Climate change is wreaking havoc with national landmarks across the United States. The Union of Concerned Scientists, located in Washington, D.C., is concerned with the negative impact on this nation’s historical and cultural sites due to a variety of changes in the climate. Adam Markham, who is the director of climate impacts with UCS, said that the threats to these landmarks could cause them to be lost forever or at best be irreparably damaged. This devastation encompasses the entirety of American history, which dates from prehistory to the space age, which affect several NASA sites.
NASA reports that more than two-thirds of its facilities are within 16 feet of sea level. That includes the Kennedy Space Center from which the shuttles have lifted off into space, including the Apollo missions. The protective dunes near this location have been restored several times, but the storm surges continue to break through. Russell De Young, a senior research scientist at NASA’s oldest site, the Langley Research Center, which is located in Hampton, Virginia, is concerned that hurricanes and storm surges from Nor’easters could make the entire facility unusable due to the inundation of the pounding wind and rain from these violent storms. NASA has been instrumental in providing data regarding global climates.
Markam is alarmed that the issues of how climate changes are affecting cultural resources has, to this point, been ignored. Climate data that shows very strong changes in specific areas is allowing researchers to see just how much of an impact there will be in certain regions. This data consists of heavy rains, flooding, rising seas, coastal erosion, intense wildfires and drought. The National Landmarks at Risk Report contains all the data that details the climate changes in varying regions and how that is affecting these priceless National landmarks.
The first permanent English settlement in North America was Jamestown Island in Virginia. This island is currently five feet above sea level, and by 2100, the coastal waters are expected to rise by at least six feet, all because of climate change. This projection validates the imminent threat that the entire island could disappear by the end of this century. Archaeologists are considering removing all artifacts so that they do not become submerged and lost forever. Such havoc being wreaked upon these landmarks in our nation is unthinkable, yet unstoppable.
The Atlantic coast stretches for 620 miles and, just north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, sea levels have hammered the tidal flood zones, rising four times the national average. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was built in 1870, and was at that time 1,500 feet from Atlantic Ocean. Due to shoreline erosion, it was eventually only 120 feet from the waters. The Hatteras Light, as it is known, is the tallest brick-built light house in America. To protect it from beach erosion the National Park Service moved the lighthouse further inland at a cost of $11 million.
The U.S. Gulf and East Coast are experiencing the highest rise in sea levels in the world. Over the past 100 years, Boston has experienced 10 of the 20 highest tides and all were within the last 10 years. Damages projected along the coastline of Massachusetts could average $237 million yearly. A regional chief scientist with the National Park Service, Mary Foley, said that loss of marshes to open water, greater flood events, and higher tides are creating greater vulnerabilities.
Other sites at risk from the rising waters include Bandelier, Cape Hatteras, the Everglades and Mesa Verde National Parks. Ninety-six percent of park service land is in areas which are affected by global warming. Millions of tourists plan vacations around these parks and historical sites, generating $27 billion in economy per year, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.
Wildfires are increasing and lasting about two months longer each year. Artifacts that could have endured for millennia, get damaged as the flames burn off the ceramic glazes, which is how pottery is dated. The U.S. Forest Service said that to lose the archaeological records would be a great loss, as we can never get them back. Fire would then be resetting the clock. Jon Jarvis, a National Park Service Director said that he believes that climate change is the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks.
Each of the endangered landmarks is a prized possession. They tell a story about the birth of America, the landing of the Pilgrims and all of our space escapades and progresses. Markham said it is as if you can literally trace the history of this nation through these sites. These treasured national landmarks are suffering the havoc that climate change wreaked upon them.
By Jill Boyer-Adriance