Southeast CASC Project Recognized with DOI Environmental Achievement Award

The Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center project “Protecting Cultural Resources in the Face of Climate Change” has received honorable mention for the 2017 Department of the Interior Environmental Achievement Award. The project was led by North Carolina State University Associate Professor Dr. Erin Seekamp and Postdoctoral Associate Sandra Fatorić. Team members also included USGS Research Ecologists Dr. Mitch Eaton (Southeast CASC) and Dr. Max Post van der Burg (Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center).

The Environmental Achievement Awards recognized Department employees and partners for excellence in environmental management and practice. This project was nominated under the award’s “Cultural Resources Protection” category, which recognizes efforts to promote and protect cultural resources to showcase the Department’s stewardship of its extensive cultural resources, including archaeological sites, historic buildings and sites, cultural and historic landscapes, and tribal trusts.

About the project:

Currently, upwards of $20 billion of cultural resources and infrastructure in coastal national parks are estimated to be at high risk from climate change impacts. In the Southeast U.S., rising sea-level, increased storm intensity, and erosion threaten historic buildings at Cape Lookout National Seashore, such as the Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Portsmouth Village. While climate change challenges managers of both natural and cultural resources to make decisions in the face of uncertainty, far less work has been done to identify and adapt to the impacts of climate change on cultural resources.

Responding to concerns about the vulnerability of coastal cultural resources, the project team worked closely with the National Park Service to develop an adaptation planning process for historic buildings and sites at Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina. The team created a new method for identifying cultural resources most in need of management action. They developed a process that calculates a value for each cultural resource, based on its vulnerability to climate change, historical significance, and importance to the park’s day-to-day operations and education efforts. To test their methodology, the researchers ranked 17 structures within the Cape Lookout National Seashore. These non-monetary scores allow resources to be ranked in terms of their need for management action. Researchers also designed a model to compile these data for use in exploring detailed budget allocation decisions under multiple fiscal constraint scenarios. The model enables the calculation of all combinations of structures, possible actions, and time-steps for identifying optimal management policies under a range of budget outlooks.

The next stage of the project is to replicate and test the assessment framework with the full suite of buildings at Cape Lookout and in a second park with a greater range of coastal vulnerability. Additional funding from NPS is enabling the extension of this work.