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Indigenous Alaskans Shed Light on Climate Change

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The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that it has been learning valuable information from interviews conducted with Alaska Natives in the Yukon River Basin.

"Many climate change studies are conducted on a large scale, and there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding how climate change will impact specific regions," said USGS social scientist Nicole Herman-Mercer, according to a press release. "This study helps address that uncertainty and really understand climate change as a socioeconomic issue by talking directly to those with traditional and personal environmental knowledge."

As an example of indigenous knowledge being put to use, the USGS release cited the thinning of the ice on the Yukon and Andreafsky Rivers. For many Native Alaskans, a frozen river is a highway of sorts to be traveled by dogsled or snow machine during the coldest months. For them, the thickness of ice isn't a number of inches or centimeters -- thinner ice means they can't travel as freely as they once did, and travel is necessary for hunting and trade.

Other climate topics discussed with the Alaska Natives (specifically, Yup'ik hunters and elders in the villages of St. Mary's and Pitka's Point) include unpredictability of weather, changing patterns of vegetation, and lessening of snowmelt, which means fewer logs flowing down the rivers and less firewood for tribes that need it.

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An article about the interviews was published in Human Organization.