Many World Heritage Sites are Predicted to Fall Victim to Climate Change

March 6, 2014 | 5:45 pm
Adam Markham
Deputy Director of Climate and Energy

Hot on the heels of news that recent extreme rainfall has caused walls to collapse at ancient Pompeii in Italy, comes a new study showing that hundreds of other iconic places listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites are threatened by sea level rise. Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, Mont Saint Michel in France, Leptis Magna in Libya and the Tower of London are all identified as vulnerable to rising sea levels.


Much of Venice is under immediate threat from rising water levels.
Photo: Adam Markham

The authors of the report, Ben Marzeion from the University of Innsbruck and Anders Leversmann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research, worked with several sea level rise models as well as high resolution topographic data to identify which culturally important sites would be at least partially submerged under different climate change scenarios.

The new report, which was published in Environmental Research Letters, identifies 40 World Heritage Sites, including Venice, Italy, South Africa’s Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned) and the extraordinary rock art of India’s Elephanta Caves would be threatened by just a 1.8 degree Farenheit rise in temperature. Global average temperatures have already risen 1.5 degrees F since 1880.


Van Gogh painted Les Alyscamps, the Roman graveyard in Arles, France, now part of a World Heritage Site likely to be impacted by climate change.

Archeologists of the future may need to search under water

According to Levermann, “If our greenhouse-gas emissions increase as they have done in the past, physical models project a global warming of up to nine degrees F by the end of this century.” The consequences for global cultural heritage would be huge, with more than 130 World Heritage Sites including Westminster Abbey, Phoenician Carthage in Tunisia and the Roman remains at Arles in France (where Van Gogh and Gauguin painted together) eventually falling victim to sea level rise. “If we do not limit climate change,” lead author Marzeion says, “the archaeologists of the future will need to search for major parts of our cultural heritage in the oceans.”