Track 2: Sustainability and Conservation of Built Heritage in the Americas
Every cultural resource manager knows the contexts in which they operate are fraught with uncertainties but the complexity and extent of risk and damage have only worsened with the realities of climate change resulting in new patterns of deterioration never before observed. Risk assessment tools and management strategies have become a common component of cultural heritage conservation as global threats have escalated over the last decade. The sustainability of built heritage depends in large part on its vulnerability and resilience to system threats. Because extreme weather events will result in multiple threats and their impacts occurring at different rates and degrees of severity not seen before, information to assess vulnerabilities is needed now to support policies and investments designed to increase resilience in human responses.
To date, mitigation has been the response mode in addressing risk and damage related to disasters. This is a narrowly defensive response. A more profound engagement is now called for which sees all risks, including weathering and degradation as a driver for ‘smarter’ more sustainable management by establishing monitoring frameworks and vulnerability indices, ultimately moving heritage professionals from mitigation and resilience (stability) to dynamic adaptation.
To date, there has been little coordinated attention to succinctly describe how different manifestations of changing weather conditions will affect built heritage at the material and systems level. Only with a better understanding of damage mechanisms in terms of their severity, frequency, location, and rate of occurrence, can we begin the process of implementing remedial and preventive strategies including the establishment of monitoring programs that can measure projected impacts to these cultural resources over real time and through new simulations and modelling.
Currently at a number of National Park Service sites around the greater Southwest, extreme weather events appear to be associated with large scale damage, such as the collapse of walls. Although climate predictions for the American Southwest suggest the region will become hotter and drier, concentrated precipitation events could overwhelm material and system vulnerabilities, spelling catastrophic disaster for all structures, especially ruins. While there is much data on how the climate is changing, very little evidence-based, quantitative data on its impacts (what is happening and what that looks like over time) exists. The results of a three year initiative to develop a site risk and vulnerability framework in terms of site attitude (orientation and exposure, construction), material behavior, past and current preservation and maintenance, as well as climate at the micro, meso and macro scales will be presented. The use of legacy data, rapid survey, and better field monitoring protocols will be discussed to ultimately develop more sustainable, cost effective management practices for traditional heritage sites.