Scientists predict that within a decade, the small floating village of Kivalina off the coast of northwest Alaska will be completely underwater due to coastal erosion and rising sea levels, making its inhabitants the first ever future refugees of climate change, BBC News reports.
There are currently 400 indigenous Inuit inhabitants of Kivalina whose families have inhabited the small island for generations. They live in single-story cabins and rely on hunting and fishing to survive. Though most Americans have never heard of the island which clings to a spit of sand in the Bering Sea, within ten years it will be nothing more than a memory, the indigenous people paying the price for a problem they did not create, as is the U.S. government, which could pay up to $400 million to relocate inhabitants to higher grounds and build them a road, houses and a school.
Over the last two decades, the dramatic retreat of protective Arctic ice barriers has left the island vulnerable to coastal erosion and autumn and winter storms. Two years ago, a storm forced residents into evacuation, and engineers predict that by 2025 the island will be completely uninhabitable.
"If we're still here in 10 years time we either wait for the flood and die, or just walk away and go someplace else," Kivalina council leader, Colleen Swan, told BBC News. "The U.S. government imposed this Western lifestyle on us, gave us their burdens and now they expect us to pick everything up and move it ourselves. What kind of government does that?"
What is perhaps most worrying for Kivalina residents is that of the 78 households on the island (based on census data taken in 2000), 61.5 percent had children living in them under the age of 18.
But it's not just Kivalina that has experienced problems due to climate change. To the far north is the town of Barrow, closer to the North Pole than to Washington D.C., with residents predominantly from the Inupiat tribe. They hunt bowhead whale and seal, but their hunting season has been ruined by melting and remelted thin sea ice that has made it impossible for them to pull their boats across.
For the first time in decades, the people of Barrow were unable to catch a single bowhead whale.
"We have to adapt to what's coming, if we're gonna keep eating and surviving off the sea, but no whale this year means it will be a long cold winter," said Herman Ahsoak, one of Barrow's most experienced whaling captains.
Ahsoak explained to BBC News that the ice used to be 9 feet thick in winter, but is now little more 3.
As for Kivalina, it has long been a stopping place for travelers headed to Arctic coastal areas, and the only village in the region where people hunt the bowhead whale. The island contains an airstrip and an electric system built in the '70s, but in about ten years, it will all be gone.
Click here to see photos of the island of Kivalina and its residents, including historical pictures of the village.