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Sea-level rise may destroy over 13,000 U.S. archaeological sites

The rise of sea-levels as a result of climate change carries many consequences, particularly for coastal areas and those living in them. But the wide-scale flooding that appears imminent in our future won’t just impact our present, it will also destroy some of our past.

According to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, sea-level rise may impact a great number of archaeological and historic sites, cemeteries, and landscapes on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the southeastern United States.

David Anderson of the University of Tennessee and his colleagues estimated the impact of sea-level rise on archaeological sites by analyzing data from the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINNA). DINAA pulls together archaeological and historical data sets from numerous sources developed over the past century. This provides a comprehensive window into the history of human settlement for both research communities and the general public today.

The results of the study show that if projected trends in sea-level rise continue, over 13,000 recorded archaeological sites in the southeast alone may be submerged in the next 100 years. This includes over 1,000 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places as important cultural properties – not to mention how many sites will be lost that have yet to be discovered.

Studies such as this – which rely on large linked data sets like DINAA – are essential to developing plans for sampling, triage, and mitigation efforts across entire regions. The data that is gathered and analyzed is essential for forecasting our future and making public policy decisions about the consequences of man-made climate change. “Developing informatics capabilities at regional and continental scales like DINAA is essential if we are to effectively plan for, and help mitigate, this loss of human history,” explains Anderson.

Now that we have access to this data and the scientists to analyze it, the push for action and results should be the logical next step.

Image Credit: Anderson et al., 2017

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

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