Future climate scenarios produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggest that the National Park Service’s Intermountain Region is likely to see temperature and precipitation changes during the next century. These changes and associated environmental changes will likely affect park cultural resources within the region, including resources managed by the Vanishing Treasures program.

Climate scenarios suggest that almost all areas in the region can expect changes in temperature and precipitation, both annually and seasonally. Annual temperatures are expected to increase throughout the region, while annual precipitation is expected to increase in some areas and decrease in others. The annual frequency of extreme weather events, including days with very high (above 95°F) and very low (below 10°F) temperatures and consecutive days of high (more than 1 inch) and low (less than 0.1 inch) precipitation, are expected to change in the region.

Buried archaeological resources and historic architectural resources are vulnerable to changes in the environments in which they exist. These cultural resources are especially vulnerable to changes in moisture, which can increase wetting and drying cycles, potentially accelerating deterioration. Earthen architecture is particularly vulnerable to heavy rainfall events, which may increase in some areas of the region. Areas in which climate changes are expected to be the greatest are perhaps the most vulnerable, because the local climate has the potential to be considerably different than the environment in which historic architectural resources were constructed to suit.

Research on the potential effects of climate change on cultural resources is sparse, especially in the United States. This report recommends that future research focus on topics that are important to the Intermountain Region, including the potential effects of soil moisture and soil chemistry changes on buried archaeological resources and historic architectural resources, as well as climate factors contributing to erosion and the potential effects this process has on cultural resources. Additionally, future research should focus on monitoring techniques for assessing the impacts of temperature and moisture changes on cultural resources, both above and below ground. Increased support for research on the potential effects of climate change on cultural resources within the Intermountain Region will allow resource managers to better monitor and maintain these important resources for their long-­term preservation.

Date: June 2014
Location: National Park Service Intermountain Region

National Park Service, Vanishing Treasures Program

Project Type: Research and Data Compilation
Project Source/Funding:

National Park Service

Desert Southwest/Cooperative Ecosystems Study Unit (DSCESU)

Drachman Institute Team: R. Brooks Jeffery, Director
Student: Laura Burghardt
Drachman Institute Program: Heritage Conservation