Sea level rise a threat to Mediterranean UNESCO heritage sites

Posted on 10 December 2018

While many of us are aware that Venice may sink within the next 100 years, nearly 50 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Heritage sites in the Mediterranean are also under severe risk of damage due to coastal flooding and rising sea levels. The Floating City, Venice, renowned for its canals and lagoons was affected by a massive flooding in October – with the highest recorded water levels in 10 years.

Venice. Image by Kurt Monanui

In 2013, the United Nations climate science panel estimated that global oceans could go up by as much as 76 centimeters by the end of the century. The heritage sites located at or near sea level of the Mediterranean are at risk of coastal flooding or erosion by the year 2100. Cultural treasures such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the ancient metropolis at Carthage and the Patriarchal Basilica of Aquileia could be affected.

Leaning Tower of Pisa. Image from Pixabay

The Heritage sites at risk are located at less than 10 metres above sea level. Lesser known sites include Gorham’s Cave Complex, Gibraltar, that has Neanderthal artwork and the ruins of Butrint, Albania – a prehistoric settlement which was occupied by ancient Greeks and Romans. The sites at risk from coastal erosion include Tyre in Lebanon, the Archaeological Ensemble of Tarraco in Spain, and Ephesus in Turkey.

Ephesus, Turkey. Image from Pixabay

UNESCO wants to promote and adopt strategies to protect these cultural heritage sites. Venice is busy with a project to surround the city with submersible barriers that can be raised to keep out excess water when sea levels rise, the projectis is known as Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (Experimental Electromechanical Module). Other cities would do well to implement similar measures.

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