Climate change and sea level rise are threatening historic US landmarks, from the Statue of Liberty to NASA’s coastal rocket launch sites, and the nation needs to prepare, scientists say.
“The range and scale of impacts are alarming,” said the report by the Union of Concerned Scientists that listed more than two dozen landmarks endangered by wildfires, coastal erosion and flooding – events scientists say are being made worse by global warming.
They include the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York Harbour, which was the entry point for 14 million immigrants from 1886 to 1924.
Other sites at risk include the first permanent British colony in North America at Jamestown Island in Virginia, and historic Charleston, South Carolina.
Another is Fort Monroe, where the first African slaves arrived in 1619 and where 250 years later they were given refuge as “contraband” of the American Civil War, a move that paved the way for the abolition of slavery.
Five of seven of NASA’s multi-billion dollar coastal complexes famous for training astronauts and launching historic missions to space are also at risk, including Cape Canaveral in Florida and mission control in Houston.
From Cape Canaveral in Florida to mission control in Houston, the US space agency is busily building seawalls where possible and moving some buildings further inland.
Five of seven major NASA centres are located along the coast. Experts say that proximity to water is a logistical necessity for launching rockets and testing spacecraft.
Many NASA centres have already faced costly damage from encroaching water, coastal erosion and potent hurricanes, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Perhaps the most iconic launchpad lies in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center, the liftoff point for the Apollo moon missions and numerous space shuttle flights.
“According to NASA’s planning and development office, rising sea levels are the single largest threat to the Kennedy Space Center’s continued operations,” said the report, which also listed other historic sites across the US that are threatened by sea level rise.
Rising seas are not the only issue.
Wildfires are getting more severe and less predictable, posing a major threat to 19th century California Gold Rush towns and ancient pueblos in New Mexico and Colorado, the report said.
The costs of rebuilding and preparing may be high, but the cost of doing nothing would be higher, experts said.
“This really is just the tip of the iceberg,” said UCS director of climate impacts Adam Markham.
“We need to make adaptation a national priority and bring resources where they are needed.”