Almost 200 cultural heritage sites, including the Statue of Liberty and the Sydney Opera House, could be compromised if global warming reaches 3 degrees above pre-industrial levels, a new report in Environmental Research Letters shows.
The research released Tuesday from Austria and Germany used both sea-level estimates for the next 2000 years and high-resolution topography data to compute which of the more than 700 listed UNESCO World Heritage sites would be affected by sea-level rise at different levels of sustained future warming. The report found that if warming reaches 3 degrees Celsius, sea level would rise six feet in the next 2,000 years, and 170 of those sites would be drowned.
“After 2000 years, the oceans would have reached a new equilibrium state and we can compute the ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica from physical models,” co-author Anders Levermann, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, told Red Orbit. “At the same time, we consider 2000 years a short enough time to be of relevance for the cultural heritage we cherish.”
Some cultural heritage sites will be at risk even if warming is more mild. If global average temperatures rise by 1 degree Celsius in the next two millennia, the report said approximately 40 of the sites would be threatened by the water. If temperatures were worse — if the climate warmed 3 degrees — 20 percent of the cultural sites in places like Naples, Italy and Istanbul, Turkey would be affected.
Temperatures of that level would not only affect the cultural heritage sites. It would also force people from their homes. If the worst-case scenario 5.4 degree average temperature rise were to occur, the report said 30 countries could lose one tenth of their area. More than 600 million people would have to find a new home, the report said.
“Given the millennial scale lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, our results indicate that fundamental decisions with regard to mankind’s cultural heritage are required,” the report read.
On a scenario for high emissions of greenhouse gases, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that global temperatures could rise by an additional 2.6 degrees to 4.8 degrees Celsius by 2100.