Kivalina, Alaska

Coordinates: 67°43′38″N 164°32′21″W / 67.72722°N 164.53917°W / 67.72722; -164.53917
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Aerial view of Kivalina
Aerial view of Kivalina
Location in Northwest Arctic Borough and the state of Alaska.
Location in Northwest Arctic Borough and the state of Alaska.
Coordinates: 67°43′38″N 164°32′21″W / 67.72722°N 164.53917°W / 67.72722; -164.53917
CountryUnited States
BoroughNorthwest Arctic
IncorporatedJune 23, 1969[1]
 • MayorAustin Swan, Sr.[2]
 • State senatorDonny Olson (D)
 • State rep.Josiah Patkotak (I)
 • Total4.16 sq mi (10.78 km2)
 • Land1.63 sq mi (4.23 km2)
 • Water2.53 sq mi (6.55 km2)
13 ft (4 m)
 • Total444
 • Density272.23/sq mi (105.08/km2)
Time zoneUTC-9 (Alaska (AKST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-8 (AKDT)
ZIP Code
Area code907
FIPS code02-39960
GNIS feature ID1413348, 2419411

Kivalina (kiv-uh-LEE-nuh)[4] (Inupiaq: Kivalliñiq) is a city[5][6] and village in Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska, United States. The population was 377 at the 2000 census[7] and 374 as of the 2010 census.[5]

The island on which the village lies is threatened by rising sea levels and coastal erosion caused by climate change. As of 2013, it is predicted that the island will be inundated by 2025.[8] In addition to well-publicized impacts of climate change, the Village of Kivalina has been a party in several environmentally related court cases.[9][10][11]


Kivalina is an Inupiat community first reported as "Kivualinagmut" in 1847 by Lt. Lavrenty Zagoskin of the Imperial Russian Navy. It has long been a stopping place for travelers between Arctic coastal areas and Kotzebue Sound communities. Three bodies and artifacts were found in 2009 representing the Ipiutak culture, a pre-Thule, non-whaling civilization that disappeared over a millennium ago.[12]

It is the only village in the region where people hunt the bowhead whale. The original village was located at the north end of the Kivalina Lagoon, but was relocated.

In about 1900, reindeer were brought to the area and some people were trained as reindeer herders.

An airstrip was built at Kivalina in 1960. Kivalina incorporated as a second-class city in 1969. During the 1970s, a new school and an electric system were constructed in the city.

On December 5, 2014 the only general store in Kivalina burned down.[13] In July 2015, a newer store was opened after months of rebuilding to make the store more convenient and safe.[14]


Kivalina is on the southern tip of a 12 km (7.5 mi) long barrier island located between the Chukchi Sea and a lagoon at the mouth of the Kivalina River.[15] It lies 130 km (81 mi) northwest of Kotzebue. According to the United States Census Bureau, the village has a total area of 3.9 square miles (10 km2), of which, 1.9 square miles (4.9 km2) of it is land and 2.0 square miles (5.2 km2) of it (51.55%) is water.


Kivalina has a dry subarctic climate with long very cold winters and short cool summers. August is the wettest month of the year, while December is the snowiest month.

Climate data for Kivalina, Alaska (Kivalina Airport) (1991-2020 normals, extremes 1998-present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 47
Mean maximum °F (°C) 32.0
Average high °F (°C) 6.6
Daily mean °F (°C) −1.2
Average low °F (°C) −9.0
Mean minimum °F (°C) −33.2
Record low °F (°C) −50
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.28
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 5.3 5.3 3.0 4.7 6.4 6.1 11.7 13.0 11.5 8.1 5.7 4.1 84.9
Source: NOAA[16][17]


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census[18]

Kivalina first appeared on the 1920 U.S. Census as an unincorporated (native) village. It formally incorporated in 1969.

