The Sixth First Climate Refugees

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

For years now, folks have searched desperately for the “fingerprints” of human climate change. These are things that are supposed to reveal how and where humans are affecting the climate. One of these fingerprints, which is alleged to be a sure and certain harbinger of the thermal end times, is the appearance of the long-awaited “First Climate Refugees”. The UN IPCC confidently forecast that there would be 50 million climate refugees by 2010 … we saw none. But before that there were supposed to be climate refugees from the coral atolls of Tuvalu … which turned out not to be sinking but instead expanding in area. So I guess they were the First Climate Refugees, and since it turned out there weren’t any climate refugees from Tuvalu, that makes the missing 50 million the Second First Climate Refugees.

Then the Third First Climate refugees were supposed to be in Bangladesh, but that turned out to be a recent squatter settlement on one of the many silt islands that appear and disappear in the river mouth there, once more nothing to do with climate.

In each case, of course, the people involved were widely touted as “the First Climate Refugees”, and like the first robins of spring, were predicted to be the first of many such occurrences … but they were never the first, because no refugees actually appeared. Plus there have been some more, I think the folks from Shishmaref Village in Alaska were something like the Fifth First Climate Refugees.

As a result, when a friend of mine said he was concerned about reports of a village in Alaska which was going to be lost and the people become refugees, I figured it was the old favorite in that regard, Shishmaref Village. But it turned out that he was talking about the latest poster child, the Sixth First Climate Refugees, a village called Newtok in Alaska. And I’ll get to Newtok, but first, I went back to see what I could find out about Shishmaref, and it’s hilarious. Shishmaref was said to be eroding away because of CO2 leading to less ice, leaving open water for storms, which erodes the foreshore … Figure 1 shows the damage we’re talking about.

shishmaref damage noaaFigure 1. Erosion damage along the foreshore at Shishmaref, Alaska. SOURCE: NOAA

Clearly, there are serious problems. At the time the Shishmaref news came out, a few years ago now, I figured “Meh, erosion, what’s new”? But it turns out I was wrong, there is something new. And what does NOAA say about the problems? Well, after a ritual obeisance to the CO2 alarmists, they get to the actual causes of the erosion shown above, saying:

Erosion at Shishmaref is somewhat unique along the islands because of its fetch exposure and high tidal prism, relatively intense infrastructure development during the 20th century, and because of multiple shoreline defense structures emplaced since the 1970s.

Erosion rates along the island front exceed (and are not comparable with) those along adjacent sectors. Erosion is occurring along the entire island chain, but it is exacerbated at Sarichef Island [where Shishmaref is located] in part because of the hydrographic impacts of hard armoring of a sandy shoreface and permafrost degradation that is accelerated by infrastructure.

So it turns out that the erosion is not from global climate change, or global anything. If it were it would affect the other islands. Instead, the problem stems from previous efforts to protect the foreshore that had unintended consequences. What they did was to “hard armor”, which means lay a solid layer of rocks on, a sandy shore. These early well-meaning attempts to affect the coast often had unintended consequences.

What was not appreciated back then is that a sandy beach, like the ones that they hard-armored, naturally evolves to take the form that dissipates the maximum energy of the waves. The shape of the beach changes to absorb and dissipate the energy in several forms. One is to have the water roll up and down the beach in as thin a sheet as possible given the physical constraints. This maximizes turbulence and thus energy loss. Another is the picking up and dropping of tons and tons of sand per hour. When each wave breaks, the top layer of sand is picked up and mixed throughout the turbulent white water. This constant lifting of tonnes of material helps absorb the wave energy.

But when you “hard armor” such a beach, you lose much of that. The village is being preferentially eroded because they hard armored a section of sandy shoreline. As usual with this kind of amateur meddling, you rarely get what you expect. In this case what happens is that energy that previously was absorbed by waves breaking on the sand is simply redirected elsewhere along the coast … which changes the direction and strength of the currents, and surprise, surprise, the seafront along town starts eroding. Because if the wave energy is not absorbed, it has to go somewhere. So it goes into pushing the water along the beach. And this, obviously, can cause problems down the coast.

So once again humans are indeed the cause … but it has nothing to do with CO2.

To make it worse, understandably when Shishmaref village was built (around 400 years ago), these folks weren’t concerned about melting the permafrost when they built their traditional homes. Modern practice if you are concerned about preserving permafrost is to build up off of the ground. But traditional houses in the north are built on or even in the ground, because it’s much warmer not to have wind whistling under your house. And for hundreds of years this wasn’t a problem.

At present, however, they are living in modern buildings of fairly recent vintage, not their traditional structures. Plus the population increase, with lots of new buildings. Plus clearing land for roads, which exposes it to the sun. Plus increases in house heating … and at the end of all of that, as a result of thousands and thousands of days of more and more fires warming more and more houses, the permafrost is diminished, and the erosion is increased.

But but to blame CO2 as the culprit for that, as was shouted from the rooftops by Greenpeace and the Sierra Club? Sorry. If that were the case the whole coastline would be eroding. It isn’t. We know why the village shore is eroding, and it’s local actions, not global actions, that are the culprit..

Now, I said that what I found out about Shishmaref was very funny, and I’ll get to that in a bit. But first, I had to go research the village my friend was referring to, the latest poster child for Arctic climate change victims, the Sixth First Climate Refugees. A google search for “climate victims Alaska” brings up dozens and dozens of articles about the new one, talking about how because of climate change the sea is causing erosion in Newtok Village in Alaska. One article starts off “Newtok is losing ground to the sea at a dangerous rate.” It’s a regular quack-fest of folks that are terribly and visibly concerned about this latest effect of CO2 …

But when I go to Google Earth, I find that the dang village is not even on the ocean. Not only that, but it’s near the outer edge of the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta. This is one of the largest river deltas on the planet. Between them, the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers drain a huge amount of Alaska. And as is common with northern rivers, they are loaded with sediment. Add in hundreds of thousands of years, and you get Figure 2 …

GMAP yukon kuskokwim deltaFigure 2. The amazing expanse of the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta. Originally, everything inside of the red line was once ocean. At that time the two rivers flowed into a bay, but over the millennia, silt has been deposited over a huge area. The village of Newtok is indicated by the red “A” marker, just off of the river that drains the large lake.

