The Effects of Erosion and Sea Level Rise on the Coastal Villages of Newtok and Kivalina

Coastal resilience is the ability in which a city is able to come back from a disaster, and not just react to the threat. The threat we are researching is sea level rise in conjunction with erosion of the coast. Both Kivalina and Newtok are estimated to go under water within ten years, and not much can be done to stop the rising tides of water engulfing the land around these cities.


Coastal resilience is the ability in which a city is able to come back from a disaster, and not just react to the threat. The threat we are researching is sea level rise in conjunction with erosion of the coast. Both Kivalina and Newtok are estimated to go under water within ten years, and not much can be done to stop the rising tides of water engulfing the land around these cities. The aforementioned cities both plan to relocate but lack the required funds to do so. Our intentions are to provide another solution to the cause, while providing more information on the matter to those who don’t know the situations of the towns. Our solution is only to buy time for the towns, while a more permanent solution is found or relocation – whichever occurs first. Global warming, is the most contributing factor to this crisis. It is melting the sea ice to raise the sea level, melting permafrost to ruin the soil, making the storms more intense, and many other negative reactions. The three pre-named factors are causing the two towns to lose coastline exceedingly fast, allowing sea level rise to swallow their cities, and forcing citizens to potentially leave their homes. The Western Coast of Alaska has had its sea level rise over the years, with no reasonable solution to resolve this problem.


Newtok and Kivalina Alaska are about 468 miles apart, yet they face similar issues. Newtok and Kivalina have been dealing with climate change for years, their permafrost is melting, the sea ice is melting and both are washing to the sea. Both these towns struggle with erosion and sea level rise, bringing down morale and dissolving the land – up to 100 feet a year. Newtok and Kivalina are not the only towns facing this issue; in fact, there are hundreds of Alaskan villages/towns facing these issues, wherein most are only able to relocate, not fix the problem

In Kivalina almost every single one of its 450 residents wants to relocate to a place 7 miles north, where they have already begun constructing a school (Mitchel, 10/28/15). Currently, Kivalina is in a harsh position, a barrier island. Without the sea ice, every storm that comes about bashes the coast taking land with every storm surge. Although some of Kivalina’s issues are out of their hands, in 2004 citizens made a mistake: while in construction, they used beach sand to build a new drain system for the city, despite one employee’s objection (UAF journalism)

Newtok is an isolated village with no roads in or out, an Inupiat village of about 354 people. The people are getting tired of media coming in, gathering a story, and then leaving with no new solutions. Newtok also wants to move to an island called Mertarvik. This cost is estimated at $80-130 million. Newtok has already attained the title to the land, and even has added a few houses. Yet, due to a political and legal puzzle, no-one lives there year round. An example of Newtok’s Catch-22 is: for there to be power, there has to be a runway, and for there to be a runway there has to be power (The Atlantic, Aug 30, 2015)

Erosion and sea water rise are both large problems to coastal regions, the coast either falls before the waves, or the land is swallowed by the water. Some towns like Kivalina or Newtok are both in grave danger of either, but with our cumulative ideas we should be able to save the towns or buy more land for them, and at this moment, time is very valuable. We hope that these ideas will be able to spread to other places in similar crisis and that we are able to save those in peril, because more places will slowly be put in danger from similar circumstances. Few methods will work for the aforementioned towns, but we have looked at many solutions, both hard and soft engineering methods. We have provided some information on those things that won’t work for our town but could for others. Moreover, they have the ability to study it more on their own and make a subsequently appropriate course of action.

The Problem

Currently, one of the largest global problems is sea level rise and its associated results. The two greatest causes of sea level rise are thermal expansion and everyone’s favorite, melting ice caps.

The melting continental ice caps over Greenland and Antarctica are the major culprits of sea rise, since they contain 90% of the world’s fresh water. Western Antarctica has been losing 91.5 billion tons of ice every year for the past 20 years. When these 2.2 trillion gallons of water hit the oceans, sea level rise is imminent.

Yet melting ice caps are not the only causes. With global temperature rise, the oceans are heating up, causing thermal expansion. Thermal expansion is the expansion of water as it heats. In reality, most sea level rise is attributable to warmer oceans expanding.

Globally, the average sea level rise is 2.75 mm a year. The sea level is not the same everywhere around the world. In fact, the absolute water level along the west coast of the United States is higher than on the East Coast.

While local sea level may be staying the same, or even decreasing, the world sea level is actually rising. Alaska is a not good measure of sea rise because on almost every coastline the sea level is apparently going down, but only because the land is rising due to tectonic uplift.

