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We’re helping heritage managers safeguard their sites by providing information on climate and sea-level risk.

As sea level is predicted to rise over the next decades and storm surges will cause increasingly powerful waves to batter coastlines, some of the African continent’s most important coastal heritage sites could be inundated or crumble into the sea and be lost forever.

Challenge

Coastal erosion and sea-level rise caused by climate change threaten to damage and destroy globally important heritage sites around the African coast. But there’s currently no way to accurately assess the risk or extent of loss, as there’s a lack of quantitative predictions of climate risk to heritage sites in Africa.

Insight

A multidisciplinary team of international researchers joined forces in a new research project to address this problem. 

Together they are carrying out the first study of this scale and type which will model the risk of coastal erosion and sea-level rise to African heritage sites in 36 of 39 African countries with coastlines. 

The study assesses three different types of site. World Heritage Sites, World Heritage Sites on the Tentative List and Ramsar Wetland Sites. Sites that are partly or entirely situated within an elevation of 50-meters above sea level are being assessed for loss or damage. 

The team has accurately mapped 339 sites. Using sophisticated models that show projected changes to the African coastline at 10-year intervals, they will produce time-slice maps to show the extent of damage over the next hundred years. This research will enable heritage managers and museum professionals to accurately plan for the mitigation and conservation of sites in danger in the short and long term.  

The study will be published in Nature Climate Change in September, led by Dr Nick Simpson at the University of Cape Town and corresponding author Dr Joanne Clarke from UEA. The results from this study have already fed into the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6-WG2) Chapter 9: Climate Impact, Vulnerability and Adaptation in Africa. 

Two further publications are in preparation. One, led by Dr Clarke on the social and economic impacts of heritage loss in the most affected countries. And a third paper led by Salma Sabour (University of Southampton) will assess the threat of sea-level rise and coastal erosion to the ecology of Africa’s natural heritage sites.

Dr Joanne Clarke

An archeologist at our School of Art, Media and American Studies, Joanne plays an essential role in the study. She ensured that the methodological design of the initial study would yield useful data for heritage managers. Joanne is currently translating the results, which will facilitate the African heritage sector in mitigation strategies to reduce future risks and protect Africa’s heritage.

“Having an interdisciplinary team was essential for this project as it has meant that the results are being translated and will be communicated to the correct audiences, such as heritage practitioners and ecologists, who are able to implement responsive management strategies to protect the sites at risk.” 

Dr Joanne Clarke

Collaboration

The interdisciplinary research team is made up of archeologists, ecologists, GIS, sea-level rise and coastal erosion experts. Their wide-ranging expertise ensures that the holistic story of the impact of sea-level rise and coastal erosion to heritage sites on the African coast can be told.