First comment. Within the red line, most of the land is less than 2 metres (6′) above sea level. Second comment. The current positions of the rivers are not the historical positions. All over the delta there are cutoff oxbow lakes and relict channels showing where at some time in the past some branch of one of the two rivers flowed to the sea. Figure 3 should give you a sense of what the turf looks like …

kuskokwim delta wetlandsFigure 3. Kuskokwim delta wetlands. Miles and miles of silt.

And here is a photo of the village itself, along with the small drainage channel on the north side:

newtok villageFigure 4. Newtok Village, Alaska. 

Next, here is a more detailed map of the village location, showing the drainage channel to the north and the main channel to the south …

gmap newtok closeup IIFigure 5. Location of the village of Newtok, as seen on Google Maps. This is the map layer. Land is white, water is blue. Newtok Airstrip is just south of the “A” marker. 

Note all of the cutoff sections of previous river channels that are now lakes. So Newtok is a town a few feet above the water, built on silt, on a small drainage channel that feeds into a larger drainage channel that connects a delta lake to the ocean (see Figure 2). You can see the larger channel at the lower left of Figure 5. Next, Figure 6 shows the exact same view, but in the satellite layer of Google Maps. Check out the difference, obviously the map layer is older, as the newer satellite photo shows extensive changes:

gmap newtok closeup II satelliteFigure 6. Exact same view in Google Maps, but showing the satellite layer.

Note the change in the main channel. Just like every other meandering channel on the planet, it has eaten away on the outside of the bend. That’s what rivers do. They eat away at the outside of bends, and the silt is deposited on the inside of the bend. It’s totally predictable. Compare the inside of the bend with Figure 5. See how it has built out?

So let me recap the bidding. The village of Newtok is built on top of a couple of feet of silt, in a relict channel towards the seaward side of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. It is surrounded by cutoff oxbow lakes testifying to the constantly meandering, shifting nature common to all river deltas. Like all river deltas, we can assume that the ground is subsiding, it’s what they all do. And in such conditions, both erosion and deposition are constant processes. At any time, any given location is either gaining or losing soil.

Not only that, but the village is built on the outside of a bend in the main channel, a location which can be confidently predicted to be eroded away sooner or later simply because that’s the unchanging ancient nature of river deltas.

… and they claim this erosion is a total surprise, and that CO2 is to blame?

Get real!

It’s a village built on a thin layer of geologically recent and only lightly consolidated silt. The silt is slowly compacting and sinking. And to top it off, it’s on the outside of a bend in an active channel near the outer (newer) edge of a huge river delta. It’s a couple feet of freshly created land in a location we know will erode, what the heck do they expect? Long-term stasis?

So that’s the story of how the Sixth First Climate Refugees might have to move their village, but like all the rest, there are no climate refugees. We can now await the announcement of the Seventh …

Now, I said I’d finish the Shishmaref story. Here’s the funny part that I hadn’t understood. I’ve seen lots of small rocky islands when commercial fishing in the Bering Sea, some not all that far from Newtok actually. So that’s how I imagined Shishmaref. But to my surprise, it’s not like that at all. Here’s the large-coverage map.

GMAP shishmaref to kuskokwim deltaFigure 7. Map showing the area from Newtok Village (in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, bottom center) to Shishmaref Village. Russia is on the top left, and Shishmaref (“A” marker) faces the Arctic Ocean.

Next, here’s a closer view.

GMAP shishmaref barrier islandsFigure 8. A view of the entire peninsula. Shishmaref is one of a chain of islands along the coast.

When I saw that map, my jaw dropped to the floor, and I flat busted out laughing. Shishmaref is not on a rocky island at all. It’s on a barrier island! These guys have a village on a barrier island, and they’re surprised that the geography is changing? Barrier islands are notorious for that. They should go talk to the folks from New Jersey or the Carolinas about the joys of building on barrier islands. For millions of years, large storms have regularly changed the world’s barrier islands by cutting new passes right straight through some part of a barrier island chain.

Here’s a more detailed map of Shishmaref, and it just gets worse:

GMAP shishmaref closeupFigure 9. Closup of the location of Shishmaref village on Sarichef Island.

Not only is the village on a barrier island. It’s on the most vulnerable island, the one with the main inflow-outflow channels on either side. This is a common feature of barrier island chains, that there will be a short island with a channel on each side opposite an inlet, as in this case. The two channels allow storm and tide and melt water to circulate in and out of the inlet.

Unfortunately, this also means that these are the highest current locations along the coast, the channels adjacent to the island where tidal and storm and melt waters have to pass through, and thus the most subject to erosion.

Anyhow, that was the funny thing I found out that I hadn’t known—that the whole Shishmaref furor is about erosion on a vulnerable barrier island which is routinely battered by fierce storms … I’d be shocked if the island didn’t erode and change and alter its shape.

But ascribing that to CO2? That dog won’t hunt …

All the best to you all,


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July 2, 2013 8:45 pm

The real climate refugee’s are all of us who are moving south. Check the movement between states in the US. North is minus, South is positive. These figures will not include those of us in Canada who are moving to Mexico or moving to the Bahamas or those who leave Canada to live in the southern US for 4 to 6 months but it will get close to the real figure. Not sure what is happening in Europe. It may be a bargin in Greece now. People in the UK are looking to move to southern Europe.

george e. smith
July 2, 2013 8:53 pm

So then who moved the trashcan, and why ?

