17th century adobe walls collapsing at Tumacácori; historic inscriptions rapidly eroding at El Morro; ancestral pueblo field houses at Bandelier impacted by significant soil erosion. Is this deterioration and loss the result of a lack of proper maintenance, a misunderstanding of the needs of fragile site materials, the cumulative effects of 'normal' deterioration, or the result of random and unpredictable natural events and material failures? Could any (or all) of it be related to climate change? As a cultural resource manager, climate change is a difficult matter to grapple with. Can one comfortably say that a wall collapse is the direct result of climate change, rather than a lack of timely maintenance? Are aging resources eroding at a faster rate because of gradually changing climatic conditions? With natural systems, the impacts of climate change are direct and measurable - increased air temperatures result in: ice cap and glacial shrinkage that then lead to increases in sea level; decreases in snowpack that lead to decreased river flows and lake levels; faster evaporation of terrestrial water that leads to decreases in surface water supplies; and floral and faunal habitat migration and species loss that occur due to changing conditions. The effects of these predicted climatic changes on human systems are also direct, and include impacts related to personal comfort, health, energy consumption, water usage, and general resource availability. As for cultural resources, while we have a general idea of how a changing climate could affect these non-renewable resources, there have been few studies aimed at clearly identifying risks and determining potential and actual impacts from changing conditions. As climate scientists and natural resource specialists continue to develop and present projections for changes ahead, cultural resource professionals can begin to develop strategies for response and mitigation.
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