Approximately 13,000 historic sites in the United States are at-risk of being wiped out as a result of climate change, says a new report. The study, which was published in PLOS One, suggests that the southeastern region of the United States will experience a one-meter rise in sea level by 2100. As a result, thousands of Native American settlements and early European colonies would be inundated.
To assess the potential effects of climate change, the researchers worked with an ongoing projected called the Digital Index of North American Archaeology. As Wired reports, it is an umbrella database that organizes the messy data individual states recorded on where historical monuments are located.
After marrying the location data for sites in nine southeastern states — including Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas — with elevation data, the researchers learned that thousands of sites will likely be destroyed. With the sea level rise of one meter, the states would lose over 13,000 total sites. 4,000 would disappear in Florida alone! If the water were to rise 5 meters, 32,000 historical sites would disappear.
“What we are hoping to get started is a conversation in American archaeology, and world archaeology,” said Josh Wells, a co-author of the study. “What are the effects of climate change on the record as we understand it, and to what extent do we need to triage and focus our efforts on recovering what we can before it’s gone?”
They have a limited amount of time, as sea levels are already rising. Said study co-author David Anderson of the University of Tennessee: “This is ongoing now with sea levels slowly coming up, increased storm surges. We’re seeing erosion of coastal archaeological sites.”
What Can Be Done?
Though the archaeologists accept that only a few of the 13,000 historical sites can be saved, they are still puzzling over which ones, and how to choose.
Some have proposed building sea walls around the sites, but that could damage other monuments. “When you build these barriers you’re typically taking soil,” said Anderson. “You’re taking materials from locations that themselves contain archaeological and historical resources.”
In theory, the structures could be moved. After all, the Egyptians did this with the Abu Simbel temples when a newly-formed dam threatened to submerge them. But still, which ones should be saved and how to choose?
Inevitably, populations of people will have to be moved, as well. As a matter of fact, this is actually already occurring. In 2016, the government moved the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Native American tribe from coastal Louisiana, as the rising waters threatened their well-being. Because of climate change, they left not only their homes but historically and culturally significant locations.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that Washington, DC and its many cultural sites may eventually be underwater. Yet, the present leader denounces the threat of global warming, saying it is a “hoax” invented by the Chinese.
If action isn’t taken, thousands of historical sites will be lost, natural disasters will be exacerbated, and food shortages will become common. Share this news to raise awareness, and please comment your thoughts below.