Marco Secchi/Getty Images
- Rising sea levels, climbing global temperatures, and extreme weather conditions have scientists concerned about the fate of the world’s landmarks.
- A group of researchers recently developed a Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) that helps determine which World Heritage Sites face the most precarious future.
- Landmarks that are in danger include the Great Barrier Reef, Statue of Liberty, and the entire city of Venice, Italy.
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Less than a year ago, the United Nations made some scary predictions about our planet’s future. If global temperatures rose to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, they said, the world could experience "irreversible" damage, including the collapse of coral reefs, the fall of ice sheets in Antarctica, and the forced retreat of coastal cities.
That catastrophic scenario would be years away, but we already have some insight into how it might affect our world’s most precious landmarks.
Many World Heritage Sites — landmarks that have been determined to have major significance for humanity — have sustained recent damage from floods, wildfires, and rising sea levels. Researchers from James Cook University and the Union of Concerned Scientists believe that climate change is now the fastest-growing global threat to these properties.
To figure out which sites face the most precarious future, the researchers developed a Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) that considers how climate change might diminish the value of a World Heritage Site and impact its surrounding community.
Take a look at the landmarks that are in danger.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is known worldwide for its colorful medley of coral.
REUTERS/HO/Great Barrier Reef National Park Authority
The Great Barrier Reef, which actually consists of 2,500 individual reefs, became a World Heritage Site in 1981. According to the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which determines heritage sites, the reef boasts "some of the most spectacular maritime scenery in the world."
But its coral is being "bleached" by warmer temperatures.
The Ocean Agency/XL Catlin Seaview Survey/Richard Vevers and Christophe Bailhache
Warmer temperatures can induce "coral bleaching," a process in which algae leaves coral tissue, causing the organism to become pale or white. While the coral may eventually regain its color, the likelihood of survival tends to decline as more algae leaves the nest.
The Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rockies is the most visited glacier in North America.
Austin Post/Wikimedia Commons
Glaciers are a key part of the beauty of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, a World Heritage Site. Before it started shrinking, the site’s Athabasca Glacier looked like a mesmerizing waterfall cascading down the mountain.
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