Goodbye Statue Of Liberty; Goodbye Sydney Opera House; Goodbye Tower Of London. Will Future’s Archaeologists Be Searching For Our Cultural Gems Under The Ocean?

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From the Statue of Liberty to the Tower of London and Sydney Opera House, a rise in sea levels caused by global warming could affect numerous precious UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Some 136 cultural monuments could be affected in the long term, according to climate scientists Ben Marzeion of the University of Innsbruck and Anders Levermann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

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The scientists computed the likely sea level rise for each degree of global warming and identified regions where UNESCO World Heritage Sites could be put at risk over the coming centuries.

If the global average temperature increases by just one degree Celsius, more than 40 of these sites could be directly be threatened over the next 2,000 years. With a temperature increase of three degrees, about one fifth of the cultural world heritage could be affected in the long term.

“136 sites will be below sea-level in the long run in that case, if no protection measures are taken,” Marzeion affirmed. “The fact that tides and storm surges could already affect these cultural sites much earlier has not even been taken into account.”

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Among the world heritage sites affected are, for example, the historical city centres of Bruges, Naples, Istanbul and St Petersburg.

In order to make reliable statements, the climatologists also considered the regionally different rates of sea level rise. “If large ice masses are melting and the water is dispersed throughout the oceans, this will also influence the earth's gravitational field,” added Levermann. “Sea level rise will therefore vary between regions.”

The scientists therefore calculated future sea level rise for all world regions and compared these projections with today’s coastal settlement areas.

“The global average temperature has already increased by 0.8 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels,” said Levermann. “ 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."

If this was to happen, regions that are currently populated by millions of people would be affected. With a global warming of three degrees, 12 countries around the world could lose more than half of their present land area, and about 30 countries could lose one tenth of their area.

Seven per cent of the world’s population today live in regions that, without massive protection, could eventually be below sea level if temperatures rise by three degrees. “If that sea level rise occurred today, more than 600 million people would be affected and would have to find a new home,” Marzeion stated.

“If we do not limit climate change, the archaeologists of the future will need to search for major parts of our cultural heritage in the oceans.”