Memorial to an Endangered Landscape: Barrow, Alaska

Known primarily for the discovery of oil reserves and establishment of the 92,268 square kilometer, federally owned, National Petroleum Reserve in 1923, the 200,000 square kilometer North Slope Borough of Alaska conjures images of a remote, inhospitable landscape, disconnected from the majority of the United States living primarily below 50°N latitude. While seemingly estranged, the North Slope, bounded by the Brooks Range to the south and the Arctic Sea to the north, is home to eight, federally recognized, indigenous Alaskan villages, including the northernmost community in the United States: Barrow, Alaska.

Barrow is one of the oldest known settlements in North America with archaeological evidence dating the community back to 500-900 A.D. (URS 2005, Glen Gray & Assoc. 2007). Today the village of over 4,000 residents, 68.6% of which are indigenous Alaskan Inupiats, is at risk due to climate change.

Typically, North Slope villages experience an average annual temperature of -10ºC and persistently strong winds of approximately 6m/s (Wendler 2010). Furthermore, the North Slope’s characteristic prevalence of permafrost, low levels of precipitation (150mm/yr) , and perpetual winter darkness makes the North Slope a difficult place for human society to thrive (Williams 2008, Wendler 2010). The North Slope experiences the highest level of youth suicide in the world and research has cited the cause to be the loss of culture as well as the negative mental and physical symptoms synonymous with living in confined inhospitable environments such as the Arctic (Blair, et al. 1991;Carrere, et al. 1991; Palinkas 2004, Wexler 2006). Climate change will exacerbate this issue further.

Increasing temperatures, the loss of sea ice, erosion, permafrost loss, and sea level rise are threatening coastal villages such as Barrow. Sea level rise has been predicted to reach 190cm over current levels by 2100, threatening the village of Barrow, which ranges between 2-8 meters above sea level. Furthermore, Barrow’s periglacial thermokarst landscape, known for its unique forms and patterns which includes pingos, oriented lakes, frost polygons, beaded streams, frost boils, and stone stripes will be destroyed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers encourages Alaskan coastal villages to consider relocation. Such is the case for Kivalina, Alaska, but the community is reluctant; not only would they lose the place they call home, they risk the loss of their cultural identity. Studies report that a connection with our environment is of paramount importance to our physical and mental health (Fromm 1964, Ulrich, 1984,Wilson 1984, Kaplan 2001).

This study will attempt to relocate the community of Barrow to the closest logical site in which a connection is maintained with the traditional village site while simultaneously mitigating the inevitable consequences of climate change. Additionally, the goal is to design an endangered landscape memorial. While not typically considered, a portion of the unique periglacial landscape may be partitioned from the encroaching ocean with a seawall. The interior will be viewed by the village and will include both natural and designed landforms, encouraging the new village to maintain a connection with their traditional landscape. Lastly, this design will be an aesthetic, yet functional site that highlights the unique thermokarst landscape creating an appealing locale to both indigenous peoples, non-indigenous peoples, and visitors alike.



Work Title Memorial to an Endangered Landscape: Barrow, Alaska
Open Access
  1. Begly, Scott Stephen
  1. Climate Refugee
  2. Thermokarst
  3. Endangered Landscape
  4. Climate Change
  5. Inhospitable
  6. Barrow Alaska
  7. Relocation
  8. Patterned Ground
  9. Periglacial
  10. Future
License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States
Work Type Project
  1. Maurer, Christopher (Committee - Consulting Architect: Alaska)
  2. Burkholder, Sean (Advisor)
  1. Pennsylvania State University. Dept. of Landscape Architecture.
Publication Date 2013
  1. English
Deposited October 02, 2013




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