The rising sea level may threaten large numbers of historic buildings in the southeastern United States, as well as more than 13,000 historic and prehistoric archaeological sites, according to a recently published study. It will also likely create opportunities and challenges for structural movers.
The study, “Sea-level rise and archaeological site destruction: An example from the southeastern United States using DINAA (Digital Index of North American Archaeology),” was published November 29, 2017, in the online journal PLOS ONE. It deals with the area from Maryland to the Texas-Louisiana border, and identified potentially impacted sites, including more than 1,000 locations eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Should projected [sea level] rises occur,” the study says, “the effect on humans living on and near the coast, including the loss of infrastructure is nearly incalculable, and will require population movement and resettlement on scales unprecedented in human history.”
“There are large numbers of historic properties that are potentially threatened,” said David G. Anderson, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and one of the study’s authors. This includes historic buildings, cemeteries, landscapes and archaeological sites.
The study notes that while sea walls and other barriers may provide protection to coastlines, “their construction will potentially impact large numbers of existing and undocumented cultural resources.”
Another option is to move buildings to higher ground or raise their height on site, both of which require the expertise of structural movers, such as members of the IASM.
The study says even the White House or Lincoln Memorial may someday be moved from Washington, D.C., if the sea level continues rising. It notes that the Egyptian temple of Abu Simbel was moved in the 1960s due to the area being submerged by the Aswan High Dam, and the Cape Hatteras lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet away in 1999 to save it from destruction.
While Anderson said that the Lincoln Memorial is at ten meters elevation and the White House is at 15-19 meters, other historic locations are much closer to sea level. Jamestown, Virginia, is already threatened, he said, as is Charleston, South Carolina, and the early Spanish capital of Florida, St. Augustine.
The consensus of the projections is that we’ll experience at least a two- or three-foot sea level rise by the end of this century, Anderson said. It could be less, it could be more, and even at that there are a vast number of potentially affected sites.
“If things do continue, then we do have to decide what we’re going to do with some of these places,” he said.