Climate Change Threatens Iconic American Sites

In a recent press release, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) announced the issuing of a report called “National Landmarks at Risk.” The report said that sea level rise, worsening wildfires and floods are putting at risk landmark historic sites around the United States.

The report, which was not a peer reviewed study, names 30 at risk locations, among them the Statue of Liberty; Jamestown, Va.; the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (N.C.); and the Kennedy Space Center.

Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas is likely to be submerged by rising seas by the end of the century, as are at least portions of others, according to the report. Fort Monroe in Virginia, which played a crucial role in the fall of slavery, faces increasing risks from flooding. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projections show that, without major engineering action, grounds immediately surrounding the fort will become permanently flooded with three feet of sea level rise, the moderate range of what scientists project will occur by the end of the century.

Raising seas and the threat of worsening storm surges are endangering historic districts on the east coast of the United States. In Alaska, melting sea ice and thawing permafrost have allowed winter storms to erode the coastlines of Cape Krusenstern National Monument and the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, at an unprecedented rate. In the West, climate change is increasing the risk of large wildfires in places such as California’s Sierra Mountains by driving up temperatures, reducing winter snowpack, and drying out forests for longer periods. Cultural resources in the southwestern United States have been hit by a dual threat: intense, large scale wildfires that are often followed by flooding rain events.

The news isn’t all bad. Efforts are being made to protect historic sites and make them more resilient. Work has been done on the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which the National Park Service moved inland to save from sea level rise.

In Florida, the National Park Service and the University of Central Florida have worked together to save the endangered Turtle Mound, a 1200 year old shell mound in the Canaveral National Seashore. They have created a “living shoreline” of oyster mats, Spartina grass and mangroves to try to protect the mound from erosion.

Since 2009, scientists from the University of Florida and the U.S. Geological Survey have studied the area around the Kennedy Space Center and surrounding Cape Canaveral area that began being routinely covered by waves during storms that leveled the dunes. They found what was going on could not be explained by typical Florida beach erosion. They believed it was climate change at work. NASA’s solution was to use beach sand from a nearby project to build a second, mile long line of dunes inland from the area where the erosion was occurring.

Projects to restore and make these sites more resilient cost money. The UCS report endorses Congress funding President Obama’s proposed Climate Resilience Fund, which could be used to help municipalities and businesses become more resilient to climate change.

Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

0 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *