, cultural preservation, and food security; owing to shifting of animal populations, and safety in terms of travel, which is achieved by traveling the ice on the river the majority of the year.
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