But sea level rise is not directly affecting many communities. Indirectly, it is causing increased erosion as water is reaching higher, and eroding softer soil. This is a major problem, which in the short term is going to be more damaging than sea level rise. Already it has caused several communities, many of which are in Alaska, to contemplate relocating. Among the hardest hit are Newtok, in western Alaska, and Kivalina, in northwestern Alaska.

Kivalina is washing away, and its people are scared. Kivalina is washing into the Chukchi Sea not only because permafrost is melting, but also due to man-made mistakes; they used beach gravel to construct a new drain system. Furthermore, sea ice is melting – limiting hunting grounds and storm protection (UAF journalism, n.d.). Additionally, water costs are through the roof, because with no electricity, residents have to haul water from tanks in the middle of town. At 25 cents per 5 gallons, wherein the average American family uses about 400 gallons of water per day (100 gallons per person), for families in the city of Kivalina to stay hydrated and keep with common hygienic standards they could be paying $100 per day. In comparison, most American families spend about $30 per month paying about .0125 cents per 5 gallons. This means the Kivalina people pay around 20 times more than the average American family for water. Hunting has also gone down for Kivalina. In the past, hunters generally got around 80 seals per season; easily enough to feed the town. This year they have gotten 8 seals. (La Times, 8/30/15)

The Ninglick River and Bering Sea push closer and closer, shrinking Newtok every day. With the Earth warming, permafrost is melting, causing Newtok to slowly erode. As soon as this was realized, action was taken, sort of. The Army Corps of Engineers came to the conclusion that the school which is on 20ft could be underwater by 2017 (US Army Corps of Engineers,d n.. ).

Figure 1 (Untitled illustration of Newtok erosion projection (2007) retrieved November 10, 2015 from

The city concluded to move to the area of land called Mertarvik, but with political distress from the council, Stanley Tom botched the plan, causing the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) to take a rare step-in and rule the old council. This confusion froze the funds for the move to Mertarvik, putting the project at a standstill. In Mertarvik, a few houses have been placed although no-one currently lives in them. For a school and a post office to be implemented, there has to be at least 25 families, and no-one wants to move to a place with no school or post office. Also for there to be power, there has to be a runway, but for there to be a runway there has to be power. This move is estimated at a whopping $130 million (thegaurdian, 8/5/13). It has been several years since Newtok has declared their need to move, but little has happened with a high price and many complications both legal and logical. With many years of complications, when reporters and journalist come around a portion of the population just wants to be left alone.

Newtok’s Solution

Newtok is located to the west of Alaska, considered one of the most erosion problems happening now. Newtok is an isolated village with no leading road, there are groups of Native American Indian tribes called the Yupik people, which are living on the Alaska Ninglick River west coast. Understanding, the problem that erosion and flooding is happening in this area the governments have to relocate the people to another place. Newtok have lost about 100 feet a year of land, now the place for hunting, berry picking, and herbs have all been disappearing threatening the lives and live hood of the Native American. Therefore, Army Corps of Engineer believes in a few years Newtok will be underwater in 2017 or 18 depending how fast the erosion of sea level rises.(Semuels, 2015) Relocating the people within a year is going to be a problem. There are about 354 Yupik people living in Newtok, governments haven’t figure out how to relocate the people to another place.(Bronen, (year), n.d. if no date is available) Even a small village such as Newtok a person is about 380,000 meanings, it would cost mostly around 120-30 million to relocate everyone in Newtok to another place.(Dowie, 2011) Due to the erosion the water that is used for drinking, washing clothes, and making food were unhygienic having many infants hospitalized because of affection such as pneumonia.(No name , 2015) Consequently, flooding has already destroyed many homes or a supply property that was used for surviving during winter season. To replace those supplies the governments have to give 50,000 to replace the storage for almost every three to four years. The governments are planning to move the Yupik people to a new place called Mertarvik, located on Nelson Island. Mertarvik has stable ground, plus there will be canal boats for them a place where airplanes can land to support them in winter season for food and supply.(No name, copyright 2012)

Kivalina’s solution

Kivalina is also an isolated island located near the Chukchi Sea on the Arctic Circle northwest of Alaska. Over the years, the ice near the shore have become thin and there are no ways to hunt whales, there have been many global warming happening and if the ice melted the water waves would rise from the shore and come on land. One villager elder have taken notice of the ice melting saying that the ices were used to be 10 to 8 feet deep in the ocean but have become less when he first saw it. The American Corps announced that Kivalina is going to be underwater in 10 years and people are going to be relocated somewhere nearby on an island or somewhere on the coast side of Alaska. More importantly, the governments have not decided for supporting of money to restore or even moving the people. Such cost of huge amount of money would cost up to 150 to 160 million dollars of restoring homes and food storage.(Mooney, no year). People have moved in Kivalina since 1990-2013 and there are about 450 Native Americans who needed help because not only the ice is melting, but erosion is also happening the people get most of their food from the sea meaning if the ice is melting the less food they will get. However, Governments must first find a stabilized land and enough money for the relocation of people. Even the new sites for Kivalina haven’t been decided there is an argument on whether the new relocation be Simiq, Igrugaivik, or Kuugruaq.(Hayes, 2006) Governments have artists around the world to plan the relocation of Kivalina, their plan was to choose a land requiring careful reviews on the new sites, meaning it must have the advantage and disadvantage of the sites and the risk of the future, its construction design, and the land review which included that the Kivalina Native American would be safe in this area. By following these steps the relocation of Kivalina would be a success.(Hayes, 2006)