As of the census of 2010, there were 374 people, and 99 households.[19] The population density was 202.1 inhabitants per square mile (78.0/km2). There were 80 housing units at an average density of 42.9 per square mile (16.6/km2). The racial makeup of the village was 3.45% White and 96.55% Native American. The Native Village of Kivalina is a federally recognized tribe with an elected tribal council.[20] The City of Kivalina, organized under the Northwest Arctic Borough under the State of Alaska, has an elected mayor and city administrator and a 7-member city council.[20] Per the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, NANA Corporation owns the surface and sub-surface rights to the city site and surrounding area.[20] Manilaaq Association serves the community as an Alaska Native non-profit regional corporation providing social, tribal and health care services.[20]

In 2010, there were 78 households, out of which 61.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 62.8% were married couples living together, 15.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 17.9% were non-families. 16.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 3.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 4.83 and the average family size was 5.50. In the village the population was spread out, with 44.0% under the age of 18, 13.3% from 18 to 24, 20.7% from 25 to 44, 15.9% from 45 to 64, and 6.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 21 years. For every 100 females, there were 106.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 113.1 males.

The median income for a household in the village was $30,833, and the median income for a family was $30,179. Males had a median income of $31,875 versus $21,875 for females. The per capita income for the village was $8,360. About 25.4% of families and 26.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.9% of those under age 18 and 30.0% of those age 65 or over.

Environmental issues[edit]

Due to severe sea wave erosion during storms, the city hopes to relocate again to a new site 12 km (7.5 mi) from the present site; studies of alternate sites are ongoing.[21] According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the estimated cost of relocation runs between $95 and $125 million, whereas the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates it to be between $100 and $400 million.[22]

In 2011, Haymarket Books published "Kivalina: A Climate Change Story" by Christine Shearer.

Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation[edit]

The city of Kivalina and a federally recognized tribe, the Alaska Native Village of Kivalina, sued ExxonMobil, eight other oil companies, 14 power companies and one coal company in a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco on February 26, 2008, claiming that the large amounts of greenhouse gases they emit contribute to global warming that threatens the community's existence.[23] The lawsuit estimated the cost of relocation at $400 million.[24] The suit was dismissed by the United States district court on September 30, 2009, on the grounds that regulating greenhouse emissions was a political rather than a legal issue and one that needed to be resolved by Congress and the Administration rather than by courts.[25]

Kivalina v Teck Cominco[edit]

In 2004, Kivalina sued Canadian mining company Teck Cominco, operator of the Red Dog Mine, for polluting its water drinking water source and subsistence fish resources through their discharge of mine waste into the Wulik River. Teck Cominco settled the suit in 2008 by agreeing to build a wastewater pipeline from the mine to the ocean that would bypass discharging into the Wulik River.[11][26] However, the pipeline was not constructed and the alternative settlement clause was followed.

Kivalina v. US EPA[edit]

In 2010, the Native Village of Kivalina IRA Council brought suit against the US EPA for failing to adequately address public comments in their permitting of the Red Dog Mine discharge plan under the National Pollutant Discharge Elilmination System (NPDES). In 2012, the US Ninth Circuit court upheld the decision of the EPA Appeals Board to not review the permit, citing the insufficiency of the Tribe's argument.[10][27]

"Orange goo"

Orange goo[edit]

On August 4, 2011, it was reported that residents of the city of Kivalina had seen a strange orange goo wash up on the shores. According to the Associated Press, "Tests have been conducted on the substance on the surface of the water in Kivalina. City Administrator Janet Mitchell told the Associated Press that the substance has also shown up in some residents' rain buckets."[28] On August 8, 2011, Associated Press reported that the substance consisted of millions of microscopic eggs.[29] Later, officials of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed that the orange colored materials were some kind of crustacean eggs or embryos,[30][31][32] but subsequent examination resulted in a declaration that the substance consisted of spores from a possibly undescribed species of rust fungus,[33] later revealed to be Chrysomyxa ledicola.[34]

Sea level rise and coastal erosion[edit]

On numerous occasions the community has been inundated by storm surges and been forced to evacuate.[35] While the risk of inundation from sea water has always existed, storms caused extensive flooding in 1970, 1976, 2002, 2004, and spurred a village-wide evacuation in 2007.[35] To slow erosion, the US Army Corps of Engineers conducted a rip-rap revetment project along the tip of the barrier island[36] and adjacent to the airport.

