Rising Seas, Flooding and Erosion Threaten African Heritage Sites

Nature Climate Change, 10 February 2022

This study offers the first comprehensive assessment of the exposure of African cultural and natural heritage sites to the combination of rising sea levels, extreme weather events and erosion associated with accelerating global warming. At present, 20% of Africa’s heritage sites are at risk from a once-in-a-century extreme sea-level event, including the iconic ruins of Tipasa in Algeria and the archaeological sites in North Sinai, Egypt. Extreme events – such as storm surges, high waves, and coastal erosion – are expected to become more frequent and severe with increased global mean temperatures, in addition to sea-level rise from glacier and ice sheet loss; resulting in more sites risking damage. By 2050, the number of vulnerable heritage sites is projected to more than triple, reaching almost 200 under a high-emissions scenario. A number of sites in West Africa are currently protected by coral reefs and mangrove forests, but intensifying ocean acidification and mangrove logging may increase their risk even further. Reducing emissions to follow a lower emissions scenario, the number of very highly exposed sites by the end of the century could be reduced by at least 25%. These findings underscore the importance of implementing mitigation and adaptation strategies to preserve the beauty and value of these iconic heritage sites.