The Challenges of Change

For example, you don’t go out to the tundra without a gun because of the polar bears. They may look beautiful but they eat meat, any meat! Living on permafrost creates real problems. This is because it’s not really a solid base, but rather a mix of frozen mud and ice, which can move and melt. As a result, there are no roads to anywhere else from here because they get washed away in summer. All the houses have to be built on stilts driven deeper into hard-frozen permafrost, and, for example, even a grave in the cemetery requires a special digging machine. If the permafrost starts melting, the town’s roads will slump and wash away and the houses will tilt and break open.

How have people been adapting to this environment?:

The Arctic Ocean is a wild sea. In storms, it turns grey, brown near the shore and the waves wash up to the cliffs. Since the land is permafrost it simply melts and crumbles into the surf. Some coastal erosion is normal here, but it will get faster as the ocean level rises and the frozen soil thaws. It is threatening parts of the town, so they’ve built sea defenses of sand-filled bags. These won’t last, so a permanent but expensive sea wall made of large rocks is planned.

One unusual problem we’ve heard about is that the ice cellars, used to store the whale meat, are not as cold as they once were. They were dug deep into the permafrost to freeze the whale meat. However, they are no longer cold enough to actually freeze it. The whalers now have to use electric chest freezers to do that first and then move the blocks down to the cellars for storage once frozen.