Lil Fella from OZ
July 2, 2013 8:53 pm

Maldives seem to be still above the water!

July 2, 2013 8:58 pm
This has been a know problem since the 1950s, at least.

July 2, 2013 9:04 pm

Then again, what about the Europeans who once hunted in what is now the English Channel, the Australian Aborigines who lived and hunted in what is now Bass Strait, etc etc etc. They must surely have been refugees when they had to move as the sea swallowed up their homelands.
I reckon an awful lot of us are descended from much earlier climate change refugees; even if we don’t know it.

Tim Neilson
July 2, 2013 9:04 pm

Willis’ money quote for me…
“As usual with this kind of amateur meddling, you rarely get what you expect.”
Wind turbines, alternative energy subsidies, carbon taxes; there should be a hot key for this sentence so it can be plugged into just about every article on “climate activism” on this blog.

July 2, 2013 9:10 pm

Thank you Willis for your insightful explanation of the cause celeb erosion problems in Alaska. I would also like some data on sea level rise on the Alaskan coast. You probably know where to find it and have the skill to explain it to me. I would appreciate that a great deal.

July 2, 2013 9:12 pm

I think we were the first climate refugees when we migrated from England to Australia. It was just too cold.
Come to think of it, perhaps it was all those English pensioners who in the 1970s and 80s built houses on the costa del sol or ibitha – same reason – Britain is too cold and it costs far to much to keep your house from turning into an ice block in winter. Much better to move to the south of Spain where its a bit too warm for a couple of months than live in a place that is b***dy freezing for six months of the year.

July 2, 2013 9:14 pm

Obama promising more than he can deliver!
2 July: Washington Post: Brad Plumer: A closer look at Obama’s $7 billion plan to bring electricity to Africa
On Sunday, Obama promised $7 billion in financial support over the next five years to bring “electricity access” to 20 million new households in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania, as well as help countries like Mozambique develop their oil and gas resources.
The money will mostly come from existing U.S. development banks, so it doesn’t require new spending from Congress. For instance, the Export-Import Bank, a government-backed lender, will finance $5 billion in projects by U.S. companies…
“For reaching urban centers and powering industrial zones, you’ll likely need traditional large-scale power plants. And current U.S. rules are keeping businesses out of that area.”…
What counts as “electricity access”? Access to electricity means different things to different people — and there’s no clear definition. In some parts of Africa, it might mean enough to light two light bulbs and charge a cell phone. Here in the United States, access to electricity obviously means much, much more…
Roger Pielke Jr., an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado, has pointed out that the international community’s definition of “modern energy access” tends to be quite scant — it means providing people with a mere 2.2 percent of the energy that the average American uses…
How much money would it take to make sure everyone had access to electricity? The answer is a lot. Let’s put Obama’s proposal in context. Right now, 1.2 billion people around the world are still stuck in the dark — with about 550 million of those in Africa…
The report (World Bank and International Energy Agency) estimated that it would likely take between $120 billion and $160 billion per year over and above existing levels to bring energy access to everyone by 2030. (And, again, that’s a relatively stingy definition of “energy access.”)…
As for Africa itself, this technical paper in the journal Utilities Policy estimated that Africa would need a tenfold increase in installation capacity to bring everyone power by 2030. To get all of sub-Saharan Africa up to South African levels, for instance, would require 330 gigawatts of new capacity. For context, the new White House plan would bring about 10 gigawatts.

July 2, 2013 9:15 pm

and they applauded him?
29 June: Remarks by President Obama at Young African Leaders Initiative Town Hall
University of Johannesburg-Soweto Johannesburg, South Africa
Ultimately, if you think about all the youth that everybody has mentioned here in Africa, if everybody is raising living standards to the point where everybody has got a car and everybody has got air conditioning, and everybody has got a big house, well, the planet will boil over — unless we find new ways of producing energy. And tomorrow, or the next day, when I visit Tanzania, I’m actually going to be going to a power plant to focus on the need for electrification, but the need to do it in an environmentally sound way…

July 2, 2013 9:36 pm
July 2, 2013 9:46 pm
According this formal relocation talks started in 1973. And I have seen an report that shows that the U.S. Army knew that Shismaref would not last in the 1950s

July 2, 2013 9:47 pm

I’m a climate refugee – I got the hell out of England because I couldn’t take the cold anymore. 15 years waiting for the Mediterranean Climate…

July 2, 2013 9:48 pm

When I saw that map, my jaw dropped to the floor, and I flat busted out laughing. Shishmaref is not on a rocky island at all. It’s on a barrier island! These guys have a village on a barrier island, and they’re surprised that the geography is changing? Barrier islands are notorious for that. They should go talk to the folks from New Jersey or the Carolinas about the joys of building on barrier islands.

How about that. As soon as I saw that map even before I read your comment, the very first thing I thought of was New Jersey! In fact if you rotate Figure-8 clockwise 180° it becomes a perfect carbon copy of this … … see for yourself!
And I predict they would have the exact same luck against Tropical Storm / Hurricane Sandy that Seaside Heights did. Well, they’ll probably fare a little better because they probably don’t have a big steel roller-coaster sitting on an old wooden pier jutting out into the water.

July 2, 2013 9:50 pm

Correction! Rotate it 150°

July 2, 2013 10:08 pm
This gives a good historic impression. And in the reply I have above shows that shishmaref started using sand drums in 1950(a smaller-scale shore protection attempt utilizing 55-gallon oil drums)

July 2, 2013 10:29 pm

The story of Shishmaref Village on the way to the main theme reminds me of what In think I know about the history of Seal Beach, California.
Seems like when I was young one of the entertainments available was a trip to watch houses fall in, because the breakwater for San Pedro Harbor deflected the currents into the beach.

