Report: Climate change imperils nation’s historic, cultural landmarks

McClatchy Washington BureauMay 20, 2014 


The Castillo, the old fort, shown at sunset, as seen, Feb. 25, 2014, in St. Augustine, Florida

JOE BURBANK — Orlando Sentinel/MCT

— Saying there’s a “race against time,” an advocacy group said this week that climate change – leading to sea level rise and worsening wildfires – is putting some of the nation’s most significant historical sites at risk.

Highlighting archeological and other historical sites in Florida, California and several other states, a report released Tuesday by the Union of Concerned Scientists said that rising waters and raging flames could undermine some of the nation’s most-cherished locations.

“You can almost trace the history of the United States through these sites,” Adam Markham, director of climate impacts at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a co-author of the report, said in a statement. “The imminent risks to these sites and the artifacts they contain threaten to pull apart the quilt that tells the story of the nation’s heritage and history.”

Among the 30 sites at risk, according to the report:

_ The huge prehistoric mounds of oyster and clam shells that dot Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The report says Florida is one of the only places on Earth where coastal hunter-gatherers built shell structures as large and complicated as they are along Florida’s southwest coast. Across the state in Canaveral National Seashore, Turtle Mound is a massive shell structure that dates back at least 1,200 years. In both places, rising seas and worsening storm surge are endangering the shell structures.

_ In St. Augustine, Fla., sea level rise, erosion and worsening storm surge threaten landmarks in the oldest city in the nation. The city, on the Atlantic coast, was the seat of Spanish rule in North America for 200 years. Without major engineering feats, the Castillo de San Marcos fort likely will become inaccessible if sea levels rise 3 feet; a major report earlier this month about climate change projected that sea levels could rise 1 to 4 feet by 2100.

_ In California, Groveland and other Gold Rush-era towns are imperiled by wildfires. Citing a marked increase in giant wildfires, the report says climate change has driven up temperatures, caused earlier melting of winter snowpack and made forests drier for longer periods – making them ripe for fire. The report singles out Groveland, a town near Yosemite National Park that was imperiled by the devastating Rim Fire in 2013.

Other locations highlighted by the group include the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina; the Statue of Liberty in New York; and the Old and Historic District of Charleston, S.C. At Cape Hatteras and the Statue of Liberty, steps already have been taken to make the sites more resilient to climate change.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Union of Concerned Scientists is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that seeks to “create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future,” according to its website.

The report in many ways echoes the U.S. National Climate Assessment, a major assessment released to a blizzard of attention earlier this month. That report was overseen by federal officials and represented the views of more than 300 experts and top Obama administration officials; it was instantly attacked by climate-change skeptics who accused the report of overreach.

In it, scientists detailed how climate change already has impacted many parts of the country; the new report this week zeroed in on the current or potential impact on historical sites.

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