Climate Change Impacts on Cultural Landscapes

A Study of Climate Change Impacts on Cultural Landscapes in the Pacific West Region


The Cultural Landscape Research Group (CLRG) within the College of Design at the University of Oregon, in collaboration with the National Park Service Pacific West Region Cultural Resources Program, has prepared a Study of Climate Change Impacts on Cultural Landscapes in the Pacific West Region of the National Park Service. The first phase of the study received an American Society of Landscape Architects professional research honor award in October 2017.

A group of three people with hats and cameras look at a cultural landscape report to assess condition at Death Valley.
Phase I CLRG assessing conditions at Death Valley National Park, March 2016.

NPS Photo

A group of individuals with clipboards and sunhats review existing conditions maps
The CLRG and NPS staff review existing conditions maps during Phase I of the project.

NPS Photo

The project responds to the growing need to understand the potential effects of projected climate trends and events on cultural resources, with specific emphasis on cultural landscapes.

With their historical variability, cultural landscapes of the Pacific West Region will be affected differently by changes in temperature, precipitation, storm frequency, and, in some cases, sea level rise. This study aims to provide a systematic assessment of these changes, and serves as a case-study model for assessment the projected effects of climate change on cultural landscapes.

Included in this study are 164 cultural landscapes in 43 parks within the states of Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and the territory of Guam. Using both NPS and USGS climate data, the CLRG consolidated the historical and projected climate exposure of each of the 164 cultural landscapes. The team then assessed the current condition of six cultural landscapes through site visits, and analyzed the historical climate events and trends that have impacted the sites in the past.
A wide view of the stone walls of Mailekini Heiau and Puukohola Heiau
A view of Mailekini Heiau and Pu'ukohola Heiau in Hawaii.

NPS Photo

In the second phase of the project in 2017, the CLRG and NPS assessed the sensitivity of three case study cultural landscapes building on the data collected in the first phase of the project.

This analysis of the sensitivity of contributing landscape characteristics and features involved on-site workshops with NPS staff including archeologists, biologists, climate scientists, ecologists, fire technicians, historians, landscape architects, and orchardists, among others as a starting point. The team then reviewed historical climate data and projected climate data to understand the exposure of the site's resources to changes in temperature and precipitation. Finally, the team identified how sensitivty each contributing characteristic was to the expsoure.

Orchards on the terraced hill behind the Tao House at Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site
Orchards and Tao House at Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site (March 2016).

NPS Photo

Identifying the exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity of each case study, the NPS Pacific West Region Cultural Resources Program will use this vulnerability assessment to develop recommendations toward the agency's goal of ensuring that cultural landscapes are resilient to climate change and ultimately preparing holistic management strategies for highly vulnerable cultural landscapes.

The framework that was developed through this collaborative project will be further refined in 2018 by NPS cultural resources staff in the Pacific West Region with tests of the final framework to follow.