Warren in New Zealand
July 2, 2013 10:29 pm

Willis, I’ve found the 7th Climate Refugees here
“People of Malaita Outer Islands (MOI) says it is high time for them to move into resettlement before sea level rise could become a huge threat for them.”
But further down the real reasons
“Some of the contributed factors why we really need resettlement are; over population, poor soil fertility and scarcity of land mass.
“We believe it is high time to move into resettlement,” Mr Keungi said.
Similar sentiments were also raised at Luaniua community also on Lord Howe on the issue of resettlement. “

Philip Bradley
July 2, 2013 10:35 pm

Anywhere you see a sea cliff, the ocean is eroding the land. And the erosion can be rapid where the land is soft unconsolidated sediments, as is the case above. Add in, melting the permafrost that binds the sediments, I’m surprised the island is still there.
At some point in the last 30 years, ignorance about pretty anything outside popular culture has become a fashion statement. And the forces behind AGWism are ruthlessly exploiting that ignorance.
BTW, nicely researched article, Willis.

July 2, 2013 10:53 pm

The shoreline controls that people put in place to hold back the sea inevitably invites the sea to topple the barrier and what is behind it shortly after. A friend took a camera tour of the Kailua area of Oahu Island in Hawaii. Kailua has natural sandy beaches that slope out to sea and are part of the beauty that is Kailua. West of there concrete walls have been put up to protect expensive homes from the sea. Bad idea – the sea batters the walls, the current washes away the sand, the sea undermines the wall, goes under it, and takes a pee pee into the swimming pools on the other side.
Naturally the press and encroachment victims blame climate change for the problem, but in fact all the islands are slowing sinking because they are parked on a very viscous layer just below the earth’s crust, and into that they are destined to go. Then there is the natural year over year sea level rise caused by heating of the oceans following the recent LIA, and the exhaustion of aquifers that we don’t bother to refill.
Oddly enough we have no trouble refilling with water the toxic mine shafts and the open sores left behind from mining operations like the Bubbly Berkeley Pit in Montana. Orange County in California is a rare exception to the aquifer exhaustion rule in that they budget water to refill the aquifer sitting under the former citrus groves.

John F. Hultquist
July 2, 2013 11:02 pm

Well done Willis, but your work is still not done.
That’s 2 of the 180 villages about to disgorge climate refugees.
Gad, this is hard to keep up with.
Well, here’s the full story and the Guardian is sticking to it.

Nigel S
July 2, 2013 11:09 pm

Are the 6th (or even 7th) /1st Climate Refugees any relation to the 17th/21st Lancers (Motto ‘Death or Glory’)? What uniforms should they wear? Perhaps we could have a design competition?

July 2, 2013 11:17 pm

“Goldie says:
July 2, 2013 at 9:12 pm”
It was not due to cold. They stole a loaf of bread.
Even before considering erosion, the pictures are so different it would be like comparing apples to oranges. There is no detail about the camera/lens setting, also the point at which the pictures were taken are completely different. it’s no comparison at all, but not a surprise really.

July 2, 2013 11:19 pm

John Coleman says:
July 2, 2013 at 9:10 pm
Thank you Willis for your insightful explanation of the cause celeb erosion problems in Alaska. I would also like some data on sea level rise on the Alaskan coast. You probably know where to find it and have the skill to explain it to me. I would appreciate that a great deal.

Hi John,
The NOAA website has all the details:
Unfortunately, there are no tidal gauges in the Yukon Delta. Many of the Alaskan gauges are pointed “down” by a huge magnitude, but it could be an active geology issue (SLR Juneau -12.92mm/year???). Also, there is an Iso-static Rebound treatment of the data these days. According to the “improved data”, San Diego has suffered ~8 inches of sea-level rise since 1913.

James at 48
July 2, 2013 11:38 pm

Tides must be brutal up there at that latitude. It’s like our Bay Area sloughs on steroids. Talk about erosion.

July 2, 2013 11:41 pm

“”So then who moved the trashcan, and why ?””
Polar bears? 🙂

Joe Guyton
July 2, 2013 11:47 pm

Greenland Vikings were the First Climate Refugees.

July 3, 2013 12:05 am

“The UN IPCC confidently forecast that there would be 50 million climate refugees by 2010 … we saw none.”
I remember reading about that here on WUWT. The UN had maps predicting from whence the climate refugees would be refugeeing. Turns out that those areas actually gained in population.
There were not only no climate refugees, there was a negative number of them.
Not meaning to be Petty about it, but…
Yah don’t have to live like a climate refugeeeeee

July 3, 2013 12:38 am

Nigel S says:
July 2, 2013 at 11:09 pm
Are the 6th (or even 7th) /1st Climate Refugees any relation to the 17th/21st Lancers (Motto ‘Death or Glory’)?
Maybe the 11th Hussars, who were in the Charge of the Light Brigade along with the 17th Lancers, would be a better choice, They were known as the ‘Cherry Pickers’ because of their cherry red pants (trousers). This would seem to be a better name for AGWists.

richard verney
July 3, 2013 12:49 am

Eve says:
July 2, 2013 at 8:45 pm
The same in the UK, the migration is south. Those lucky enough to be able to retire abroad relocate to a warmer climate, not a cooler one.
Warmth is good, cold is bad.
It is difficult to understand why the warmists are so concerned by the prospect of a few degrees of warming. For the majority, this would be a god send. Human civilisation has always flourished in warm periods, and cold periods have always resulted in set backs. As an animal, we would welcome a warmer world.

