Climate change imperils nation's historical, cultural landmarks

5/20/2014

By CHRIS ADAMS

By CHRIS ADAMS

McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (MCT) — Saying there's a "race against time," an advocacy group reported 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 archaeological and other historical sites in several states, a report released Tuesday by the Union of Concerned Scientists said that rising waters and raging flames could endanger 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.

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