Pompeii Among 37 World Heritage Sites at Risk From Flooding and Erosion as Sea Levels Rise

Pompei, Italy
Photo by Anja Perše/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

by Sarah Knapton and Science Editor, The Telegraph, October 16, 2018

They have already been wiped out once by the devastating eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD.

But now the Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum could be lost through flooding and erosion caused by climate change, a major study has found.

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The ancient towns are among dozens of World Heritage sites at risk from sea-level rise in the Mediterranean as the climate warms, researchers at the University of Kiel, in Germany, have warned.

Other sites at risk include the historic sites in Istanbul and Dubrovnik, as well as the kasbah at Algiers, the Medieval city of Rhodes and the archaeological site of Carthage.

In a report published in Nature Communications, the authors say that without urgent action irreplaceable archaeological treasures will be badly damaged or destroyed forever and some monuments may need to be relocated.

Dr Lena Reimann, of the coastal risks and sea level research group at Keil said Pompeii would be at risk from flooding by the end of the century and already in danger of coastal erosion.

“Already under current climate conditions, a large share of cultural World Heritage Sites located in low-lying coastal areas of the Mediterranean region are at risk from coastal flooding and erosion,” she said. “These risks will increase until 2100 and possibly beyond,

UNESCO World Heritage sites at risk from 'Extreme' sea levels

“Pompeii is at low to moderate risk from coastal erosion and erosion risk may increase by up to 16 per cent under the high-end sea-level rise scenarios until 2100.

“Adaptation is urgently needed and conventional measures, such as dikes, are likely to be less suitable as these may compromise the aesthetic value of the site.

“I would expect that different disciplines need to contribute for designing non-conventional, innovative solutions, using architecture, arts, and engineering.”

The report found that of the 49 cultural sites located in low-lying coastal areas of the Mediterranean, 37 are already at risk from devastating storm surges and 42 from ongoing erosion. And the chance of extreme floods will rise by 50 per cent by 2100.

At some locations only a small amount of the site is threatened such as the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna in Libya, but in Venice flooding could damage 97 per cent of the buildings and squares.

The highest potential flood depth, was found at the Patriarchal Basilica of Aquileia, in Italy, where four foot storm surges are at risk of devastating the 5th century city, much of which has not yet been excavated.

The average depth of flood risk today is 1.3 feet but in areas like Pompeii and Herculaneum it could rise to 5.9 feet by the 2100, and 7.2 feet in Venice.

The team say it may be possible to relocate some treasures such as the cathedral of St. James in Šibenik in Croatia and the Early Christian monuments of Ravenna, in Northern Italy. But they warn many locations, such as Pompeii ‘extend over large areas’ and cannot be moved.

“Relocation should be assessed carefully on a case-by-case basis and may be a suitable adaptation strategy for those World Heritage Risk risk is very high,” the authors conclude.

Some climate change measures are already underway at important sites, such as in the Venice lagoon where submerged mobile barriers are being installed at inlets to protect the area during high waters.  

Dr Stelios Lekakis, of the school of history, classics and archaeology at Newcastle University, said: “Data pointing to increased current and future hazards in archaeological/historic sites by natural factors cause significant concern to heritage specialists around the world.

“Several campaigns have been employed in the last decade to raise awareness for the endangered sites however a more proactive stance must be taken, focusing on the sustainable protection of both tangible and intangible aspects of sites in danger by flooding or erosion.

“The role of surrounding communities and local-traditional knowledge that reside in them might hold the key in this process."


This article was written by Sarah Knapton and Science Editor from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

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