Tom J
July 3, 2013 1:02 am

Ok, this typically excellent report by Mr. Eschenbach, along with the comments to it, encouraged me to go to the NOAA (National Obama Agenda Administration /sarc) Sea Levels and Trends Website to find out what their take on sea level rise. Here it is:
‘The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report estimates that the global sea level rise was approximately 1.7-1.8 millimeters per year (mm/yr) over the past century (IPCC, 2007), based on tide station measurements around the world, with projected increased trends in sea level in the 20th Century based on global climate models.’
So, here we have a “Report” that “estimates” a rise that was “approximately” in a ‘range’ (scare quotes here are mine) of “1.7-1.8 (mm/yr)” and, apparently based on the foregoing nebulous nonsense, this reports dances along stating that this nebulous nonsense (Did I just write that?) permits “projected increased trends in sea level” that are “based on global climate models.”
Maybe it’s just me but this whole thing sounds, well, like bureaucratic numbers crunching nonsense. An amazingly accurate to the tenths of a millimeter reading for something so massive as the ‘sea?’ But this accuracy is tempered by it being an ‘estimate’ of an ‘approximation’ of a ‘range’ of that accuracy and further increases are ‘projected’ from ‘models.’ For chrissake, gimme my money back.
Oh, and before I forget, may I ask if these “approximately 1.7-1.8 (mm/yr)” increases over the “past century (IPCC, 2007)” conflict with those “projected increased trends” in “the 20th Century?” The 20th Century? Mmm.

Tom J
July 3, 2013 1:05 am

My boo boo. It’s the NOAA Tides and Currents website. Sorry.

July 3, 2013 1:21 am

Wondering if there were climate refugees that Willis missed in this post I googled, “climate refugees.”
Top answer is, – the website of an indy documentary on the subject. That website is a veritable treasure trove of inanity. The number one way for you to Take action against climate change? Drive Smart.
I am definitely going to watch the movie. Should be hilarious.

gaelan clark
July 3, 2013 1:41 am

What I wouldn’t give to see the Shishmaref Cannonball in all his resplendent glory, mushing his team carrying his solid ivory sled across the snow.
Herbie Nayokpuk, the Shishmaref Cannonball..and my all-time favorite Iditaroder.

Kelvin Vaughan
July 3, 2013 1:45 am

Goldie says:
July 2, 2013 at 9:12 pm
Much better to move to the south of Spain where its a bit too warm for a couple of months than live in a place that is b***dy freezing for six months of the year.
When was the last time you visited England? We are freezing the whole year round now!
The average maximum temperature this year is still below the 136 year average.

July 3, 2013 1:45 am

Sadly the Tuvalu story is still going around: My 14 year old son had to sit through this video

just last month, as part of his Geography lesson. Maybe we’re a bit behind the times here in the south west of (not so) sunny old England.

July 3, 2013 2:12 am

I’m also a climate refugee–It was getting so crazy in the Main Stream Media that I had to migrate to WUWT, whichout which I would have been driven totally crazy by climate pronouncements like this (thanks for the expose`, Willis) and dozens of others. I felt like somebody was constantly poking me with a bent stick without justification every time I turned around.
Thank goodness there’s an island of sanity and logic in a sea of CO2-ensconsed madness.

Joe Public
July 3, 2013 2:57 am

Thanks Willis.
Another lucidly-explained geography lesson.

July 3, 2013 2:58 am

As usual, it comes down to how long to take to decide what ‘Normal’ is. We humans tend to have a very short attention span, and a corresponding very short term view of what is ‘Normal’.

July 3, 2013 3:02 am

As a geologist I can say you have the above ”problem” covered.
For John Coleman, some sea level rises can be laid at the door of land sinking due to isostatic equilibrium changes. This can be due to increases in ice sheet thickness. In Alaska this could be part of the local problem. Deltas sink due to consolidation and de-watering.

T. G. Brown
July 3, 2013 3:04 am

You have to appreciate the trick photography in Figure 1. Different perspective, different distance to the shore–the result is an exaggerated picture of the shore erosion.

Bloke down the pub
July 3, 2013 3:09 am

So Newtok is a town a few feet above the water, built on silt, on a small drainage channel that feeds into a larger drainage channel that connects a delta lake to the ocean.
What the alarmists choose to ignore is that it is not a coincidence that delta lands are a few feet above water, it is a function of how they were formed. The river carries silt until it slows to the point where it has to drop it. Once the silt has built up to a point where even at high tides, the water cannot over top it, it becomes vegetated dry(ish) land. So long as there is a supply of silt flowing down the river, if sea-level does rise you just return to a point in the process where more silt is laid down until you have dry land again.

David L.
July 3, 2013 4:32 am

My inlaws have a place on the sound side (bay) of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. They placed two markers at the edge of the water. In 25 years it eroded 16 inches. The neighbors put a huge retaining wall along their entire shore. Now the retaining wall is 10 feet off their current shore line. It’s a great place to fish because it’s a nice deep channel between the wall and the shore, otherwise the entire bay is only 2-3 feet deep for miles.
Every year the Outer Banks change. Shorelines change, inlets fill in, new inlets form. You can trace it back to maps of the 18th century. While the general shape has been here for thousands of years, the details are constantly changing. Yet every change is an “unexpected” surprise and attributed to CO2. What’s wrong with people?

Gary Pearse
July 3, 2013 4:34 am

Nice work Willis – those climate refugees haven’t left in “finger prints” yet. It also shows what unbelievable knee-jerk ignorance there is among folks that have been decorated with the climate scientist badge – NOAA specialists of course know this simple stuff, but even they won’t directly criticise any of the popular hysteria. Incidentally, for those whose ancestors went on the gold rush at the end of the 19th Century, those who didn’t get any gold in gold country were the ones who didn’t know or failed to learn the meandering stream dynamics you describe.
Extending your description to a stream-long time lapse, the meanders also move down the stream like a slow motion action of snapping a wave down a long rope. One final bit of the mechanics that was discovered by University of Manitoba engineering research in the 1950s on one of the historic meandering rivers – the Red River of the North (sorry no link to this research) is that the river water also “corkscrews” downstream at right angles to its cross-section. the surface waters ride over from the inside to the outside of a meander and return at depth. This adds greatly to the scouring action of the water and transport of the sediments from side to side. The Wiki blurb references a 2002 JGR paper which may (or may not!) references the Manitoba research.,Red+River&gl=ca&ei=UgfUUfvPHMKFywGrjIDAAw&ved=0CHwQtgM
Follow the river from Grand Forks ND to Winnipeg MB.

