Changes in climate could lead to some devastating results to our heritage

Climate Change & Monuments


Having analyzed the effects in other areas of life and society, we will now move on to the specific subject of the climate change effect in the deterioration of monuments.

There are several factors which are directly responsible for the deterioration of heritage monuments, some of which are related to the changing environment. A small change in temperature directly results in a change in RH (relative humidity). RH and temperature are extremely important when it comes to the deterioration of stone and ceramic artefacts -which contain salts- since a slight change may result in salts crystallizing, and hence weathering occurs. Biological activity also changes; it may increase or decrease, hence changing the rate of deterioration; the biological film may then change completely, changing a monument’s aesthetic qualities and especially its colour (black, green, yellow etc.).

Increased temperatures result in increased dryness, causing droughts and possibly fires, which can be especially destructive for organic materials and several non-organic ones. Snow and ice also begin to melt hence material which was preserved within it may be lost. As a result of snow melt, sea levels also increase, submerging and destroying sites close to the coastline.

The change of the average temperature may bring cold areas located in high altitudes or extreme latitudes into higher temperatures, which will then with the seasons oscillate more often between frost and thaw. This oscillation is destructive for all materials.

Finally, climate change can also create an unstable environment; hence environmental phenomena are expected to increase, such as earthquakes, storms and hurricanes, which may result in flooding and destruction of heritage sites, museums and artefacts. Such disasters can also affect the livelihoods of people and may result in increased vandalism and theft or damage of artefacts, due to terrorism and conflict.

​To comprehend these factors we will in this section go through the threats for heritage, underlining which of those are augmenting due to climate change. We will then review the decay and deterioration factors that could be affected due to the different contemporary climate and will conclude with case studies from the world, and from our host country, Greece.



Monuments are the living testimony of our past. Their safeguarding may be spontaneous but it is also often prescribed by state laws and international declarations. It is obvious that to safeguard and protect, one must know the threats and associated risks. The threats, an indicative list of which you can read in the following panel, can be affected both by natural and/or anthropogenic factors, and often by the combination of more than one factor. The threats can affect monuments locally, regionally or globally. It is obvious that climate change plays a direct role in some of these threats, consequently affecting the preservation of the monuments of the geographical area affected by the change of the climate.

Indirect effects


Indirect effects of climate change in creating alteration, or decay and deterioration, relating to and mediated by human activities are produced by:

  1. Migration (permanent/ temporary)
  2. Conflicts
  3. Changes in value systems/ politics
  4. Changes in production/ consumption related to:
    • Agriculture
    • Industry
    • Urbanization/ settlements
    • Deforestation
  5. Changes in polluting elements



notes from the round table on Climate Change and its Impact on Preservation Management of Archaeological sites, Athens, April 2012

Direct effects


Direct effects of climate change in creating alteration, or decay and deterioration, which may be at a local or regional level, are produced by:

  1. Variation in soil/ moisture and/or desertification
  2. Flooding and surface runoff
  3. Extreme weather events ( floods, surges, hurricanes, storms)
  4. Coastal erosion
  5. Freeze and thaw- glacier variation
  6. Formation of salts
  7. Quality & typology of the biological environment of the area and its flora/fauna
  8. Variation in temperature
  9. CO2 emissions
  10. Corrosion and earth recession



notes from the round table on Climate Change and its Impact on Preservation Management of Archaeological sites, Athens, April 2012



As DECAY of a monument we would define any chemical or physical modification of its component materials that lead to a loss of value or to the impairment of its use. When a monument undergoes changes in character and deterioration due to chemical or mechanical process by exposure to weather, we tend to call it WEATHERING.

Although monuments suffered from several deterioration factors in the past, the climate change came to enhance this process and put monuments at greater risk. It is observed that climatatic changes during the last decades have caused more problems to the monuments than all the previous centuries or even millennia of their existence.

Whether climate changes are responsible directly or indirectly for the deterioration of mankind’s tangible creations, their effects are evident and a series of monuments can provide us with characteristic examples to prove it.



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