Rising sea levels threaten world’s ‘cultural heritage’

One fifth of the world’s UNESCO world heritage sites will be below sea level if world warms by 3C, finds new research

Source: Flickr/Jon Dawson

Source: Flickr/Jon Dawson

By Sophie Yeo

Climate change could ensure some of the world’s most important cultural monuments such as the Statue of Liberty and the Sydney Opera House sink beneath the waves.

It’s also likely to place intense pressure on low-lying coastal cities across the globe, such as Bruges, Naples, Istanbul and St. Petersburg.

Steering away from the ecological and humanitarian crises that climate change could bring about, research published today in Environmental Research Letters looks at how rising sea levels will wreak havoc on thousands of years of cultural achievements across the globe.

Source: Flickr/Olivier Bruchez

The UK’s Tower of London could be submerged Source: Flickr/Olivier Bruchez

With 3C of warming, one fifth of the world’s 700 UNESCO world heritage sites will be below sea level, say the researchers, with 1.1% of land going underwater. The IPCC’s science report says that the ocean could rise by almost a metre by the end of the century.

Source: Flickr/Neil Thompson

The historic centre of Bruges in Belgium is also at risk Source: Flickr/Neil Thompson

“The global average temperature has already increased by 0.8C compared to pre-industrial levels,” says Anders Levermann, lead author on the report. “If our greenhouse gas emissions increase as they have done in the past, physical models project a global warming of up to five degrees by the end of this century.”

Source: Flickr/kin0be

Sydney’s iconic Opera House will also need new sea defences Source: Flickr/kin0be

Most of the world’s population is concentrated near the coasts, as are a large number of UNESCO world heritage sites.

“Given the millennial scale lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, our results indicate that fundamental decisions with regard to mankind’s cultural heritage are required,” the report says.

It also warns that aside from monuments, the future of various cultures and traditions are likely to be threatened if the oceans start to swallow up small island states.

“A majority of their population will eventually need to leave their home islands in the long-term, so most of their culture could be entirely lost sooner or later if the warming trend is not stopped,” says Ben Marzeion, a scientist at the Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Innsbruck.

“If that sea-level rise occurred today, more than 600 million people would be affected and would  have to find a new home.”

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