Sea-Level Rise Likely to Threaten Thousands of US Historic Sites

Tens of thousands of known archaeological sites are threatened by sea level rise in the southeast, and far more currently unknown and unrecorded, as shown here at low spatial resolution. (Anderson et al., 2017)

(CN) – Sea-level rise could threaten more than 13,000 archaeological sites, buildings, cultural landscapes and cemeteries along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States, a new study finds.

These historical sites and structures could be submerged by a 3.3-foot rise in sea level, which may occur by the end of this century if projected trends continue.

Additional sea-level rise could threaten several thousand more landmarks, according to the study, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.

“These numbers increase substantially with each additional 1-meter (about 3.3 feet) rise in sea level, with more than 32,000 archaeological sites and more than 2,400 National Register of Historic Places properties lost should a 5-meter (approximately 16.4 feet) rise occur,” the authors write.

The findings, which are based on data from the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA), suggest many more sites and structures that have yet to be discovered or recorded could also be lost.

Aside from the cultural and historical loss, millions of people will be displaced by sea-level rise and additional impacts will be felt by the areas these people resettle to.

“Sea-level rise will thus result in the loss of much of the record of human habitation of the coastal margin in the Southeast within the next one to two centuries, and the numbers indicate the magnitude of the impact on the archaeological record globally,” the study says.

Massive linked data sets that project what may be affected or lost by sea-level rise across entire regions are critical to establishing accurate projections and effective intervention efforts.

“Developing informatics capabilities at regional and continental scales like DINAA is essential if we are to effectively plan for, and help mitigate, this loss of human history,” said lead author David Anderson, a professor at the University of Tennessee.


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