Mapping Mediterranean UNESCO World Heritage Sea-level Rise Flood Risk

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A Kiel University study has shown that some World Heritage Sites are at risk for damage in the face of changing sea level from climate change. This is especially of concern for those located in the Mediterranean, whose sites are often situated in low lying areas of the coast. A substantial number of World Heritage sites in total – approximately 49 – are high risk, with 42 of those being a concern due to progressing coastal erosion.

To evaluate the status of the sites labeled as potential risks, the team of researchers participating in this study created a spatial database, of all sites located in the notably high risk, low lying Mediterranean coast regions. This database includes valuable information regarding heritage type, the site’s distance from the shoreline, and data on their local urban or rural surroundings. The database’s resulting “flood risk index,” speculates the maximum flood depth of each World Heritage site.

Flood risk index at each World Heritage site under current and future conditions. a In 2000 and b in 2100 under the high-end sea-level rise scenario. Figure: Reimann et al., 2018

Flood risk index at each World Heritage site under current and future conditions. a In 2000 and b in 2100 under the high-end sea-level rise scenario. Figure: Reimann et al., 2018

Lena Reimann, a doctoral researcher of Geography at Kiel University, and who provided further background for the university’s official news release, stated: “in the Mediterranean region, the risk posed by storm surges, which are 100-year storm surges under today’s conditions, may increase by up to 50 percent on average, and that from coastal erosion by up to 13 percent – and all of this by the end of the 21st century under high-end sea-level rise. Individual World Heritage Sites could even be affected much more due to their exposed location.”

 “There is immediate need for action and adaptation.”She continued, “Without appropriate adaptation measures, combined with rigorous global-scale mitigation, our world’s cultural heritage could be severely damaged by sea-level rise, and therefore lose its outstanding value as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”

The study:

Reimann, L., Vafeidis, A. T., Brown, S., Hinkel, J., & Tol, R. S. J. (2018). Mediterranean UNESCO World Heritage at risk from coastal flooding and erosion due to sea-level rise. Nature Communications, 9(1), 4161. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-06645-9

The database:

Reimann, L, Vafeidis, AT, Brown, S, Hinkel, J, Tol, RSJ (2018): UNESCO cultural World Heritage in the Mediterranean coastal zone. Available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.5759538

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