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Hawaii among states with historic sites threatened by sea level rise

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  • In this October 2012 photo, Jim Davis kayaks through waters flooding Bowen’s Wharf after Superstorm Sandy in historic Newport, R.I. (Dave Hansen/Newport Daily News via AP)


    In this file photo, the Statue of Liberty stands beyond parts of a brick walkway damaged in Superstorm Sandy on Liberty Island in New York.


    In this file photo, Faneuil Hall, right, one of the sites on Boston’s Freedom Trail, sits among buildings on an evening in downtown in Boston.

With scientists forecasting sea levels to rise by anywhere from several inches to several feet by 2100, historic structures and coastal heritage sites around the world are under threat. Some sites and artifacts could become submerged.

Scientists, historic preservationists, architects and public officials are meeting this week in Newport, Rhode Island — one of the threatened areas — to discuss the problem, how to adapt to rising seas and preserve historic structures.

“Any coastal town that has significant historic properties is going to be facing the challenge of protecting those properties from increased water and storm activity,” said Margot Nishimura, of the Newport Restoration Foundation, the nonprofit group hosting the conference.

Federal authorities have encouraged people to elevate structures in low-lying areas, but that poses challenges in dense neighborhoods of centuries-old homes built around central brick chimneys, Nishimura said, especially ones where preservationists are trying to keep the character intact.

Many of the most threatened sites in North America lie along the East Coast between Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and southern Maine, where the rate of sea level rise is among the fastest in the world, said Adam Markham, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a speaker at the conference.

“We’re actually not going to be able to save everything,” he said.

A look at some of the historic areas and cultural sites that are under threat from rising sea levels:



Reports by the National Park Service and others have found that rising sea level rises threaten archaeological sites at various historic places in Hawaii. Those include ancient fish ponds at Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site and a “Great Wall” at a sacred site in Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. It is considered the best-preserved such wall in Hawaii.



Situated in New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are some of New York’s most important tourist attractions.

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy submerged most of the low-elevation Liberty and Ellis islands. After the storm, the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France in 1886, was closed for eight months. Ellis Island, the entry point for about 12 million immigrants to the United States from 1892 to 1954, remained closed for nearly a year.

A report by the National Park Service looked at how several parks would be threatened by 1 meter, or around 3 feet, of sea level rise. It found $1.51 billion worth of assets at the Statue of Liberty National Monument were highly exposed to sea level rise.



Much of historic Boston is along the water and is at risk due to sea level rise, including Faneuil Hall, the market building known as the “Cradle of Liberty,” and parts of the Freedom Trail, a walking trail that links historic sites around the city.

Boston has seen a growing number of flooding events in recent years, up from two annually in the 1970s to an average of 11 annually between 2009 and 2013, according to a 2014 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. If sea levels rise by 5 inches, the group reported, the number of floods is projected to grow to 31 annually. If seas rise by 11 inches, the number of flooding events is projected to rise to 72 per year.



The Point neighborhood in the Rhode Island resort town has one of the highest concentrations of Colonial houses in the United States, and it sits 4 feet above mean sea level. Tidal flooding is already occurring in the neighborhood, and that is expected to increase as sea levels rise, Nishimura said. The smell of sea water already permeates the basement of some homes.



Maryland’s capital, on Chesapeake Bay, boasts the nation’s largest concentration of 18th-century brick buildings. The city briefly served as the nation’s capital in the post-Revolutionary War period, and the Treaty of Paris, which formally ended the war, was ratified there. The city is also home to the U.S. Naval Academy.

The city already sees tidal flooding dozens of times a year, and scientists have predicted number could rise to hundreds annually in the next 30 years.



Established in 1607, it is the first permanent English colony in North America. It sits along the tidal James River in Virginia, and most of the settlement is less than 3 feet above sea level. A large part of the settlement has already eroded because of wave action, Markham said. Storms have also damaged the site, including Hurricane Isabel in 2003, which flooded nearly 1 million artifacts. A rising water table at the site also poses a threat to archaeological remains, Markham said.

He called the loss of archaeological artifacts “an urgent problem” along the U.S. coastline.



Dozens of UNESCO World Heritage Sites are under threat from sea level rise, according to a 2014 report by climate scientists Ben Marzeion, of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, and Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute in Germany.

Among those are: the Tower of London; Robben Island in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years; Venice, Italy, and its lagoon; Mont-Saint-Michel, home to an abbey built atop a rocky islet in France; the Kasbah of Algiers, Algeria; the historic district of Old Quebec, Canada; Old Havana in Cuba; and archaeological areas of Pompeii, Italy, and Carthage in Tunisia.

The authors wrote that their findings indicate that “fundamental decisions with regard to mankind’s cultural heritage are required.”

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  • Would the Federal Government allow us to build rail along the current route with so many stations in danger of flooding from high water events under today’s rules and regulations? This is another reason to stop rail at Middle Street.

  • What a stupid fear mongering article.

    We are on an island in the middle of the ocean. Of course the rising sea (or crumbling land) will eventually cover us….just look to our Northwest to see what the future holds. Happily, if we look to the South of the Big Island, we’ll also see what our future holds.

  • What a \phoolish fear mongering article.

    We are on an island in the middle of the ocean. Of course the rising sea (or crumbling land) will eventually cover us….just look to our Northwest to see what the future holds. Happily, if we look to the South of the Big Island, we’ll also see what our future holds.

    • Know what’s foolish? Overbuilding in Kakaako. They will be steel and glass islands, standing in Ala Wai like muck. The result of comromised sewers. But the paid off planners and leaders will be long gone.

        • THE “WALL STREET ZIONISTS” have Insurance (“replacement” and “loss-of-business”–just like “Larry Silverstein”. They are also the Primary Underwriter’s of “HILLBILLARY” in her ongoing campaign for WWIII…

      • Because it mongers fear, in Hawaii’s case, rather than just pointing out that this is nothing more than the circle of life for a volpcanic island.

        • I get your point. But what about places like the Marshall Islands? There is big threat there whose impact is really due to hit within the next 30 years; not a very long time don’t you think? If the level rises for the Marshalls, won’t it rise here too? I think the general consensus is like a foot every 30 years. If that’s true, there is a more immediate threat.

  • No need to worry about the threat of the sea, it’s the threat of developers, politicians, foreign investments/developments (and yes including RAIL, Kakaako)…..etc,etc,etc that has been the cause of more debilitating effects to our islands.

  • I don’t think that the “ancient fish ponds at Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site” are threatened — they don’t exist. Perhaps AP is confusing Pu’ukohola with Kaloko Honokohau.

  • Rising sea level will make the low-laying islands and atolls in micronesia uninhabitable. Where do you think their entire populations will move to? The number who have already moved to Hawaii to freeload is a drop in the bucket compared to what’s coming due to global warming. Is Hawaii budgeting for this long-term? My guess is “no.”

    • Your guess is correct! Has anyone seen the money to reimburse the state for COFA? The state can’t even get what’s owed to them let alone spend all the federal money for highway projects. Word is already out that Hawaii is the best place to freeload.

  • Utter nonsense. The flooding of Newport, Rhode Island, caused by Superstorm Sandy is nothing new to Newport and has nothing to do with global warming or climate change. Newport has been flooded many times by hurricanes, the most damaging occurring in 1938 and 1954, long before Global Warming and Climate Change were invented. It is disingenuous and outright dishonest to now blame such flooding on anything other than Mother Nature.

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