Perspective | Preserving cultural and historic treasures in a changing climate may mean transforming them

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The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently reported that over the next 30 years flooding in Venice will increase. With the Adriatic Sea rising a few millimeters each year, severe flooding that once happened every 100 years is predicted to happen every six years by 2050, and every five months by 2100.Venice is just one example of the challenges of preserving iconic landmarks that are threatened by the effects of climate change, such as rising seas and recurrent, intensifying droughts, storms and wildfires. In my research as a social scientist, I help heritage managers make tough decisions prioritizing which sites to save when funds, time or both are limited.Across the globe, innumerable cultural sites face storm-related flooding, erosion and inundation from rising seas. They include many in the United States, such as Jamestown Island in Virginia, New York’s Statue of Liberty and Charleston’s Historic District.Experts in cultural preservation worldwide agree that it is impossible to protect all of these places forever. Many would require constant restoration. Others will need defenses such as sea walls and flood gates — but those defenses might not be effective for long.Some sites could be protected in ways that visibly alter them — …

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