Global warming could deprive Sweden of the town of Visby and the port of Karlskrona, at least, in a few thousand years.
This was the conclusion of a new study looking at the potential loss of world heritage sites due to rising temperatures. Using sea level rise estimates and topographic data, the researchers looked at the impact of rising sea levels in different countries over the next 2,000 years.
"When thinking about climate change, people usually think about ecological and economical consequences," Ben Marzeion, study author and climate scientist at the University of Innsbruck, told The Local Spain.
"We wanted to add another dimension: what might the cultural impacts be?"
Visby, a former viking settlement and then Hansa League trade base on the island of Gotland, is the best-preserved fortified commercial city in northern Europe. Due to its Baltic Sea location, around 150 kilometres south of Stockholm, the walled town of Visby made an ideal spot for Baltic trade in the Viking ages. Today, the town is a tourist hotspot for Swedes and foreigners alike, especially in summer.
The Naval Port of Karlskrona, on the southern coast of Sweden, is a well preserved naval base that was planned in the late 17th century. Unesco noted that it was a "unique relic of Sweden's time as a major power".
Researchers found that 40 Unesco worldwide sites would be affected by rising oceans over the next 2,000 years if global warning continued at the same rate, and that a "not improbable" three-degree 3C rise in temperature over the same period would affect 136 Unesco sites worldwide.
These included a slew of sites in Spain including Seville's Alcazar palace, a dozen in Italy, and several in France and Germany.
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Researchers said inaction could be disastrous
"Our analysis illustrates that the spatial distribution of the existing and potential future cultural world heritage makes it vulnerable to sea-level rise," the study authors wrote.
"Future generations will face either loss of these sites, or considerable efforts to protect them," they warned.