Modeling the potential impact of storm surge and sea level rise on coastal archaeological heritage: A case study from Georgia

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Howland, Matthew D.
Thompson, Victor D.
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Howland, M.D., Thompson, V.D. Modeling the potential impact of storm surge and sea level rise on coastal archaeological heritage: A case study from Georgia (2024). PLoS ONE, 19 (2 February), art. no. e0297178. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0297178

Climate change poses great risks to archaeological heritage, especially in coastal regions. Preparing to mitigate these challenges requires detailed and accurate assessments of how coastal heritage sites will be impacted by sea level rise (SLR) and storm surge, driven by increasingly severe storms in a warmer climate. However, inconsistency between modeled impacts of coastal erosion on archaeological sites and observed effects has thus far hindered our ability to accurately assess the vulnerability of sites. Modeling of coastal impacts has largely focused on medium-to-long term SLR, while observations of damage to sites have almost exclusively focused on the results of individual storm events. There is therefore a great need for desk-based modeling of the potential impacts of individual storm events to equip cultural heritage managers with the information they need to plan for and mitigate the impacts of storm surge in various future sea level scenarios. Here, we apply the Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) model to estimate the risks that storm surge events pose to archaeological sites along the coast of the US State of Georgia in four different SLR scenarios. Our results, shared with cultural heritage managers in the Georgia Historic Preservation Division to facilitate prioritization, documentation, and mitigation efforts, demonstrate that over 4200 archaeological sites in Georgia alone are at risk of inundation and erosion from hurricanes, more than ten times the number of sites that were previously estimated to be at risk by 2100 accounting for SLR alone. We hope that this work encourages necessary action toward conserving coastal physical cultural heritage in Georgia and beyond.

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© 2024 Howland, Thompson. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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