Protecting Cultural Resources in the Face of Climate Change

Science Center Objects

Climate change doesn’t just threaten our natural resources—it threatens our cultural resources, too. Cultural resources represent evidence of past human activity, such as archeological sites, or are of significance to a group of people traditionally associated with the resource, such as Native American ceremonial sites. Climate change is challenging the long-term persistence of many cultural ...

Climate change doesn’t just threaten our natural resources—it threatens our cultural resources, too. Cultural resources represent evidence of past human activity, such as archeological sites, or are of significance to a group of people traditionally associated with the resource, such as Native American ceremonial sites.

 

Climate change is challenging the long-term persistence of many cultural resources. For example, those located in coastal areas, such as historic lighthouses, are threatened by sea-level rise, shoreline erosion, and more frequent severe storm events. While climate change challenges managers of both natural and cultural resources to make decisions in the face of uncertainty, far less work has been done to identify the impacts of climate change on cultural resources, compared to natural resources. 

 

To address this critical gap, researchers developed a strategy to aid decision makers in climate adaptation planning efforts. The strategy integrated assessments of the relative significance of specific cultural resources and their vulnerability to climate change. The strategy will be pilot tested with a subset of buildings listed on the National Historic Register at Cape Look National Seashore, located on North Carolina’s barrier islands.

 

Cultural resources hold multiple and diverse values to local communities, visitors, and the general public. These resources are irreplaceable, and their meaning is often tied to their specific location. This project aimed to contribute significantly to our understanding of the vulnerability of cultural resources to climate change throughout the southeastern U.S. and the role that historic significance should play in management decisions—information that is vital for developing strategies to conserve these resources into the future.