Other climate change impacts[edit]

In addition to increased flooding from storm surges, bank erosion along the Wulik River causes increased turbidity which affects the city's drinking water source and complicates water treatment.[35]


Due to severe sea wave erosion during storms, the city hopes to relocate again to a new site 12 km (7.5 mi) from the present site.[37] In 2009, Kivalina was identified by a GAO report as one of 31 environmentally threatened communities in Alaska.[38] Relocation to a site off the barrier island to higher ground has had little progress.[38] According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the estimated cost of relocation runs between $95 and $125 million, whereas the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates it to be between $100 and $400 million. In 2018, a decision was made to build an evacuation road across the Kivalina Lagoon to provide a means for the community to escape devastating storms that can inundate the barrier island. Additionally, the road will connect the village with the proposed new school site on K-Hill.[37]

Kivalina in the media[edit]

Kivalina's environmental issues were prominently featured in The 2015 Weather Channel documentary "Alaska: State of Emergency" hosted by Dave Malkoff. Kivalina was one of the two towns featured in the Al Jazeera English Fault Lines documentary, When the Water Took the Land.[39][40] The community, who were originally nomadic, were given an ultimatum that they would have to settle in the permanent community or their children would be taken from them.[41] The village's plight was also examined in Kivalina, an hourlong documentary released as part of the PBS World series America ReFramed. The Atlantic did a photo journalism story documenting climate change in Kivalina in their September 2019 article, The Impact of Climate Change on Kivalina, Alaska.[42]


