Rising sea levels could threaten key archaeological sites

Global warming may threaten archaeological sites all over the world.
By Joseph Scalise | Dec 05, 2017
Rising sea levels may threaten many landmarks and important historical sites around the world, according to a new studypublished in the journalPLOS ONE.

As global warming continues to affect climates across the world, ocean levels continue to rise. In the new study, a group of researchers from the University of Tennessee found that higher tides may threaten Jamestown, Virginia -- the first permanent English settlement in the America -- the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina, which is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States.

Those areas, while iconic, are just some of the more than 13,000 archaeological and historical sites on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts that may be washed away by rising sea levels over the next century.

Current estimates show that global warming could cause sea levels to rise by about 3.3 feet in the next century, and by more than 16.4 feet in the centuries afterward. Those increased levels could severely affect the more than 40 percent of all people worldwide who currently live within a 60-mile distance from a coastline.

The team in the new study set out to find what effect those rising levels could have on archaeological and historical sites.To do this, they analyzed data from the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA), which collects archaeological and historical data sets developed over the past century from multiple sources.

"DINAA allows us to examine where people were living in North America over the entire 15,000-year record of human settlement," explained lead author David Anderson, an archaeologist at the University of Tennessee, according to Live Science.

If projected trends continue, there could be a 3.3-foot rise in sea level by 2100. That would submerge thousands of recorded archaeological and historical sites in the southeastern United States alone, and likely wash away dozens of others around the world.

The 13,000 sites identified by the study are only a tiny fraction of the ones known to science. There is a chance the waters could also wash away many key sites that have not yet been explored. In addition, researchers also found more than 32,000 archaeological sites -- including over 2,400 sites on the National Register of Historic Places -- will be lost if sea levels rise more than 16.4 feet.

"Many more unrecorded archaeological and historic sites will also be lost as large areas of the landscape are flooded," the team wrote in the study, according toQuartz.

More states will be able to participate in DINAA in the future, which is a key step that may help officials make informed decisions about how to save many threatened sites.


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