Migration Pillar

The impacts of climate change on individual, family, and community migration decisions and patterns 

Photo Credit:

Andy Baltensperger

Migration & Climate Change

Migration decisions entail complex intersections between social and cultural identities, economic conditions, and environmental changes. Information about how these factors intersect is limited for Arctic Native communities. Existing studies have not been able to definitively link current patterns of migration to climate change, noting a large number of push-and-pull factors with climate only one among many in a place where both seasonal or permanent migration have been a long-standing pattern. Migration may take place at the individual, household/family, or community level, and is intimately connected to livelihoods, sustainability, and economic conditions.

Individuals may migrate seeking better economic opportunities, leaving other family members behind to continue local livelihood practices. With few exceptions, Arctic migration studies have not examined patterns by individual-level characteristics such as age and gender despite their known significance in similar subsistence communities. Migration may be a family decision and process in Alaskan communities or whole villages may consider collective relocation. Much remains to be determined about how age, gender, and household level factors influence the processes of individual, family, and community decision-making that go into these deliberations.

Photo Credit: Chris Maio


Coastal communities are especially vulnerable to climate change and our study will examine whether and how it influences migration and relocation decisions and behavior. We will work with local communities to identify best policy and practices from regional, state, and federal levels, by identifying (1) policy changes that could better allow coastal Alaskans to stay in place or more smoothly transition to new communities; and (2) policy barriers to community relocation when communities want and need to move.

Photo Credit:

Andy Baltensperger

Move or Stay? Impacts of Climate Change

We have many questions about the relationship between climate change and migration:

  • How and what environmental stressors lead to migration in the Arctic communities?
  • How do food security and subsistence practices and income impact migration decisions?
  • If and what role does gender play in migration decision making in the Arctic Native communities?
  • What role are regional, state, and federal policies playing in migration decisions? How could policies be improved to better allow coastal Alaskans to stay in place or more smoothly transition to work and living in new communities?

We hope to find answers to these and related questions, to have a better understanding of how much climate change affects migration decisions in Alaskan coastal villages and use this information to help individuals, families, and communities plan for dealing with climate change.