The McQueen School, operated by the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, serves the community. As of 2017 it had 141 students, with Alaska Natives making up 100% of the student body.[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 1996 Alaska Municipal Officials Directory. Juneau: Alaska Municipal League/Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs. January 1996. p. 81.
  2. ^ 2015 Alaska Municipal Officials Directory. Juneau: Alaska Municipal League. 2015. p. 87.
  3. ^ "2020 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved October 29, 2021.
  4. ^ "Kivalina". Division of Community and Regional Affairs, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. Archived from the original on December 30, 2012. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Kivalina city, Alaska". Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Demographic Profile Data. United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on February 12, 2020. Retrieved January 23, 2013.
  6. ^ "Alaska Taxable 2011: Municipal Taxation - Rates and Policies" (PDF). Division of Community and Regional Affairs, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. January 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 25, 2013.
  7. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  8. ^ Stephen Sackur (July 30, 2013). "The Alaskan village set to disappear underwater in a decade". BBC News.
  9. ^ "Adams v. Teck Cominco Alaska, Inc., 399 F. Supp. 2d 1031 | Casetext Search + Citator". Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  10. ^ a b Hansen, Clare (2013). "Native Village of Kivalina IRA Council v. United States Environmental Protection Agency". Public Land and Law Review: Article 10 – via
  11. ^ a b Rosen, Yereth (September 4, 2008). "Zinc producer settles suit over Alaskan mine waste". Reuters. Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  12. ^ "Remains of ancient inhabitants found in Kivilina." Anchorage Daily News, 25 August 2009 Archived 27 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ DeMarban, Alex, "Fire Destroys General Store in Arctic Village of Kivalina", 5 December 2014. Alaska Dispatch News. Web. 11 Dec. 2014
  14. ^ "This is climate change: Alaskan villagers struggle as island is chewed up by the sea" LA Times, 30 August 2015
  15. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 18, 2009. Retrieved February 6, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact, Section 117 Expedited Erosion Control Project Kivilana Alaska, ACOE, September 2007, Retrieved 2010-06-20
  16. ^ "NOWData - NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved July 26, 2023.
  17. ^ "Summary of Monthly Normals 1991-2020". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved July 26, 2023.
  18. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  19. ^ City of Kivalina (2015). "City of Kivalina Hazard Mitigation Plan" (PDF).
  20. ^ a b c d City of Kivalina (2015). "City of Kivalina Hazard Mitigation Plan" (PDF).
  21. ^ An Alaska island is Losing Ground, Los Angeles Times, 25 Nov. 2007
  22. ^ Abate, Randall S. (May 2010). "Public Nuisance Suits for the Climate Justice Movement: The Right Thing and the Right Time" (PDF). Washington Law Review. 85: 197–252.
  23. ^ "Eskimo village sues over global warming", CNN News, February 26, 2008
  24. ^ Felicity Barringer (February 27, 2008). "Flooded Village Files Suit, Citing Corporate Link to Climate Change". New York Times. Retrieved February 29, 2008.
  25. ^ Order Granting Motions to Dismiss, N.D. Cal., September 30, 2009
  26. ^ "World's largest lead and zinc mine (Red Dog mine) found in violation of Clean Water Act". Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  27. ^ "Adams v. Teck Cominco Alaska, Inc., 399 F. Supp. 2d 1031 | Casetext Search + Citator". Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  28. ^ "Mysterious orange goo washes up in Alaska village". Forbes. ANCHORAGE, Alaska. Retrieved August 9, 2011.[dead link]
  29. ^ Orange goo near remote Alaska village ID'd as eggs[dead link], Associated Press, August 8, 2011
  30. ^ D'Oro, Rachel. "Orange goo near remote Alaska village ID'd as eggs". The Associated Press. Anchorage, Alaska: Google Search. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
  31. ^ "Mysterious Orange Goo Baffles Remote Alaska Village". Fox News. August 6, 2011. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
  32. ^ "Mystery Orange Goo in Remote Alaskan Village Identified". Fox News. August 8, 2011. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
  33. ^ "Orange Goo on Alaska Shore Was Fungal Spores". Fox News. August 18, 2011. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  34. ^ "Alaska "Orange Goo" Rust Spores Confirmed". NCCOS News. National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. February 9, 2012. Retrieved March 7, 2012. An "orange goo" covered the Inupiat village of Kivalina, Alaska, last summer. Six months later the substance was confirmed by forestry experts at the USDA Forest Service and the Canadian Forest Service to be rust fungi uredospores of Chrysomyxa ledicola.
  35. ^ a b c Brubaker, M., Berner, J., Bell, J. N., & Warren, J. (2011). Climate Change in Kivalina Alaska.pdf (p. 70) [Funded by United States Indian Health Service Cooperative Agreement No. AN 08-X59]. ANTHC.
  36. ^ City of Kivalina (2015). "City of Kivalina Hazard Mitigation Plan" (PDF).
  37. ^ a b "Kivalina Evacuation and School Site Access Road, Transportation & Public Facilities". Retrieved October 21, 2020.
  38. ^ a b Office, U. S. Government Accountability (June 3, 2009). "Alaska Native Villages: Limited Progress Has Been Made on Relocating Villages Threatened by Flooding and Erosion" (GAO-09-551). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  39. ^ "Alaska: When the Water Took the Land". Fault Lines. Al Jazeera English. December 22, 2015.
  40. ^ Alaska News (December 18, 2015). "Al Jazeera documentary tells tale of two eroding Alaska villages". Alaska Dispatch News.
  41. ^ Arnold, Elizabeth (July 29, 2008). "Tale Of Two Alaskan Villages". Day to Day. NPR.
  42. ^ Taylor, Alan. "Photos: The Impact of Climate Change on Kivalina, Alaska - The Atlantic". Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  43. ^ Home. McQueen School. Retrieved on March 26, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]