Possible Solutions

Possible solutions range from having groynes to seawalls, and all of them have varying degrees of success when applied to the right area. Starting with some hard engineering techniques, a sea wall is best described as a bandage, because while it may hold back the waves for a while, the sand it’s built on will be pulled out making it worse. A gabion is simply mesh with rocks on, which will be of little use here, for the waves will end up removing sand still. Revetments are for cliffs, and this is not what we’re dealing with at all. Ripraps are like gabions without the mesh, therefore is even less helpful. Breakwaters are offshore sea walls, they happen to be more effective but are destroyed by storms. An expensive and large tidal barrier simply doesn’t have the resources or space to be able to be effectively built.

Some soft engineering techniques would be one such as beach nourishment, beach nourishment is when you attempt to lengthen a beach with sand or shingle. We could have the opportunity to build sand dunes, but with them being washed away by the waves. Another solution would be to add marshland to the edge of the shore, this would allow the waves to break on the roots and hold land together.

Our Solution

One solution that made the most sense, was to relocate the towns. It will cost 80-130 million U.S. dollars to relocate a town around almost 400 strong, and no precious buildings that will be lost. The money will go to purchasing tools, transportation, materials, and a workforce. This solution, if able to receive the funds, has a 100% chance of succeeding. Our other solution is not as reliable but is usable, we have the devised the option of using groynes and vegetation mats.

The use of groynes would’ve helped protect the length of the beaches, but with vegetation mats, sand won’t be lost as easily. Huge storms and waves would still be able to loosen the vegetation and over pass the groyne to lose beach length, even if a storm hits, no matter what eventually happens large amounts of shores will be lost. A vegetation mat will grow its roots into the dirt and anchor itself and dirt there, therefore letting waves dissipate on the roots of the plants. Any land that isn’t held down will be washed away, and hopefully will be caught by groynes. A rock groyne, while more expensive than a wooden one, will last longer and can be moved if the town is moved to another relocation. It’ll be a joint effort, between both the plants and groynes, the beach loss should be reduced. The town might still have to be relocated, but if our methods work it could save them a dozen years, and time is valuable.

Tools Needed

For the removal of Newtok, The Community Layout Plan (CLP) has settled down on recreating the new place for Newtok. This program has been developing since December until June in 2008 was completed. The remover was set on Mertarvik which is on a high hill away from the edge of water. There will be more home build to fit large amount of families including more space to interact with other person. Also, water pipe will be made to help decrease the amount of water from the sea which causes infections and make people infected causes minor disease for newborn infants. Eventually, there will be storm weathering radar which can contact when storm are happening around the area and detect the system so people could be prepared. Knowing that there will be a storm the CLP will build storage house to keep their supplies and could be a shelter for many people when storm struck. Furthermore, there will be temperature measure under water, it would tell about water rises and anything underwater that would become a threat to the village. There have been plan of making a measuring device which can measure solid land and the water edge around it including rainfall. The reason why this is a problem because heavy rainfall can cause the land to shelf causing erosion. Even land survey would be built to detect how fast the land would be moving every hour. There have been a thought about using Erosion Risk Management Tool (ERMiT) the prediction model of erosion. It was developed to predict the surface erosion and post fire. The model was used to detect deep soil and weathering erosion that is happening in our area (P.R. Robichaud). The removal will be built on a slope which CLP can build roads up and down the mountain making it easier to transport from other places and this cause less road drainage problems. Beside, Native Americans can continue living in their own traditional ways without having to follow every other villages rule. The removal is also based on the sun direction and wind system which can indicate when the erosion will happen. Native Americans can finally farm, which helps decrease their dependency on outside the village. Also, Native American can access fish camps, barge landings, and airports. The CLP is making this dream come true to Native Americans who are living through disaster now.


