Building a Case: Assessing and Dealing with the Effects of Climate Change on Cultural Heritage

Posted on: January 9th, 2013 by Forum Reference Desk
An aerial view of Fort Jefferson at Dry Turtogas National Park, which  is highly vulnerable to sea level rise. | Credit: National Park Service (via Wikipedia)

An aerial view of Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park, which is highly vulnerable to sea level rise. | Credit: National Park Service (via Wikipedia)

This is the third post in a new series featuring the work of the Forum Reference Desk (FRD). As we wrapped up 2012, we noticed an increase in questions about climate change, specifically from historic preservation graduate students conducting research on the topic, with two students in December looking for studies related to coastal historic properties vulnerable to sea-level rise. And, as Forum staff predicted in What We’ll Be Watching in 2013, the effects of climate change on cultural heritage is likely to be one of the hot topics we expect to get more questions about from our callers.

World heritage organizations have been addressing the correlation of climate change and cultural heritage since the early 2000s. In 2004 the European Commission launched Noah’s Ark, a project that collected available environmental data and other information in order to map scenarios for the future of Europe’s cultural heritage.

Though it has been a prominent topic internationally since the early 2000s, the effects of climate change on cultural resources was not the subject of much discussion in the U.S. until the mid-2000s. Former National Trust President Richard Moe addressed the direct connection between the preservation of our cultural heritage and climate change in a 2008 speech in Berkeley, Calif. In 2009 the National Trust endorsed the Dublin Declaration on the Climate Change at the International National Trusts gathering. That same year, Anthony Veerkamp (field director in the National Trust San Francisco Field Office), submitted a statement on behalf of the National Trust to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources on the Impact of Climate Change on the Chesapeake Bay.

A number of excellent publications and websites address the impact of global climate change on heritage sites. In 2007, UNESCO published a study called “Case Studies on Climate Change and World Heritage Sites,” which asserts that climate change will have both direct and indirect consequences for historic sites. In 2009 a report addressing the vulnerability of Australia’s World Heritage sites was released. English Heritage has a website dedicated to existing research and policies on climate change in the UK.

An aerial  view of the Alaskan Island of Kivalina at risk from flooding and erosion worsen by climate change. | Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library (Via Wikipedia)

An aerial view of the Alaskan Island of Kivalina at risk from flooding and erosion worsen by climate change. | Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library (Via Wikipedia)

As for the U.S., a research tool similar to Noah’s Ark is NOAA’s Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts, an interactive mapping project predicting the effects of sea-level rise and coastal flooding. As for existing published research on adaptation for the preservation of cultural resources, we recommend the studies at the “Adapting to Rising Tides” project in San Francisco, along with the Maryland Historical Trust and Anne Arundel County Strategic Plan addressing archeological resources.

A few other resources are worth mentioning. For example, the National Park Service has developed materials explaining the current and future negative effects of climate change on some national parks, including its Climate Change Response Program’s homepage. Also worth perusing are several back issues of the George Wright Forum, especially, Volume 25, #2 (2008) addressing climate change in national parks.

FRD is compiling a comprehensive portfolio of resources on this topic and we need your help. If you are aware of additional resources on climate change and its effects on cultural resources, please provide a title or a link to that recommendation in the comment section below.

As usual, if there is a topic you would like us to cover or research, or a trend in your region or in your line of work or study that we should be watching and researching in 2013, please let us know in the comment section below or by emailing us directly at forum@savingplaces.org. And, as always, please help us promote the Preservation Leadership Forum Blog by listing it in your blog roll. We are looking forward to hearing from you!

About Forum Reference Desk

Staffed by Melita Juresa-McDonald (San Francisco Field Office) the National Trust's Forum Reference Desk provides preservation leaders direct, easy, and timely access to the latest and best information, referrals, and tools.

Forum Benefit, Sustainability