MR Bliss
July 3, 2013 5:01 am

Climate refugees are currently flooding out of the UK, where we are witnessing a catastrophically normal summer. Some days the sun shines, some days it’s cloudy – some days we have to suffer the rain falling.
It’s getting so bad here that the MET office have been unable to issue flood warnings OR instigate hosepipe bans.
Reassuringly, most of these climate refugees are able to face coming back after 2-3 weeks, depending on the number of vacation days they have left.

July 3, 2013 5:34 am

The UN IPCC confidently forecast that there would be 50 million climate refugees by 2010 … we saw none.

Not only did we see none, most those locations predicted to have fleeing populations actually had growing populations. Some of the cities are the fastest growing cities on the planet! Not content with this fail they then proceeded to predict yet another 50 million climate refugees by 2020! This is how these agencies keep the funds rolling in. Without panic and the spreading of ‘eco-worrier’ batshit the cash flow would simply shrink. This is a con job, don’t fall for it.

July 3, 2013 5:46 am

Then the Third First Climate refugees were supposed to be in Bangladesh, but that turned out to be a recent squatter settlement on one of the many silt islands that appear and disappear in the river mouth there…

It’s even worse than it seems. In 2008 it was found that Bangladesh had been gaining land mass in the last three decades at 20 square kilometres per year. Head for the hills you ghost refugees.

July 3, 2013 5:54 am

This reminds me of our local tv station which used to provide local climate alarmism reports daily for the evening news. I remember they went to the shore and recorded videos of coastal erosion and they talked to the local fishermen about sea level rise. Many of them were afraid that AGW was going to destroy their livelihoods. However only 40 miles away, the coast is actually rising and sea level is actually falling there. For some unknown reason, they never reported from this location and they never interviewed the locals there. Funny about that.

July 3, 2013 5:56 am

Willis, a small correction, if I may. You mention ‘relic’ channels resulting from meander cutoff and the like. Please indulge THIS old relic and change the term to ‘relict’, which is the actual term for things geological that remain after the process that formed them has moved elsewhere, like a meander belt.
I may have missed the mention in my haste, but deltas as large as the Yukon are also very subsidence-prone due to isostatic adjustments to the sediment pile that accumulates there. Another Greenpeace CO2-ism, of course.

July 3, 2013 5:57 am

I was hasty.

July 3, 2013 6:08 am

For Newtok also see ‘Thermokarst Slumping’

Where the insulating layer of plant material has been removed, permafrost melts and the ground above slumps. This is called thermokarst slumping, and it can be a big problem where humans have disturbed the soils.


‘Arctic’ Gerald MacCarthy
“Recent Change in the Shoreline Near Point Barrow, Alaska”
At ‘Nuwuk’ [Point Barrow] the evidence of rapid retreat is especially striking. The abandoned native village of the same name, which formerly occupied most of the area immediately surrounding the station site, is being rapidly eaten away by the retreat of the bluff and in October 1949 the remains of four old pit dwellings, then partially collapsed and filled with solid ice, were exposed in cross section in the face of the bluff. In 1951 these four dwellings had been completely eroded away and several more exposed.

Nothing to do with carbon dioxide. Newtok’s citizens were forced to settle there in 1959. They were traditionally semi-nomadic folk so the alleged problem is man-made, but has absolutely nothing to do with co2 inspired thermageddon.

July 3, 2013 6:13 am

By the way the people of Newtok rely mostly on fuel oil for their heating. See what looks like 2 fuel tanks in the image above. Now think about the possibility of soot on ice and snow.
Fuel use in Newtok.–historical-house-heating-fuel-data.htm

Alberta Slim
July 3, 2013 6:18 am

“”So then who moved the trashcan, and why ?””
I say it was the photographer, for a more “scary” effect.

July 3, 2013 6:36 am

Willis always nails it.
I, myself have been considering life as a climate refugee from the US.
I will be fleeing the political climate.

July 3, 2013 6:40 am

I don’t know who the world’s first climate refugees were but they sure aren’t from the last 50 years.
The DUST BOWL of the 1930s USA produced climate refugees.

July 3, 2013 6:42 am

We have a lot of people that are willing to risk a lot of money by building vacation houses on the dunes of barrier islands. I’m not sure that I like the idea of lessening their risk by paying for replacing those dunes they are altering. If you are going to build on a barrier island, do it behind the second dune. Nature will have a better chance of protecting your property from storms that are going to come. This has nothing to do with rising CO2 levels. It is economic good sense.

July 3, 2013 6:53 am

As someone with a degree in geography I greatly enjoyed your article, especially the maps. I too burst into laughter at your final reveal about the barrier island Shishmaref is built on.
I have a map on my wall of Hatteras Island in North Carolina. It notes the many places where channels have been cut and filled in over recorded history in the area. I wonder if their little barrier island might become two barrier islands in the right storm!

chris y
July 3, 2013 7:05 am

In response to John Coleman’s question on sea level rise-
I tried to use Satellite Altimeter data to get as close as possible to Shishmaref for sea level rise-
The trend since 1993 is about 2.9 mm/year. According to NOAA Technical Report NOS CO-OPS 53, the uncertainty in the trend for a 20 year record length is +/- 2.9 mm/yr.

July 3, 2013 7:46 am

Coastlines eroding? What an unusual occurrence…. /sarc

July 3, 2013 8:28 am

But when, enquiring minds want to know, will the first phony farcical refugees sally forth from the Firth of Forth, near Fife?

David Ball
July 3, 2013 9:57 am

Great post W.
When I was a kid, dad would leave me in the lab with the erosion table. I could adjust flow and declination to form little oxbow lakes. Loved it.
Portage La Prairie is a town in Manitoba whose central park is located within an oxbow formation. Pretty cool, actually.

