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Climate Change Affecting UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Climate Change Affect World Heritage Sites


How Climate Change Affect World Heritage Sites in India

  • Threats due to changing temperatures:
    • Freeze–thaw cycles: This results in mechanical weathering, leading to structural damage and disintegration of stone, brick, and ceramic materials at the heritage sites.
    • Warming oceans: Increased ocean temperature and acidification pose a threat to marine biodiversity and marine heritage sites such as tropical coral reefs.
    • Melting of world heritage glaciers: UNESCO’s recent report, ‘World Heritage Glaciers Sentinels of Climate Change’ has highlighted the accelerated melting of glaciers in World Heritage sites, with glaciers in a third of sites set to disappear by 2050.
    • Thermoclastism: It results from expansion and contraction of surface mineral grains due to thermal variations caused by seasonal variations and diurnal changes in air temperature and direct insolation, and can lead to micro-cracking and exfoliation of stones as well as erosion of building material surfaces.
  • Threats due to changes in precipitation:
    • Flooding: It causes standing damage to the heritage sites. Also, flooding drastically increase moisture in historical materials and structures, causing physical, chemical and biological degradation.
    • Slope instability and landslides: More extreme rainfall under climate change will increase the risk of gully erosion and landslides at the heritage sites.
    • Biological degradation: Changes in humidity influence the growth of microorganisms on stone and wooden heritage materials.
  • Sea level rise: Rising sea level poses a significant threat to cultural and natural heritage situated in coastal areas.
    • Rising sea level together with a higher frequency of storm surges will increase coastal erosion, causing re-shaping of the coast, and a further increase in the frequency of coastal flooding, impacting coastal heritage sites.
  • Droughts and extreme heat: Droughts together with extreme heat can increase the risk of ignition of fires and their propagation.
    • Furthermore, drought conditions will lead to desiccation of soils and unfired building materials as well as structural implications for the foundations of historical buildings and archeological sites.
  • Changes in Wind characteristics: Changes in wind speed and direction, as well as wind gusts during storms can cause enormous damage to heritage buildings and archeological sites, as they can impact the structures and potentially cause their collapse.

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