Rising Seas, Sinking Sites: Sea-level rise may threaten thousands of archaeological sites in southeastern US

Rising Seas, Sinking Sites: Sea-level rise may threaten thousands of archaeological sites in southeastern US

Previous research has predicted a significant rise in sea levels over the next several centuries as a result of climate change. A new study from PLOS ONE shows how sea-level rise could impact vast numbers of archaeological and historic sites, cemeteries, and landscapes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the southeastern United States.

David Anderson from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and colleagues analyzed data from the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA). Drawing on multiple sources, DINAA catalogs archaeological and historical data sets from the past 100 years and makes them freely available to anyone interested in human settlement.

Just in the remainder of this century, if projected trends in sea-level rise continue, the researchers predict that over 13,000 recorded archaeological sites in the southeast alone may be submerged with a 1-meter rise in sea level, including over 1,000 listed on the National Register of Historic Places as important cultural properties. Many more sites and structures that have not yet been recorded will also be lost.

Large linked data sets, such as DINAA, that show what may be impacted and what could be lost across entire regions are essential to developing procedures for sampling, triage and mitigation efforts. Such research is essential to making accurate forecasts and public policy decisions about the consequences of rapid climate change, extreme weather events and displaced populations. These are factors that could shape our civilization profoundly in the years to come.

Reference:  Anderson DG, Bissett TG, Yerka SJ, Wells JJ, Kansa EC, Kansa SW, et al. (2017) Sea-level rise and archaeological site destruction: An example from the southeastern United States using DINAA (Digital Index of North American Archaeology). PLoS ONE 12(11): e0188142. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0188142

Image Credit: Anderson et al (2017)


Tessa is the Journal Media Manager at PLOS. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with degrees in Rhetoric and Music. She can be reached by email at tgregory@plos.org and on Twitter at @tessagregs.