Magazine article USA TODAY

"Historic" Climate Attack

Magazine article USA TODAY

"Historic" Climate Attack

Article excerpt

SEA LEVEL RISE and worsening wildfires and floods are putting at risk landmark historic sites around the U.S. There are at least 30 such venues, including places where the "first Americans" lived, the Spaniards ruled, English colonists landed, slavery rose and fell, and gold prospectors struck it rich. Some of the sites also commemorate more modern "firsts," such as the race to put the first man on the moon. 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.

The Society for American Archaeology, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the archaeological heritage of the Americas and the world, is calling for more attention to be paid to preserving endangered archaeological sites, marking the first time the organization has sought to draw public attention to the damage climate change is causing.

One historic site--Jamestown, Va., the first permanent English settlement in the Americas--is likely to be submerged by rising seas by the end of the century, as are at least portions of others, including the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, Cambridge, Md.

Without taking the necessary steps, other sites also may become inaccessible to the public as sea levels rise. Ft. Monroe in Virginia, which played a crucial role in the fall of slavery, will become an island unto itself within 70 years. Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Fla, also is extremely vulnerable.

The fort faces increasing risks from flooding and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projections show that, without major engineering feats, grounds immediately surrounding the fort permanently will become inundated with three feet of sea level rise, the moderate range of what scientists project will occur by the end of the century. The National Park Service is using three-dimensional scans and videos to inform how the agency better can preserve the fort and to document the structure as it is for future generations.

Rising seas and the threat of worsening storm surges also are endangering historic districts in Annapolis (Md.); Charleston (S.C.); and St. Augustine precontact; as well as Native Hawaiian structures on the Big Island; and some of the most remarkable archaeological remains on Earth.

Early Floridians constructed highly elaborate structures out of oyster and clam shells in the Ten Thousand Islands, dating back to 1000 B.C. The Everglades is one of the only places in the world where entire communities--with canals, plazas, and water courts--were built on top of wetlands out of oyster shells, and these sites face an imminent threat from climate impacts.

Across the peninsula in the northern part of Canaveral National Seashore, Turtle Mound, a more than 1,200-year-old shell mound thought to be the highest in North America, also is endangered. The National Park Service and the University of Central Florida have created an innovative "living shoreline" of oyster mats, Spartina grass, and mangroves to try to protect the mound from erosion.

The Cape Canaveral area also is home to a historic site that marks a more-modern first: the Kennedy Space Center, where Apollo launched. Storm surges regularly breach the dunes near the launch pads, and efforts to restore and protect the dunes have been undone by subsequent storms. …

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