Researchers Say Climate Change Is Impacting Channel Islands, With Archaeological Sites Disappearing

Jul 27, 2017

It’s a breezy, yet warm day on Santa Rosa Island. At the site of a historic ranch house, archeologists found artifacts which show that humans were here more than 10,000 years ago.

The finds support evidence that some of the oldest known human existence in North America was in the Channel Islands. University of Oregon archeologist Jon Erlandson has been studying the islands for four decades. He says the researchers have also discovered evidence of something else related to humans: global warming.

Erlandson says that rising sea level threatens coastal communities, but that it’s already claimed some historic coastal archeological sites.

A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists indicates that we could see a spike in flooding in coastal communities during the next two decades. The report says the number of U.S. communities which would flood more than twice a month could double to 170 by 2035.

The report also states that in the immediate future, more severe impacts would be on the East, and Gulf Coasts. Researchers involved in the effort say California will have a bit more time, but that coastal communities need to look at the future of new development in at-risk areas.

in the case of Santa Rosa Island though, archeologist Joh Erlandson says the situation is already past the stage of concern. He says they’ve lost some historic sites to sea level rise in recent years, and that sites identified along the coast 20 years ago are already completely gone. He says they feel like they’re racing the clock now to get to other sites.

Erlandson says there are some exciting slices of our history over the last two centuries on Santa Rosa Island, ranging from the distant past to relatively modern history. Archeologists want to unearth as much as they can before they lose more sites.

Researchers have different ideas on the speed of sea level rise. Some say we could be looking at as much as eight feet between now and 2100, while others say it could be less than six feet.

A recent report from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography says the key to the numbers will in the reduction of greenhouses gasses. That report says if efforts go well, sea level rise could be kept to around one to two and a half feet, and if things don’t go well, it could be up to three and a half feet.