July 3, 2013 10:19 am

T. G. Brown says:
July 3, 2013 at 3:04 am
“You have to appreciate the trick photography in Figure 1. Different perspective, different distance to the shore–the result is an exaggerated picture of the shore erosion.”
What about the tyre tracks that go over the edge? Look closer.

Bill Illis
July 3, 2013 11:01 am

The tide gauge at Prudhoe Bay Alaska is showing 0.28 mms/yr of sea level rise since 2002.
The GPS monitoring stations at Prudhoe Bay and Barrow Alaska are not showing any vertical motion since 2002.
Prudhoe Bay tide gauge.
Barrow GPS.

Bill Illis
July 3, 2013 11:02 am

Soory, Prudhoe Bay tide gauge is since 1994.

Bill Illis
July 3, 2013 11:08 am

Sorry double screwup. Prudhoe Bay tide gauge is showing 3.4 mms/yr since 1994.

July 3, 2013 12:58 pm

This is the number of Ameridan unemployed, isn’t it? They are mostly caused by this insanity.
See The Two Minute Conservative via Google or: and when you speak ladies will swoon and liberal gentlemen will weep.

July 3, 2013 1:22 pm

I assume the delta at the mouth of the Amazon River that formed during the last Ice Age is now submerged under 200 feet of sea level rise ?
Is anyone taking cores of it ?
Might be interesting.

Nigel S
July 3, 2013 2:39 pm

StephenP says: July 3, 2013 at 12:38 am
Maybe the 11th Hussars, who were in the Charge of the Light Brigade along with the 17th Lancers, would be a better choice, They were known as the ‘Cherry Pickers’ because of their cherry red pants (trousers). This would seem to be a better name for AGWists.
Excellent choice! I think they should have quite elaborate headgear too, black feathers like the Bersaglieri perhaps (although without the marksmanship of course)?
‘When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.’

July 3, 2013 3:07 pm

” T. G. Brown says:
July 3, 2013 at 3:04 am
You have to appreciate the trick photography in Figure 1. Different perspective, different distance to the shore–the result is an exaggerated picture of the shore erosion.”
The perspective and distance are indeed different by I am not sure “trick” is fair.
Using the pole with an angling brace and the white window and door casings on the mansion behind it the pointing direction and alignment are not that far off (and I not sure the “off” is in direction favorable to an intent to deceive.
The tire tracks look honest and make it clear there WAS road there not long ago.
And I think the different focal length is hostile to the illusion-intent speculated as to the shape and depth of the eroded portion.

July 3, 2013 3:16 pm

“Alberta Slim says:
July 3, 2013 at 6:18 am
“”So then who moved the trashcan, and why ?””
I say it was the photographer, for a more “scary” effect.”
I say it was the driver of the first vehicle to drive past after the earlier tire tracks had disappeared.

July 3, 2013 5:56 pm

My 2c. England has been losing villages to the sea for a thousand years.
Venice was built on such ground as Newtok is (for defense reasons) – and yes, it’s been sinking ever since.
Who took the Shishmaref “before” picture, and when, and why? Were they prescient,or did they have a plan? It’s easy to “erode” dirt with a fence pole and sledge hammer.

Gary Pearse
July 3, 2013 6:01 pm

u.k.(us) says:
July 3, 2013 at 1:22 pm
“I assume the delta at the mouth of the Amazon River that formed during the last Ice Age is now submerged under 200 feet of sea level rise ?
Is anyone taking cores of it ?
Might be interesting.”
Deltas need comparatively calm waters with weak longshore currents in order to accumulate. The Amazon empties into the energetic Atlantic and the sediments are carried away and distributed by wave action and currents away from the mouth of the river. If conditions were conducive to delta accumulation, the delta, like that of the Mississippi, Ganges, etc. would keep pace with sea level rise. This is why it is essentially fraudulent to spread alarm about the disappearance of the delta lands with global warming. If sea level rises, the sea water temporarily intrudes up the river channel, but this means that the river borne sediments then hit this calm water then drop their sediments early, building up the land encroached upon. Indeed the Mississippi and Ganges at the end of the ice age were issuing into a sea 120 metres lower than at present and as the waters rose, the deltas kept pace. The problems with deltas caused by storms and floods including shifting channels, washing away of sand bars, erosion of farms, etc. exist with or without global warming.

July 3, 2013 6:07 pm
Mike C.
July 3, 2013 6:12 pm

In the late 70s early 80s I worked as a surveyor on the North Slope of Alaska. We frequently used geodetic survey markers established in the 40s and 50s. Many of these markers were placed on bluffs above the Arctic Ocean. The recovery notes for the bluff-side markers invariably remarked that the stations were in danger of being lost to erosion or had already been lost. Before being relocated by the government, the natives had fish camps, whaling camps and winter camps, none of which involved permanent structures. Whatever modern erosional issues exist have absolutely nothing to do with climate change and everything to do with political interference with native customs.

