• Two scientists on a glacier.

    Climate Change

Adaptation for Cultural Resources

Diver off Dry Tortugas

Diver inspects submerged vessel off the coast of Dry Tortugas National Park

NPS photo

Cultural resources, historic buildings, archeological sites, battlefields, and historic landscapes experience similar effects from climate change as the natural resources that are located in the same area. Cultural resources are individually unique and non-renewable. Much of their meaning is tied to their specific location on the land. Even some plants used for cultural purposes are tied to a specific view or place.

Weathering, sunlight, moisture, and other natural factors have always posed challenges for protecting cultural resources. Current trends suggest that the rates, combinations, and intensity of these factors are already increasing. Climate change projections indicate that these irreplaceable resources are likely to be altered, deteriorated, or removed at faster rates or in ways not previously observed.

Unlike natural systems, cultural resources are utterly dependent upon people to help them withstand climate change. The adaptation strategy for cultural resources considers climate change impacts to specific locations, materials, and significance of these resources and the sustainability and feasibility potential responses. An adaptive framework for cultural resource management includes the following steps:

  1. Inventory: What resources exist within areas of concern? What is their character? How and to whom are they significant?
  2. Vulnerability assessment: What are the threats to identified resources and to areas awaiting inventory?
  3. Development of adaptation options: How do we define the universe of potential responses? Which ones are feasible? Which ones are sustainable? How do we engage stakeholders to choose among them?
  4. Implementation: Ongoing action to undertake resource- and threat-appropriate responses or mitigate predicted losses.

The adaptation options step is the most common point of discussion in adaptation planning, but it cannot function well without the other steps in the framework. While options can take many forms, a general list includes:

  1. No action, determine need for monitoring
  2. Deflect or remove environmental stressor
  3. Modify resource to better withstand environmental stressor
  4. Movement, either through relocation of a stationary resource or enabling migration of a biotic resource
  5. Document comprehensively, allow location to be lost
  6. Document briefly, allow location to be lost
  7. Interpret the change, as climate change is the heritage of the future