Historic Jamestowne, Virginia, the original site of the Jamestown colony. Rising sea levels are threatening Jamestown, the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America. Photo: Williamsburg Virginia guide

JAMESTOWN, Virginia, 10 March 2013 (Associated Press) – Rising sea levels are threatening Jamestown, the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America.

Jamestown Island, where most of Jamestown is located, lies 3 feet or less above the tidal James River. Scientists project that it will be underwater by 2100, but flooding will increase long before then.

Storms and erosion already have taken their toll. The island was created by an 18th-century storm that punctured a land bridge that once connected the Jamestown peninsula to the mainland. More recently, much of the island was flooded in 2003 by Hurricane Isabel, which damaged a visitor center and caused $3.5 million in damage to ceramics, metal tools and other artifacts in the center. In 2011, a seawall protecting Jamestown’s historic fort site was damaged by Hurricane Irene.

“What we’re seeing and what’s being predicted is the sea-level rise is going to exacerbate everything,” Dorothy Geyer, the natural-resource specialist for the Colonial National Historical Park, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Most of the 1,473-acre island lies within the park. A 22½ -acre area that includes the original fort site and a 17th-century church tower is owned and managed by the nonprofit Preservation Virginia.

Geyer said National Park Service is working to determine how to adapt, looking at current studies and planning additional research.

Preservation Virginia also has taken steps to protect Jamestown. When storms approach, its plan calls for sandbags to be placed around the fort and church areas. To guard against flooding, an archaeology museum and some other buildings constructed in recent years were elevated.

“We believe we are one of the most important sites in America, the first permanent colony, and it is our goal to preserve this for future generations,” said Sheryl Mays, director of operations for Preservation Virginia at Jamestown.

That future could be grim. In 50 to 100 years, lands that the colonists walked on “are not going to be there anymore,” said Carl Hobbs, a marine geologist with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

“You can only fight nature for so long, because she will win,” Hobbs said.

Unlike other low places threatened by rising seas, the solution is not moving buildings and people. Jamestown is comprised of wild marshes and historic sites that still contain artifacts underground.

“You can’t move history,” Hobbs said. [more]

Rising sea levels threaten historic Jamestown, marine geologist says island’s future is grim

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