Pompeii’s final blow: Climate change will wash away history
Many of the world's archaeological treasures are at risk of being destroyed by rising sea levels
They have already been wiped out once by the devastating eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. But now the Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum could be lost through flooding and erosion caused by climate change, a major study has found.
The ancient towns are among dozens of World Heritage sites at risk from sea-level rise in the Mediterranean as the climate warms, researchers at the University of Kiel, in Germany, have warned.
Historic sites in Istanbul and Dubrovnik, as well as the kasbah at Algiers, the medieval city of Rhodes and the archaeological site of Carthage, are also at risk.
In a report – published in Nature Communications – researchers said that without urgent action, irreplaceable archaeological treasures would be badly damaged or destroyed forever. Some monuments might even need to be relocated.
Dr Lena Reimann, of Keil’s coastal risks and sea-level-research group, said Pompeii will be at risk of flooding by the end of the century and is already in danger of coastal erosion.
“Already under current climate conditions, a large share of cultural World Heritage Sites located in low-lying coastal areas of the Mediterranean region are at risk from coastal flooding and erosion,” she said. “These risks will increase until 2100 and possibly beyond.
“Pompeii is at low to moderate risk from coastal erosion, and erosion risk may increase by up to 16% under the high-end sea-level rise scenarios until 2100.”
The report found that of the 49 cultural sites located in low-lying coastal areas of the Mediterranean, 37 were already at risk from devastating storm surges and 42 from ongoing erosion, with the chances of extreme floods rising by 50% by 2100.
At some locations, only small areas are under threat – such as the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna in Libya – but in Venice flooding could damage 97% of the buildings and squares.
The highest potential flood depth was found at the Patriarchal Basilica of Aquileia, Italy, with 1.2-metre storm surges at risk of devastating the 5th-century city.
The average depth of flood risk today is 40cm, but in areas such as Pompeii and Herculaneum, it could rise to 1.8m by 2100, and 2.2m in Venice.
The team said it might be possible to relocate some treasures such as the cathedral of St James in Šibenik, Croatia, and the early Christian monuments of Ravenna, in northern Italy. But they warned that many locations, such as Pompeii, “extend over large areas” and could not be moved.
Dr Stelios Lekakis, of Newcastle University’s school of history, classics and archaeology, said: “Data pointing to increased current and future hazards in archaeological/historic sites by natural factors cause significant concern to heritage specialists around the world.
“Several campaigns have been employed in the last decade to raise awareness for the endangered sites. However, a more proactive stance must be taken, focusing on the sustainable protection of both tangible and intangible aspects of sites in danger by flooding or erosion.”
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2018)