NEWS | UA Team to Study Environmental Impacts on U.S. Cultural Heritage
An interdisciplinary team from the University of Arizona has been awarded $100,000 by the National Park Service to assess how environmental stressors such as flooding and extreme heat impact monuments, historic sites and other cultural resources in the American West.
“The effects of environmental stressors on natural systems have long been a subject of research,” said co-principal investigator R. Brooks Jeffery, a professor of architecture in the UA College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, or CAPLA. “But the application of the same analytical methods to study effects on cultural resources – archaeological sites, historic architecture, and cultural landscapes – is only beginning to emerge and will help protect these national treasures for generations to come.”
During the multi-phase project, the research team will analyze the impacts of environmental stressors on cultural resources in national parks in the eight states that make up the Intermountain Region: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Texas. In the Southwest, these sites will include Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Tumacácori National Historical Park, Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
Researchers will develop a set of risk maps, overlaying key vulnerability indicators, at-risk cultural resource types and materials specific to the arid conditions of the region, such as adobe. Future phases of the project will center on developing adaptation strategies appropriate to specific sites within the region.
This is the latest project in a 15-year collaborative partnership between CAPLA’s Heritage Conservation program and the Vanishing Treasures Program at the National Park Service, or NPS. The partnership provides research and service-learning opportunities for Heritage Conservation faculty and students and a workforce development pipeline for a variety of federal resource management agencies.
“Combining environmental science with cultural resources stewardship, both areas in which the UA has deep expertise, will provide a comprehensive approach to addressing environmental impacts on our cultural heritage and will provide NPS cultural resource managers the tools they need to make strategic management decisions to better care for our nation’s irreplaceable cultural resources,” said Lauren Meyer, who manages the Vanishing Treasures Program.
The project team brings together UA researchers representing environmental science, remote sensing, archaeology, architecture, heritage conservation and scenario planning.
“The complexity of challenges associated with environmental adaptation requires this kind of cross-cutting research team,” said co-principal investigator Gregg Garfin, associate professor in the UA School of Natural Resources and the Environment. “The value of the UA’s environmental science expertise is multiplied when it can be translated and applied to the development of land and cultural resource management strategies, in partnership with the National Park Service.”
The other UA researchers on the team are Jeremy Weiss, research scientist and investigator with the Climate Assessment for the Southwest program, and Willem van Leeuwen, director of the Arizona Remote Sensing Center. Both also are with the School of Natural Resources and the Environment.
Exterior wall collapse in 2010 at Mission San José de Tumacácori in southern Arizona. Extreme weather events, among other environmental stressors, are increasingly impacting the fragile cultural resources in the American West. Photo courtesy of Tumacácori National Historical Park.