Climate change is putting historic and cultural landmarks around the USA at risk, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a non-profit science advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.
"Sea-level rise, coastal erosion, increased flooding, heavy rains and more frequent large wildfires are damaging archaeological resources, historic buildings and cultural landscapes across the nation," says the report, "National Landmarks at Risk."
The report, which was not a peer-reviewed study, includes 30 at-risk locations, including places where the "first Americans" lived, the Spaniards ruled, English colonists landed, slavery rose and fell, and gold prospectors struck it rich.
Locations include the Statue of Liberty; Jamestown, Va.; the Cape Hatteras (N.C.) Lighthouse; and the Kennedy Space Center.
"You can almost trace the history of the United States through these sites," says Adam Markham, director of climate impacts at UCS and report co-author.
Sea levels already have risen 1-2 feet across portions of the East and Gulf Coast, USA TODAY reported last year, and global sea levels will rise about 1 foot to slightly more than 3 feet by 2100, according to this year's Fifth Assessment Report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Many at-risk sites are national parks, including Mesa Verde, Bandelier, Cape Hatteras and the Everglades. According to the National Park Service, 96% of park service land is in areas where global warming has been observed in the past century.
Each year, millions of tourists visit national parks and other historic sites, benefiting local and national economies, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. National parks alone generate more than $27 billion in the economy, according to a USA TODAY analysis last year.
According to the UCS report, one historic site — Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas —will likely be underwater by the end of the century.
The Kennedy Space Center and surrounding Cape Canaveral area in Florida, site of the Apollo launch, are threatened by storm surges that regularly breach dunes near the launch pads. Efforts to restore and protect the dunes have been undone by subsequent storms.
In the West, climate change is increasing the risk of large wildfires in places such as California's Sierra Nevada, the report says. Across the region, wildfire season lasts two months longer than in the 1970s.
Cultural resources in the Southwest have been hit by intense, large-scale wildfires that often are followed by flooding.
"During the last decade and a half, massive fires have swept through Mesa Verde National Park and Bandelier National Monument and other southwestern sites, damaging ancient pueblo masonry, petroglyphs and pottery," Markham says.
"This report certainly echoes findings from an array of different peer-review studies and is very consistent with the challenges confronting our national security installations," says J. Marshall Shepherd, a University of Georgia atmospheric scientist who was not involved in the report.
"Remember, most naval facilities, like many of these national treasures, are at or below sea level," Shepherd says.
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - Charleston's Historic District and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse are among the national landmarks threatened by rising sea levels, according to a report released Tuesday by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The report cites 30 such sites nationwide scientists say need to be protected from climate changes ranging from sea level rise to floods and frequent wildfires.
The 84-page report, "National Landmarks at Risk" mentions such varied sites as NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Statue of Liberty, the Bandelier National Monument & Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico and the Bering Land Bridge National Monument in Alaska.
The report notes that in Charleston, high tides and summer thunderstorms already routinely flood the popular City Market area. It says nuisance flooding will increase with rising sea levels and if the sea level rises 2 feet homes south of Colonial Lake would inundated.
"Even on sunny days, extreme high tides cause saltwater to back up through storm drains onto the roads, snarling traffic and sometimes forcing businesses to close," the report said.
It noted while the city is building new pump stations and drainage tunnels, water could back up when rainfall exceeds the capacity of the new systems.
The report concluded "Charleston will have to be as aggressive in protecting itself from present and future climate change as it has been in preserving the city's cultural past."
In North Carolina, studies conducted a quarter century ago noted rising sea levels were endangering the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The 4,800-ton lighthouse was moved nearly 3,000 feet from the shore back in 1999 but in recent years sea level rise on the Outer Banks has been two to three times the global average, the report said.
All of the Outer Banks, the string of narrow barrier islands on North Carolina's coast, are vulnerable to higher seas and stronger storms. The report noted that North Carolina 12 along the Outer Banks was breached in two places during Hurricane Irene in 2011, buried under sand during Hurricane Sandy the following year while last year a nor'easter again buried the highway.
As sea level rises "the hard choices that were made in deciding how to response to an imminent threat to the lighthouse's future will have to be made again and again," the report concluded. _____
On the Internet:
Landmarks at Risk: http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/impacts/national-landmarks-at-risk-from-climate-change.html