Various types of decay processes are continuously affecting our cultural heritage, but climate change may change the speed of these processes or strengthen their impact.
Therefore, NIKU is working on investigating and surveying how vulnerable our cultural heritage is to climate change, the risk to which our cultural heritage is exposed, and adaptations that can be made to counter any effects of climate change. How local authorities can work on adapting for climate change, including through planning, is also an important field of knowledge for NIKU.
The effects of climate change can be divided into two main groups depending on for how long the effects will influence the cultural monuments – short-term and long-term:
Short-term climate changes are often abrupt and caused by extreme weather. There has always been extreme weather, but its frequency can be expected to increase, and consequently, its impact on cultural heritage sites will also increase. Examples of effects that can affect cultural heritage sites for a short period are phenomena such as extreme precipitation, floods and landslides.
Long-term effects influence cultural heritage sites over time. The damage caused may be small but lasting. Examples include erosion, rising sea levels, biological decay such as mould, fungus and rot, frost bursting, or salt bursting. Short-term effects can often result in the occurrence of long-term effects. For example, more frequent extreme precipitation and normal precipitation could result in more frost bursting rock. This would thus influence the preservation conditions for rock art.
The measures necessary to counter the impact climate change may have on cultural heritage sites can be divided into three main groups:
- Preventive measures
- Emergency measures
- Conservation measures
These measures should be coordinated with other climate adaptation measures linked to the protection of human life, drinking water and infrastructure. This is important to ensure other climate adaptation measures do not result in secondary effects for cultural heritage sites.