Shungnak is a city located in the Northwest Arctic Borough of Alaska. Situated 150 miles east of Kotzebue on the Kobuk River; Shungnak is dependent on barges and river traffic for many of it’s supplies during the summer. The winter freezes of down to -60* render the river unnavigable for much of the year and only air travel connects the city to any sort of logistic supply. The land is composed of permafrost rendering any construction more difficult and expensive. Earthquakes have been known to occur but did not cause much damage within Shungnak.
Originally the community was founded further up river as a supply point for local mining operations. Supplies would be brought in by barge from Kotzebue and distributed throughout the area via trails, barely improved roads, and at times sled dogs. As the river shifted course the original site was no longer habitable in the same way and the community moved to a more stable location. The old site is now the village of Kobuk, while the new community was called Kochuk. Eventually however Kochuk reverted to being called Shungnak a derivation of the Inupiaq word for jade “Issingnak’.
Bering Air currently services Shungnak out of Kotzebue. The current Corona Virus plaguing the world however has disrupted the air travel industry, both through quarantines and the failure of Raven air, rendering the city’s 256 inhabitants severely isolated. Power and infrastructure all rely on diesel fuel imported this way and represent as significant danger of deprivation. In the past conditions have pushed the price of fuel to over $8.00 a gallon. The Ambler Mining District road would terminate North of Shungnak providing some connection to the Dalton Highway. This road is proposed as a toll/ mining road that would not however be for general use. In theory all goods not related to mining operations would still need to be barged up the river or flown in.
Shungnak currently derives it’s electric power from diesel generators. This is problematic due to the cost of fuel and fragility of the supply chain. Kotzebue is currently experimenting not far away with solar power and is set to install 1400 panels. If successful building out to Shungnak would reduce maintenance costs for both and provide a level of independence.
Tourism has potential if Shungnak develops it’s economy. There are only 4 registered businesses in the town and the sale of alcohol is prohibited. If mining operations provide jobs and there is a way for the economy of Shungnak to interact with the industry in beneficial manner the town could see major growth if the access project is completed. This could result in the facilities and businesses necessary to attract and maintain tourists looking for access to the wilds of Alaska. Currently though it looks as if economic development hinges on the Ambler access road.
Alaska has some very serious hazards. The cold seems to alter the rules of physics. The population density so low that in many places help is days away. Even the light levels can be disorientating. All of this complicating and delaying any emergency response. Planning and preparing for disasters is critical in such a harsh environment.
I thought Fairbanks was dangerous environment with the harsh cold, threat of fires, occasional tremor, and possible flooding. However most of the hazards of any concern in the interior can be planned for and come with some level of prediction and warning. The most lethal hazards seem to be the ones that come without any warning, and any response complicated by the cold and or isolation of location.
The subduction of the Pacific Plate underneath the North American Plate has created the conditions for a whole host of hazards all along the Pacific coastline. This narrow stretch of land is subject to some of the largest earthquakes and volcanoes in the world. Each of which can then trigger equally large tsunamis and avalanches. This is all compounded by the threat of fires, harsh winters, and isolation from the grid. Alaska’s Pacific Coastline has every form of geological threat on an outsized scale in an environment that is already harsh and isolated and there are huge bears.
Figure 2.1 is cool. It captures the whimsy and harshness of an unknown land. it says to me “there is a lot of snow, some bears, a walrus up North, and if you found an ice dragon here I would not be surprised.”
Figure 2.2 reminds me of moving to Alaska. At the time we had serious health concerns for my wife and soon to be born son (all are currently well). We were in an area that could have supported, but things got weird. When we made the decision to go through with the move we knew that healthcare would be an issue, but having talked to the doctors here we saw that Alaskans are willing and able to do much more with less. We moved and everything turned out fine.
Figure 2.5 is cool because I grew up in the North-East and my parents act like a trip to DC is some sort of pilgrimage. This map helps to explain why we can’t just pop down to Palmer every weekend.
Figure 2.9 I find interesting because in a way it puts the center of mass for world population towards the center of the map instead of at the margins. The traditional way of splitting the map down the Pacific forces a large portion of the human population out to the margins while emphasizing what is essentially NATO.
related to figure 2.10:
The link below is one that I find informative because it explains how shifting your view of a map can impact your view of the world. This map emphasizes how important strategically Alaska has been for the United States role in the world.
The Map That Remade an Empire
I currently reside in Fairbanks and work in North Pole as a Secondary School Media Specialist. I am relatively new to Alaska after coming here on orders from the US Army. I however fell in love with the area and the state in general and decided I’d rather leave the Army than leave Alaska. I have found this people to be wonderful and the land itself to be wondrous, thus I now call Fairbanks home.