The Port of Nome extends into the Bering Sea. As sea ice disappears across the Arctic, this small city of about 3,800 people could become home to America's northernmost deepwater port.
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Gay Sheffield, state marine biologist and Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agent for the Bering Strait region, holds the body of a common murre in Nome, Alaska. The bird was found by a resident of the village of Diomede, and sent to her to help track the extent of seabird dieoffs in the Bering Strait region. Seabirds like murres have been dying rapidly as the ocean warms and their food sources are depleted. "Feel it," she says, handing me a pair of gloves and pointing to a point on the bird's breast where I feel nothing but bone. "It's not supposed to be like this."
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A pile of Russian and Korean trash, sent in voluntarily from Alaskan village residents throughout the Bering Strait region, is displayed on the table of a science lab in Nome, Alaska. Gay Sheffield, state marine biologist and Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agent for the Bering Strait region, explains that the increase of Arctic shipping, made possible by melting sea ice, is contributing to a huge increase in trash washing ashore on Alaskan beaches. Dumping trash overboard is in violation of international law, she explains; and judging by the excellent condition of the trash—paper labels still attached, and food still contained in jars—it appears to be recent. "The ocean is where people's food is," she explains, speaking of the dozens of Alaska Native villages in the region that depend on a subsistence lifestyle. "We didn't used to sea this stuff, and now we do. Picture a beluga swimming through that."
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Sunrise illuminates a large ship off the coast of Nome, Alaska, viewed through a gap in the jetty of its existing port. As sea ice disappears across the Arctic, this small city of about 3,800 people could become home to America's northernmost deepwater port. In December 2020, Congress authorized an expansion of the existing port to accommodate increases in Arctic ship traffic, while positioning the United States to respond to the increasing foreign presence in the Arctic.
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Diana Haecker, editor of the Nome Nugget newspaper, flips through her archives to show the numerous climate change-related stories published by the newspaper during the past few years. Established in 1899 as Alaska's first newspaper, this small weekly paper has been reporting on the effects of climate change in the Bering Strait region for decades. It is the primary news source for Nome and 15 surrounding communities in the Bering Strait and Norton Sound regions of Alaska; the only news outlet with reach to nearly every village in the region.
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An early September morning on the streets of Nome, Alaska. Alaska. As the climate warms in the Bering Sea region, melting permafrost has already caused many houses in Nome to tilt, as the once-solid ground below them gives way.
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Nome resident Jeff Russell loads a pickup truck with moose meat after a successful hunt by bush plane. Subsistence is a way of life for many who live in Nome.
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An abandoned gold dredger sits in the tundra behind Nome, Alaska. The present-day city of Nome was established as a result of the gold rush that brought thousands of prospectors in the early 1900s. Gold is still mined there today, primarily with offshore dredges.
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Musk oxen graze among coastal subsistence cabins near Nome, Alaska. These arctic ungulates, survivors from the Pleistocene, were reintroduced to Alaska (from Greenland) in 1930 after initially being hunted out in the 1920s. Musk oxen are a common sight near Nome, where they graze on lawns and enjoy relative protection from predators by remaining close to human activity. In recent years, musk oxen have been legal to hunt if they drift away on sea ice floes as it breaks up—as their chances of surviving the swim to shore are poor.
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A subsistence camp faces the shore of Safety Sound, Alaska. This protected lagoon near Nome has been an important hunting, fishing and gathering ground to the Inupiaq for millennia—favored for its protected waters and rich migratory bird life. Today, contemporary subsistence camps line its shore.
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The coastline of Norton Sound, Alaska.
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Inupiaq writer Laureli Ivanoff waits for her son on the windswept shore of Unalakleet, Alaska. Much of Ivanoff's work focuses on life in rural Alaska, Indigenous perspectives, and climate change. Ivanoff explains that climate change is threatening some of her community's most important subsistence traditions, especially the annual hunt for ugruk (bearded seal). She described a profound sense of loss that her son, already passionate about hunting at age 3, may never have the chance to hunt for seal if sea ice continues to disappear.
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Boats used for hunting and fishing line the shore of a slough in Unalakleet, Alaska. This rural community of approximately 600 people lies between three cultural groups: Yup'ik, Inupiaq, and Athabaskan. Located on the shores of Norton Sound, this community has traditionally relied on subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering for millennia. Today, climate change is impacting how people can access local food sources and continue their traditions. Due to the increased risk of erosion, the community is in the gradual process of relocating to higher ground.
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Elder Betty Anagick, 94, models a tradtional Inupiaq parka sewn by her great-grandmother outside her home in Unalakleet, Alaska. Anagick says that the climate has changed noticably in her lifetime.
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As a group of his friends wait outside, a boy exits a convenience store in Unalakleet, Alaska.
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The sun rises through the window of a Bering Air flight from Nome to Unalakleet, Alaska.