20%, or 1 in 5 of our National Parks!
While approximately 20% of national park sites have observed climate change impacts to their landscapes or structures, the National Park Service reports that approximately 96% of its landholdings are in areas with recorded warming patterns in the past century. This means almost all of our American heritage within the park service system may be at risk from future climate change impacts.
500-1,000 historic structures1,000-2,000 historic structures2,000-4,000 historic structures4,000-6,000 historic structures
4,000-6,000 historic structures
Approximately 1,000 historic structures in New Orleans were destroyed directly by Hurricane Katrina. After the storm, an additional 3,000-5,000 structures were destroyed because they had sustained irreparable damage or because the resources to repair these structures were not available.
Mesa Verde National Park, ColoradoBandelier National Monument, New MexicoVia i.ytimg.com
All Three Sites!
Climate change is already raising temperatures and increasing the risk of large and devastating wildfires in the western United States, causing damage to historic and archaeological sites. Nearly half of Mesa Verde’s 52,000 acres burned in 2000. In 2011, 160,000 acres of Bandelier National Monument were destroyed in the Las Conchas Fire, the second-largest fire in New Mexico’s history. The 116-acre property and historic structure at the newly designated César E. Chávez National Monument has not been affected yet, but increased wildfires threaten the livelihood and safety of farm workers, whose rights Chávez championed.
Jamestown, home to important Native American, Anglo-American, and African-American sites, is located on a sediment river system that is quickly eroding due to sea level rise, storm surge, and groundwater flooding. So far, two archaeological sites on Jamestown have disappeared due to climate change and another 24 sites are being submerged or eroded. By 2065, approximately 95% of National Park Service archaeological sites on Jamestown will likely be lost. While we may not be able to reverse this climate process, we can make intentional and informed decisions about how to recover data and memorialize these sites now.
Wooden BeamsMetal ComponentsVia image/jpeg;base64,/9j/4AAQSkZJRgABAQAAAQABAAD/2wCEAAkGBxITEhUTExMWFhUWGR0aGBgYGRoXGxkfGh0XGhoeGBoYHSggGholGxgaITEiJSkrLi4uFx8zODMtNygtLisBCgoKDg0OGxAQGy0lICUvLS0tLy0tLS8tMi0tLS0tLS0tLS0tNS0vLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLf/AABEIAKIA8AMBIgACEQEDEQH/xAAbA
We think of metal as a hardier building material than wood, brick, or adobe. However, in salty conditions metal fittings can corrode. At Fort Jefferson, iron shutters were fitted to open when soldiers were firing their cannon, then close again to protect soldiers from enemy shot. As the metal fixtures corrode, they expand, causing surrounding walls to crumble. The brick used to build Fort Jefferson and similar coastal forts is also susceptible to damage from storm surge, inundation, and sea level rise.
Fort McHenry, MarylandVia image/jpeg;base64,/9j/4AAQSkZJRgABAQAAAQABAAD/2wCEAAkGBxQTEhUSExMWFhUXGBoYGBgYGBcdGhsXHRcYHhcYGhsYHSggHRolHRgXIjEhJSkrLi4uGB8zODMuNygtLisBCgoKDg0OGxAQGy8mICUtLS0tLTUvLTUtLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLf/AABEIAMwA9wMBIgACEQEDEQH/xAAbAGettysburg Battlefield, PennsylvaniaVia cdn.history.comDevil's Tower, WyomingVia image/jpeg;base64,/9j/4AAQSkZJRgABAQAAAQABAAD/2wCEAAkGBxIQEBUQEBIVFRUVFRYVFRUVFRUVFhUVFhUWFhcVFRUYHSggGBolGxgVITIhJSkrLi4uFx8zODMsNygtLisBCgoKDg0OGxAQGy0lHyU1LS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0rLS0vLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLf/AABEIAMMBAwMBIgACEQEDEQH/xAAbACape Hatteras Lighthouse, North CarolinaVia image/jpeg;base64,/9j/4AAQSkZJRgABAQAAAQABAAD/2wCEAAkGBxISEBUQEBIVFhUVFRUVFRUVFxUVFRUVFRUWFhUVFRUYHSggGBolGxUVITEhJSkrLi4uFx8zODMtNygtLisBCgoKDg0OFxAQGi0lHR8rLi0tLS0tLS0tLS0vLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLSstLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLS0tLf/AABEIALYBFAMBIgACEQEDEQH/xAAbA
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, North Carolina
In 1999, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved approximately 3000 feet inland due to encroaching shoreline. Although the move protected the structure, the lighthouse is no longer in its original location or on the shore. While Cape Hatteras Lighthouse could be partially preserved in this way, other sites with extensive brick and/or earthworks such as Fort McHenry, sites with important natural features such as the Grand Canyon, or sites that are defined by the place and archaeological materials such as Gettysburg Battlefield cannot be moved. These sites may be exposed to longer wildfire seasons, more intense precipitation events, drought, sea level rise, and other factors linked with climate change.
