Global warming may threaten World Heritage sites

Published Mar 5, 2014, 9:40 pm IST
Updated Mar 19, 2019, 11:24 am IST
Some of the world's most important landmarks could be lost to rising sea-levels and global warming

London: Some of the world's most recognisable and important landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and Sydney Opera House could be lost to rising sea-levels if current global warming trends are maintained over the next two millennia, a new study has warned.

The study calculated the temperature increases at which the 720 sites currently on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites would be impacted by subsequent sea-level rises.


The Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall, Tower of London and Sydney Opera House are among the 136 sites that would be impacted if the current global warming trend continues and temperatures rise to 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in the next 2000 years - a likely and not particularly extreme scenario, according to the researchers.

Also impacted would be the city centres of Brugge, Naples, Riga and St Petersburg; Venice and its Lagoon; Robben Island; and Westminster Abbey, they said.

"Sea-levels are responding to global warming slowly but steadily because the key processes involved—ocean heat uptake and melting continental ice - go on for a long while after the warming of the atmosphere has stopped," lead author Professor Ben Marzeion, from the University of Innsbruck,


Austria, said. "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. At the same time, we consider 2000 years a short enough time to be of relevance for the cultural heritage we cherish," co-author of the study Professor Anders Levermann, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said.

As a proxy of where cultural heritage may be currently developing or set to develop in the future, researchers also calculated the percentage of currently populated places that would be living below sea-level if temperatures increased above pre-industrial levels by 3 degrees Celsius in the next 2000 years.


They found that seven per cent of the current global population would be living on land that would be below sea level and that the distribution of the affected population was uneven - more than 60 per cent of the affected population would be in China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia.

The researchers also calculated the percentage of global land that would be below sea-level under the same scenario. They found that seven countries - including the Maldives, and Bahamas - would lose 50 per cent of their land and a further 35 countries would lose ten per cent of their land.


"Our results show that if there is a 3 degrees Celsius temperature increase over the next 2000 years, which seems likely to be reached and is generally considered not to be an extreme scenario, the impacts on global heritage would be severe," Marzeion concluded.

The study was published in the Institute of Physics (IOP)'s journal Environmental Research Letters.