A. Scott
July 3, 2013 7:41 pm

Nice job Willis … plain ‘ol common sense – that just about anyone can understand …

July 3, 2013 10:03 pm

Guardian had a weep story on Newtok not long ago.
From a first look at Google Earth, it was clear the climate refuge story was not so simple. I did a little bit of research.
This was my comment:
“The article heading invites us to “Join the debate”. In the spirit of debate, I provide some conclusions we can draw from the discussions presented:
The villagers have trouble ahead. The existing plans to relocate them to safer ground seems to be the right one.
The villagers were settled here (some say forcibly) by the government in 1959. Richard Wisecarver who claims to have relatives in the village says his father-in-law was forced there in 1946.
A look at Newtok on Google Earth shows this was an unwise place to settle, being on the downstream side and outer edge of a wide meandering river on an area of very low lying flat land. Natural erosion by the meandering river is 100% inevitable.
Richard Wisecarver says: “The site [from 1946 onwards] was very bad with a poor quality water, no drainage and flooding during storm driven tides in the spring & fall, Bob Kilongak, my father-in-law was always concerned about the flooding and the erosion by the Niqliq river since the tide ran in and out of the Baird Inlet twice a day in a raging torrent.” This is further evidence this was a bad place to settle people.
Could recent climate change have accelerated the natural rate of erosion? The original US Army Corp report states: “Newtok’s riverine erosion on the Ninglick River is aggravated by wave action and thermal degradation of the ice-rich riverbank.”
‘Thermal degradation’ implies this could be due to climate warming. However, we learn of the phenomenon of ‘thermokast slumping’ whereby human settlement in a sensitive permafrost area can cause permafrost melting. When you think of roads, motorized vehicles, airstrip, heated buildings, etc, this seems perfectly logical.
So what is causing the melting?
When local Nathan Tom is asked in one of the videos by Suzanne Goldenberg (2nd one down, 2min 30): “We’re looking at the effects of climate change in Newtok. Do you notice any difference in the life in the village?” Tom: “Oh yeah, the snow comes in a different timing now. The snow disappears way late. That’s making the geese come in the wrong time. Now they’re starting to lay eggs when there’s still snow and ice, and we can’t even travel by pick-up”
The weather gauge data, just 200km east of Newtok, and 100km east of the main area of up-river ice shows no overall trend from 1940 to present. Bethel temperature record.
Thus, we can conclude that regional warming is not a likely cause of melting. Much more likely is the impact of human settlement combined with the natural process of meandering river erosion.
Regarding the caption against the child on the concrete block which says: “A child plays in a flooded area of Newtok village”. This appears to be nothing to do with river flooding or erosion. It is most likely a typical puddle of permafrost melt, which any satellite or aerial image of the area shows are ubiquitous – but perhaps more common in the village due to the heat from human settlement.
In overall conclusion, these villagers will be migrant refugees, not of climate change, but of the poor decision of the government to settle them in such a vulnerable location in the first place.”

July 4, 2013 10:02 am

Okay. So what about us who where born and lived in a little fishing village called Saint Martins,NB,Canada on the Bay of Fundy? Our sea level changed 23 feet every 12 hours,and has for at least 356 years? I seriously doubt my great-great-great-grandad who built wooden ships there contributed a whole lot of CO2. But in 1850, my great-grandfather could walk 30 mins to reach the shore at peak tide.In 1998,I had to walk 25 minutes to reach the same spot. Yet 600 yards from our house,in the opposite direction,is the harbour. I will willing pay for anybody to come check it out(R&B free). So how is it so stable.And we are on the shallow end.20 minutes east ,they average 47 feet.Yet very little erosion.Oh.And there is a manmade break water at the harbour that has been there for over 200 years,yet no adverse effects.Just real curious why it seems so different what others are describing here.
An-th-ny has my email

Lady Life Grows
July 4, 2013 2:11 pm

george e. smith says:
July 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm
So then who moved the trashcan, and why ?
If you look very carefully at the trashcan and telephone poles and buildings, you will see that the second picture was taken from further away and at a different angle. The trash can is in the same place, and there is still a road to the left of it.
At first glance at the two pix, there seems to be some considerable erosion, but after the different vantage point is taken into consideration, you simply cannot tell. Maybe there is no erosion at all.
Of course, there is no (detectable within limits of error) global warming at all, either.

July 5, 2013 12:07 am

The fellows were nomad till the 70’s
They were moving between Newtok, where they ONLY stayed during the winter,
And Nelson Island where they ONLY stayed during the summer.
In the winter Nelson Island was too exposed.
In the summer Newtok land would melt.
When permanent houses were built for them, the builders obviously had no idea of WHY they were moving.
Now they are sick of being stuck on moist land during the summer.
They want federal money to move the houses from the winter to the summer place, on Nelson Island,
Which will be too exposed in the winter.
So once moved, they will become climate refugees again.
Asking to move back, maybe?
Such are the vagaries of nomad life, when forced to settle down.
See its history here
The availability of subsistence resources has historically determined where the Qaluyaarmiut lived at different times of the year. As recently as the 1960s, the Newtok village site served primarily as a winter camp for the residents.
The village population would move by dogteam in April, before ice break-up, to the summer fish camp at Nilikluguk on Nelson Island (about six miles from Tununak). At Nilikluguk, the community lived in tents all summer long. In early June, most of the men would travel to Bristol Bay to work in the canneries. The winter months were spent at the Newtok village site.
Around 1968, the Nilikluguk fish camp was abandoned after massive landslides buried the camp area and altered the shoreline enough to affect the seasonal movement of herring along this portion of the Nelson Island coast. Villagers still use the area for spring sea bird and seal hunting.

July 6, 2013 7:44 pm

Good point, Willis. Nomads typically live in areas where there is not a reliable supply of food and water.
How this gets warped by modern notions of political correctness is classically illustrated by the Mabo case, which established the concept of land rights for Aborigines in Australia. The Mabo case was based on a claim by the people of Mer, an island off north Queensland inhabited by Polynesians. They had settled villages, clear ancestral land boundaries for families, gardens which supplied most of their food and even a structure like a court to settle land disputes. No sensible court would argue that they did not “own” their land, and indeed, the High Court did not.
But, in a breathtaking leap of judicial activism, they then asserted that nomadic Aborigines on the mainland “owned” whatever territory they roamed (or claimed to roam) as well, with some exceptions.
The fallout from that absurd decision will probably take generations to sort out. But, it has bought new Beemers every year for many lawyers and their spouses, plus holidays in France. All paid for by taxpayers, of course.
Western civilisation fell in love with the Romantics, caught the nasty diseases, and is still wistfully hoping that things might work out – like a bad C&W song.

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