To date, three native villages in Alaska - approximately 1300 residents in total - have voted to relocate. Rising sea levels and erosion disproportionately affect coastal Indigenous communities, which were once mobile but now depend on built infrastructure such as schools and power plants. Residents of Shishmaref, located on a small island north of the Bering Strait, voted to relocate in August 2016 due to shoreline loss. The village of Kivalina no longer forms enough sea ice to protect the population from winter storms and Newtok is under threat from erosion. According to the Arctic Institute, 31 Alaskan villages face imminent destruction, which will also impact cultural practices.
New England lobster rollsVia google.comChesapeake blue crab cakesVia image/jpeg;base64,/9j/4AAQSkZJRgABAQAAAQABAAD/2wCEAAkGBxMTEhUTExMWFhUWGB8YGBgYGBgdGhgZGBcWGBkWFxcYHSggGB0lHRcXITEhJSkrLi4uFx8zODMtNygtLisBCgoKDg0OGxAQGjUlICUtKy4tLS0vLS01LTAtLSstLS0rLS0tLTUyLS0tLS0rNy8tNS0tMi8tLS0tLS0tLS0tLf/AABEIAIQAsAMBIgACEQEDEQH/xAAcACioppino using California dungeness crab, salmon, and oystersAll ThreeVia image/jpeg;base64,/9j/4AAQSkZJRgABAQAAAQABAAD/2wCEAAkGBxQTEhUTEhMWFhUXGRobGRgYGR0dIBsaHh4aHh4fHSAhISogHh8lGyAeIjEhJSkrLy4uHiEzODMtNygtLisBCgoKDg0OGxAQGzgmICU1LS0yMDUtLS0vLS81Ly0vLTItLS8tLS0tNS0tLS8tLy0tNS0tLy0tLS0tNS0tLS0tLf/AABEIALkBEAMBIgACEQEDEQH/xAAcA
As warming waters force America’s favorite crustaceans further north, American dinner plates will experience changes. No longer will Baltimore restaurants be able to source their crab cakes with Chesapeake blue crab or will Californian families be about to use local dungeness crab for their popular fish stew. These local culinary traditions will be altered because of ocean acidification, rising temperatures, and drought conditions.
Digitization can conserve heritage such as art, written stories, spoken word, images, music, and digital architectural data that may be affected by climate change. This is especially important in places where entire communities are forced to relocate, such as in Alaskan native villages. In order to digitize and preserve information, cultural heritage institutions and repositories will need to manage and enhance their capacity for digital collections. These institutions are working to write digital collections policies to account for the increase in digital materials.
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Fort Monroe and Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monuments are already being damaged by sea level rise and coastal erosion. However, inland and urban sites such as the César Chávez and Stonewall Inn National Monuments are not immune. These sites are crucial to telling more inclusive stories, and social justice will have to be considered as we address the impacts of climate change on our cultural sites.