Sea Level Rise Might Drown a Fifth of All UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The Statue of Liberty and the Sydney Opera House are under threat

Photo: Paul Hocksenar

We often hear about cities that will be flooded or permanently covered by water when climate change causes tides to rise. According to a new study, we're also at risk of losing famous and historical global landmarks to rising seas. Around one-fifth of the 720 UNESCO World Heritage sites could disappear as the climate changes, the Guardian warns

"Typically when people talk about climate change it's about the economic or environmental consequences, how much it's going to cost," the study's lead author told the Guardian. "We wanted to take a look at the cultural implications."

Among the 136 threatened sites, the researchers report, are the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall, the Tower of London, the Sydney Opera House, Venice, Robben Island, the leaning tower of Pisa, Westminster Abbey and the city centers of Bruges, Naples, Riga and St. Petersburg. 

If climate change continues to proceed as it is now, waters will begin to lap at some of these sites within the 21st century, the team found. For other sites, however, it could take up to 2,000 years—the approximate time it will take for the oceans to reach a new equilibrium, the Guardian writes—for tides to drown them. 

The study does not take into account some climate-related flooding threats, such as storm surges. Which means the impact to cultural sites will likely be even greater than what the authors report, the Guardian adds. 

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