Climate change and Georgia’s archaeological resources

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

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In mid-June 2009 the government of the USA, through the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), released an authoritative assessment of national and regional impacts of global climate change called “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.” This initiative was mandated by Congress in 1990 to generate “a comprehensive and integrated United States research program which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.”

In the Southeast region, including Georgia, we are warned to expect:

Effects of increased heat include more heat-related illness; declines in forest growth and agricultural crop production due to the combined effects of heat stress and declining soil moisture; declines in cattle production; increased buckling of pavement and railways; and reduced oxygen levels in streams and lakes, leading to fish kills and declines in aquatic species diversity.

In addition, we are told:

Sea-level rise is projected to accelerate, increasing coastal inundation and shoreline retreat. The intensity of hurricanes is likely to increase, with higher wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge height and strength.

So, think. What will the effect be on our archaeological heritage?

Rising sea levels over the last 20K years have already inundated archaeological remains on what is now underwater on the continental shelf. If the seas rise further, more lands will be inundated, and Georgia’s shell rings and coastal island sites will be threatened. Increased rainfall will increase the potential for erosion and seasonal flooding, and both can damage our hidden archaeological resources, like buried prehistoric villages and abandoned historic farm sites.

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The Southeast Fact Sheet also notes:

Ecosystems provide numerous important services that have high economic and cultural value in the Southeast. Climate change may result in abrupt changes to these ecosystems, such as hurricane-induced sudden loss of landforms that serve as storm surge barriers and homes for coastal communities.

The Executive Summary for the entire assessment notes:

These climate-related changes are expected to continue while new ones develop. Likely future changes for the United States and surrounding coastal waters include more intense hurricanes with related increases in wind, rain, and storm surges (but not necessarily an increase in the number of these storms that make landfall), as well as drier conditions in the Southwest and Caribbean. These changes will affect human health, water supply, agriculture, coastal areas, and many other aspects of society and the natural environment.

What positive and negative effects will these changes in the global climate make to archaeological resources?

Click here to visit the USGCRP website to read about this program and download this report and other information.

Click here to go to the National Science Foundation’s website, where you can download their 2009 report “Solving the Puzzle: Researching the Impacts of Climate Change Around the World.”