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Study: US National treasures vulnerable to climate change

Depiction of Statue of Liberty swamped with water
Depiction of Statue of Liberty swamped with water

A century-old lighthouse was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but the Statue of Liberty fared well, with only minor damage. Scientists believe, however, the iconic national treasure might not survive as well when, not if, the next monster storm slams into the East Coast.

A report released this week by the Union for Concerned Scientists indicates over 30 at-risk heritage sites across the nation are vulnerable to wildfires, storm surge, rising sea levels and other human-induced calamities of climate change that experts predict will continue to get worse if action isn’t taken to reverse carbon emissions.

The “wake-up call” could impact new and old landmarks from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, historic treasures on the Hawaiian islands to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

"You can almost trace the history of the United States through these sites," Adam Markham, the group's director of climate impacts and a report co-author, 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."

“For example, New Mexico's second largest wildfire in its history -- which destroyed 156,000 acres in 2011 -- damaged more than more than 16,000 forested acres belonging to the Santa Clara Pueblo, a federally registered Native American tribe and National Historic Landmark”, Michael Martinez explained in a CNN report.

Ancient cliff dwellings in the Pueblo, homes of the first Spanish conquistadors, landmarks in the Florida Everglades, trails at Mesa Verde National Park, ancient pottery and petroglyphs, adobe buildings and a Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico are just a few of relics that have already been destroyed by monsoons, floods and wildfires.

A report by the National Parks Service indicates “impacts will vary widely by resource and by region and park,” with some of the following examples:

  • Melting permafrost combined with rising sea levels and changing storm tracks in the Arctic are accelerating coastal erosion and loss of archaeological sites, and structures and disrupting modern Native lifeways and traditions.
  • Higher intensity rainfall in the American Southwest is causing rapid deterioration of adobe structures, while conversely extended droughts and subsequent wildfires are raising threat levels for buildings and landscapes in the same region.
  • In the Gulf of Mexico, sea level rise and more intense storms raise questions of maintenance for historic forts such as Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park.
  • As permafrost melts, archeological artifacts like bone tools from Lake Clark National Park and Preserve are uncovered. When these artifacts are exposed, they risk being lost or destroyed. Their stories would be lost forever as a result.
  • Rising water levels could damage iconic monuments like the Jefferson Memorial due to more frequent and severe flooding in the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC.

In related news, the National Weather Channel reported on Wednesday that 450 acres have burned in Arizona threatening Slide Rock State Park and nearby businesses close to Oak Creek Canyon forcing evacuations.

The National Climate Assessment report was released last month and it said that no “American will go unscathed by climate change.”

Scientists also fear wildlife migration, wetlands, marine ecosystems, availability of natural resources like food and water are among the many things that will be forever-changed by the ever-increasing ramifications of climate change.

Now the potential loss of many American legacies along with the stories of history they hold could be in very real jeopardy from extreme weather events.


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