Track 1: Effects of Climate Change in Warm Weather Coastal Regions
Increasingly frequent strong storms and heavy rainfall have occurred in recent years in the southeastern United States as a result of climate change, accompanied by rising sea levels and severe and extensive flooding. This presentation will explore the effects of climate change on coastal cultural landscapes and the efforts underway to plan for their protection and preservation, illustrated by several U.S. National Park System sites in the southeastern United States. Specific topics will include the character of these coastal cultural landscapes; how they have been affected by climate and weather conditions; historical responses to severe weather events (including how measures taken have helped—or lessened—the ability of these resources to survive); and current efforts to protect threatened coastal historic resources.
At Fort Pulaski National Monument near Savannah, Georgia, a series of severe weather events in 2016 and 2017, including two major hurricanes and a powerful tornado, led to damage to site features and buildings, extensive tree loss, and flooding in the park. Shoreline erosion along shipping channels and subsidence of wetlands are also concerns. The tides caused by Hurricane Irma in September 2017 overtopped the historic dike system surrounding the fort; the resultant flooding is leading to examination of how this system can be managed and preserved.
Gulf Islands National Seashore partially comprises narrow barrier islands near Pensacola, Florida, which are particularly vulnerable to storm surges and overwash. Construction of a seawall in the early 1900s resulted in extensive periods of flooding long after the storms had passed, when water deposited by storm surges was trapped within the site. Severe storms have repeatedly destroyed the road leading to the historic fortifications. The National Park Service is considering sustainable preservation and management practices, such as a recently initiated ferry service as an alternate means of access to the site.
The Outer Banks of North Carolina, like the Gulf Islands, are low-lying, narrow barrier islands that have been extremely vulnerable to storms throughout their recorded history. Portsmouth Village embodies a variety of historical responses to severe weather—for example, in past centuries some occupants moved buildings inland when hurricanes threatened. The site also illustrates the loss of lifeways and artifactual evidence, now exacerbated by climate change.
Discussion of these examples will include review of current studies by the National Park Service and others to understand the threat presented by climate change to fragile coastal resources, and determine how impacts can be assessed and protection best provided. The presentation will draw on studies completed by the presenter and her colleagues for the NPS for the above sites, as well as on correspondence with NPS personnel and others involved in climate change research and planning.