Jamestown, Va., the site of the first permanent English colony in what became the United States, could be wiped off the map by climate change, researchers warned today. (Left: Early Jamestown)
As the polar ice caps melt, rising sea levels could completely swamp the historical location that has stood as an icon of American history for the past 400 years, according to a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization.
"Virtually all of Jamestown Island, the site of Jamestown, is low enough to be covered by water if seas and tidal water rise as much as now believed to be likely in this century," it said. "One of the nation's most important historic sites is in grave danger of being completely inundated." (At right: Later Jamestown)
English settlers landed at Jamestown in 1607 to establish a colony, some 13 years before the landing of the Puritans at Plymouth. They had to battle famine, disease and warfare with the local Native Americans in order to survive. Jamestown went on to become an early site in the American slave trade, as well as a military outpost in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. (Left: Jamestown today - in care of the National Park Service)
Jamestown "is where America's colonial history began," Theo Spencer, a senior advocate at the NRDC, told reporters. "We need to act now to reduce the pollution that causes climate change."
The average temperature at Jamestown could rise by as much as 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, according to the report. Since much of the island where the settlement stood is only a few feet above sea level, the former colony is particularly vulnerable to rising waters.
Even before the end of the century, extreme weather could cause serious erosion to the island, the report says. Sea erosion gnawed at the west coast of the island for decades before a sea wall (at right) was erected.
In 1893 Jamestown was owned by Mr. And Mrs. Edward Barney. The Barneys gave 22.5 acres of land, including the 1639 church tower, to the APVA (Preservation Virginia, a private non-profit organization and statewide historic preservation leader founded in 1889). The church tower, completed around 1647, is the only seventeenth-century building still standing at Jamestown. It is one of the oldest English-built structures in the United States.
By this time James River erosion had eaten away the island's western shore; visitors began to conclude that the site of James Fort lay completely underwater. With federal assistance, a sea wall (see above right) was constructed in 1900 to protect the area from further erosion. The remaining acreage on the island was acquired by the National Park Service in 1934 as part of the Colonial National Historical Park.
Today, thousands of people flock to the Jamestown Settlement to experience pieces of history such as cotton farming and the military life at James Fort.
But man-made climate change threatens the tourist trade in Jamestown, as well as in natural beauty spots such as Shenandoah National Park and the beach at Chincoteague Island, the report said.
"Even before higher seas flood these areas, stronger coastal storms and higher storm surges may cause great damage to them, their resources and visitors' ability to access them," the report said.
Jamestown, Shenandoah and Chincoteague together bring in more than $200 million in tourism each year, the report said.
The report calls for federal mandates to limit the emission of pollutants and greater study of the impact of climate change on national parks.
"The single most important thing that needs to happen is federal law to limit the gases that cause climate change," Spencer said.
It might already be too late to save Virginia's historic and natural beauty spots, Grayson Chesser of the Accomack County Board of Supervisors told reporters.
"It worries me that we're going to have to learn the lesson the hard way," said Chesser, who is descended from one of the original settlers. "It's going to be a very painful process."
AOL News, "Report: Historic Jamestown Could Be Wiped Off Map", accessed September 3, 2010