We have devised up some possible scenarios, and ways that we could be prepared to meet these disasters, whether it’s a storm to a volcanic eruption. Storms have the opportunity to approach from the west from the Bering Sea. Depending the type and size of a storm, the best way to save the population would be to evacuate them, unless the storm is small enough to do minor damage to the coast and housing. Erosion is a major problem to deal with, it has very few options that are affordable and proper for the area. Our solution with the groynes and plants would be the best way to prevent erosion from happening. A way to combat sea level rise would to be a sea wall or some other type of wall to keep the water out, but this then would remove sand, be expensive to repair, expensive to build, and could collapse suddenly flooding the town. If an earthquake doesn’t send a tsunami to annihilate the town, then depending the size of the earthquake the town will be in varying degrees of destruction. Also depending the size, large amounts of beach will fall away and could collapse building into the water. Best way to help the townspeople in this crisis would be alert them very fast and then evacuate them. A tsunami would annihilate the town, and the only way to save them would be to warn them and hope they make it out. There happens to be a volcano within a forty miles from Newtok, therefore there has to be a plan if they happen to erupt. The bad news though is that lava is very hard to stop, and an ash fall will stop transportation from moving very fast. The main way to save the people of the town would be to detect the eruption before it has happened, and move the town people as far as way as possible.


In conclusion, coastal erosion and sea level rise is the worst possible combination for these Alaskan villages to face. Also, since erosion and sea level rise are two of the gravest global warming threats that deal with coastal regions today, we must act before the coast either falls off or is washed away entirely. However, with our collective mind we can still prevent and or stop what is happening. While it is our opinion that relocating Newtok and Kivalina is the best option, it could be argued that this is not the best plan due to high costs. Yet relocating is the best option for most long-lasting solution. If relocating is potentially combined with the afore- mentioned vegetation mats and rock groynes to gain them time to move, relocation has the best chance of succeeding. Thus, it is severely important that we put these solutions into action. So not only do we help our fellow Alaskans, we help our fellow humans. Also, if relocation works like it is planned, then other people will look to our solutions and use them for their own problems. Thus saving many people’s everyday lives as well as possibly improving them.


  1. Alaskan village stands on leading edge of climate change. (n.d.). Retrieved from Powering a Nation website:
  2. Al Gore on the Story of Rising Seas: From Antarctica to Bangladesh. (n.d.). Retrieved from Climate Progress website: rising-seas-antartica-to-bangladesh/
  3. America’s first climate refugees. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Guardian website: climate-change-refugees
  4. Climate Displacement in the United States The case of Newtok village, Alaska. (n.d.). Retrieved from wIVlDWICh0ITA39#v=onepage&q=newtok%20erosion%20solution&f=false
  5. Coastal Management. (n.d.). Retrieved from Geography AS Notes website:
  6. Frequently Asked Questions What is Sea Level? (n.d.). Retrieved from Tides & Currents website:
  7. Is sea level rising? (n.d.). Retrieved from National Ocean Service website:
  8. Newtok Moves. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  9. Newtok Planning group. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  10. Relocating Newtok. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  11. Relocation of Alaska’s Sinking Newtok Village Halted. (n.d.). Retrieved from MotherJones website: refugees-newtok-halted
  12. Relocation of Alaska’s sinking Newtok village halted. (2013, August 5). Retrieved from theguardian website: newtok-climate-change
  13. RELOCATION PLANNING PROJECT MASTER PLAN Kivalina, Alaska. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  14. The remote Alaskan village that needs to be relocated due to climate change. (n.d.). Retrieved from remote-alaskan-village-that-needs-to-be-relocated-due-to-climate-change/
  15. Rising Waters: How Fast and How Far Will Sea Levels Rise? (n.d.). Retrieved from Yale Environment 360 website: far-will-sea-levels-rise/2702
  16. Sea level rise not just a coastal problem. (n.d.). Retrieved from Delaware online website:
  17. Sinking into the sea: New building work – including graves – is banned on vanishing Alaska island as residents are told it’s not a case of IF their homes will disappear but WHEN. (n.d.). Retrieved from graves-banned-sinking-Alaskan-town-403-authorities-tell-families-s-days-numbered.html
  18. The Top 10 Things We Learned About the Ocean in 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved from Planet Experts website:
  19. USDA, Erosion Risk Management Tool (ERMiT) – A Probability-based Erosion Prediction Model, Doc. (). Retrieved from
  20. The Village That Will Be Swept Away. (2015, August 30). Retrieved from change/402604/

Leave a Reply

The Effects of Erosion and Sea Level Rise on the Coastal Villages of Newtok and Kivalina

Coastal resilience is the ability in which a city is able to come back from a disaster, and not just react to the threat. The threat we are researching is sea level rise in conjunction with erosion of the coast. Both Kivalina and Newtok are estimated to go under water within ten years, and not much can be done to stop the rising tides of water engulfing the land around these cities.

Scroll to top