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Improving Coastal Resilience in Point Hope, Alaska

Client: City of Point Hope | Agviq Environmental Services, LLC

Location: Point Hope, Alaska

With an elevation of just 13-18 feet above mean sea level at its highest points, the City of Point Hope, Alaska is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially sea level rise, loss of shore-fast sea ice and permafrost, and increases in the size of storm surges, which are all accelerating erosion. Under a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s National Coastal Resilience Fund, matching funds from the North Slope Borough, and technical support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Engineering With Nature® (EWN) program, the City of Point Hope is evaluating opportunities for nature-based projects to protect critical infrastructure and cultural resources by improving the communities’ resilience to coastal processes.

As a subcontractor to Agviq Environmental Services, LLC (AES), which is an Alaskan Native Corporation whose shareholders hail from Point Hope, EA is supporting the City of Point Hope through scientific data collection, collection of traditional ecological knowledge, vulnerability assessments, and development of engineering designs related to coastal resilience and adaptation. In support of this effort, EA and AES are also relying upon support from the EWN program, which draws upon technical resources from within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center including the Cold Regions Research Engineering and Development Laboratory, Coastal Hydraulics Laboratory, and Dredge Research Collaborative, which provides primary support through the University of Pennsylvania.

Point Hope Coastline

With its harsh winters and unique location, Point Hope does not lend itself to the same nature-based resilience solutions used in much of the continental United States. Innovation will be required at all levels to ensure solutions both work for nature and also maintain the Iñupiat ethos of living in harmony with nature. This means that some features that would not typically be considered “nature-based,” such as Point Hope’s ice cellars and boat ramps, are in fact integral to both the community and the ecosystem, as any engineered features that help reduce food waste in turn protect wildlife populations from unnecessary additional harvesting to replace lost food stuffs. By focusing on these unconventional connections between community and nature, Point Hope can serve as an incubator for innovation of nature-based engineering solutions for coastal arctic communities that rely upon subsistence to serve nutritional and spiritual needs.

Point Hope Data Collection

Project activities have been rooted in broad community engagement to incorporate traditional knowledge into the design process, in tandem with western styled science. By leveraging the extensive knowledge of Point Hope’s Iñupiat elders, hunters, whalers, local business owners, and other community members, projects hope to improve resilience to a changing climate and help preserve the values of Point Hope for generations to come.

Point Hope Data Collection

Outcomes of the project will create a comprehensive understanding of the highest risk areas for habitat loss in Point Hope, developed collaboratively with the knowledge of local residents and engineering experts. The project will conclude the initial phases through the co-production of preliminary designs with the community focused on coastal erosion and resilience in Point Hope. The work will also expedite understanding of natural and nature-based engineering features that may be effective in the arctic, an area of research that is currently in its infancy. To ensure that funding and research activities provide direct support to community, EA is working on next steps to support the community in applying for funding to complete design efforts and construct at least one pilot project that serves to protect important resources within the community. Construction activities are targeted to begin in Summer 2024.

Point Hope Coastline in Winter

Learn more about the Point Hope project by reading Engineering With Nature’s article, Improving Coastal Resilience in One of North America’s Oldest Inhabited Settlements, Point Hope, Alaska, by Paula Whitfield & Leanne Poussard, NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.


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