United States' Cultural Heritage At Risk Due To Changing Climate
May 20, 2014

United States’ Cultural Heritage At Risk Due To Changing Climate

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

From Faneuil Hall in Boston to the Bering Land Bridge National Monument in Alaska, Americans treasure numerous national landmarks and a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists has found that many of these sites are under threat from the effects of climate change.

“Today these sites face a perilous and uncertain future in a world of rising sea levels, more frequent wildfires, increased flooding, and other damaging effects of climate change,” the UCS said in a statement describing its “National Landmarks at Risk” report.

The report examined 30 national landmarks that were selected “because the science behind the risks they face is robust, and because together they shine a spotlight on the different kinds of climate impacts already affecting the United States' cultural heritage.”

"It's the whole sweep of American history," Adam Markham, director of climate impacts for the UCS, told National Geographic.

Markham said that despite all the attention given to climate change – very little coverage has gone toward the potential effects on cultural treasures.

"It's an ignored issue in the world of climate change assessment," he said. "We needed to fill that gap because the threats are quite alarming."

According to the report, the cultural sites are under threat from erosion, flooding, intense storm damage, rising seas and wildfires. For Liberty and Ellis islands in New York, the UCS scientists cited the recent catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. The report stated that “Sandy gained strength from unusually warm upper-ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic; these temperatures are expected to continue rising with global warming.”

The UCS researchers also chose to include the César E. Chávez National Monument in California. The report found that the areas dedicated to the labor activist are currently facing climate change-related threats in the form of droughts and extreme heat. The farm laborers that Chávez fought to empower are toiling under increasingly hotter temperatures and with less water at their disposal.

“Prolonged drought threatens to cripple California’s agricultural industry, which currently uses 80 percent of the state’s available water resources,” the report said. “In early 2014, federal and state officials notified some farmers that they would not receive any deliveries of irrigation water. As a consequence, some farmers may be forced to leave their fields fallow. That could mean thousands of lost jobs for seasonal farmworkers and higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.”

While the National Parks Service announced plans for a Cesar Chavez National Historic Park back in October, the UCS report authors said a more fitting tribute to the legacy of Chávez might be to protect the workers he championed.

“Mechanisms for adapting to a hotter and more drought-prone environment with improved worker protection and water management measures, and policies for reducing the emissions driving these climate impacts, are urgently needed,” the report said.

The report also noted that the frequency of fires in New Mexico should increase if most climate change projections are to be believed. These fires would threaten the Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, a significant ancient Pueblo site. Fires would damage numerous artifacts that have stood for thousands of years.

"Fire resets the clock. It removes artifacts from time," said Rachel Loehman, a US Forest Service ecologist. "If we start losing the archaeological record, we're never going to get it back."