Publication Date March 12, 2020 | NPR

Protecting And Preserving Ancient Sites At Risk From Sea-Level Rise In Florida

United States
Climate change is accelerating sea level rise and increasing coastal flooding
Flooding Miami Beach, FL. Credit: Miamibrickell/Flickr Creative Commons

Climate Signals Summary: Climate change is accelerating sea level rise and increasing coastal flooding.

Article Excerpt: Long before condominiums lined the shoreline in Miami Beach, before air conditioning, many thousands of years before Columbus, people lived along Florida's coastline.

Archaeologists say the remains of their settlements are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels as a result of climate change.

In Florida's Palm Beach County researchers are planning how best to protect and preserve the ancient sites most at risk from rising seas.


Working with her students from Lynn University, Watson excavated sections of this ancient settlement. She and her collaborators are now dating and analyzing the artifacts. It was the first time in nearly a half century archaeologists had worked there. But as sea-level rise increases, Watson says there's a new urgency to investigate sites that at some point will be underwater.


The shoreline here is eroding at an accelerating pace, in some areas up to seven feet a year. Some of that is from storms and boat wakes. But Rigsby-Ayers says the rising sea level and record high tides are also factors that are washing away bits of Florida's history.

"I know the last time my coworker was out leading a kayak tour...she actually saw pottery eroding out of here," she says. "So, we'll come out and we'll see cultural material just being washed away into the sea."


In Palm Beach County alone, Sara Rigsby-Ayers says more than 200 archaeological sites will be damaged or inundated by a three-foot rise in sea level that's expected by the end of the century.

Statewide, more than 16,000 sites are at risk and Rigsby-Ayers says preserving all of them just isn't possible.