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Ringing in a New School Year

Smithsonian Libraries
With the arrival of September, students are back in the classroom. For many students throughout the decades, the school bell has signaled the beginning or end of the school day more »

Ringling Brothers Is Phasing Out Its Elephant Act

Smithsonian Magazine

Elephants perched on pedestals have been the unofficial icon of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circuses for nearly a century. But today, Feld Entertainment, the circuses’ parent company, has announced that they will slowly eliminate elephant performances by 2018.

”There’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers,” the company’s executive vice president, Alana Feld, told the New York Times. “A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants.”

According to the Times, Feld owns North America’s largest herd of Asian elephants, with a total of 43. Twenty-nine currently live in the Center for Elephant Conservation, a 200-acre Florida refuge founded by the company in 1995 and dedicated to the study and breeding of the animal. For the next three years, however, 13 elephants will continue to perform on tour before officially retiring to the center in 2018.

Animal rights organization have been pushing to stop zoos and traveling circuses from displaying elephants for decades. These groups have alleged inhumane treatment and have pointed to studies showing that the physical and mental wellbeing of elephants diminish while in captivity. A 2011 Mother Jones exposé detailed brutal conditions endured at the hands of the hands of Ringling Brothers’ handlers. But in 2012, Feld Entertainment won a $9.3 million settlement from American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals after a previous lawsuit leveled by several animal rights groups was shown to have been built upon the paid testimony of a former circus employee.

Feld admits that public opinion is a large part of what’s driving the new change. But the company also says that the change is necessary due to “anti-circus” legislation passed by some of the 115 cities the show visits every year. These laws discourage the use of trained live animals for entertainment, and Feld says that fighting the often-changing laws is too time consuming and prohibitively expensive.

While the giants of the animal kingdom may be leaving the spotlight, other live animals will continue to perform in the circuses. Feld recently added camels, ridden by a troupe of Mongolian stunt people, to its CircusXtreme show

Ringside bell from Dundee's 5th St. Gym

National Museum of African American History and Culture
The casing for the electric bell is black with a green and red label. The bell itself is white with "Pacer" in red letters.

Ringtails Like To Be Appreciated

Smithsonian Magazine

Ringtails are actually not cats but procyonids, closely related to raccoons and coatis. They range from southern Mexico to Oregon and eastward to Oklahoma and Arkansas. Though traditionally found in rocky and brushy places, they are not uncommon in metropolitan areas, because of food, water and den sites unintentionally provided by people. Weighing three pounds or so, with keen hearing and superb night vision, ringtails are the most thoroughly nocturnal of native predators. Agile and quick, they are very efficient hunters. About half of their diet may be made up of insects, other invertebrates and small mammals; the other half may, at certain times of the year, consist of berries and other fruits.

Though they are for the most part secret and solitary creatures, ringtails often manifest an easygoing familiarity with humankind. Once they decide people are harmless and rewarding, they seem to lose their natural wariness. They are attracted to the sweetened water in hummingbird feeders and to foods set out for them. They have been known to frequent cabins used by people, sometimes even crawling into occupied sleeping bags. But because of their otherwise stealthy habits, ringtails generally go unnoticed even in areas where they are widely distributed. When they are discovered, they are typically described as "cute," because of their gaudy tail and enormous eyes circled with white fur.

Rinzler Memorial Concert: Celebrating Worth Long's Legacy

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Each year, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival presents a special evening concert to honor both its co-founder Ralph Rinzler (1934-1994) and a key person with whom he collaborated.

The 2012 Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert pays tribute to folklorist, cultural worker, and activist Worth Long, whose work spans five decades and an incredible range. His accomplishments include a GRAMMY nomination (with Ralph Rinzler and Barry Lee Pearson) for Roots of Rhythm and Blues: The Robert Johnson Era (1993), a recording with Columbia Records that grew out of a Smithsonian project of the same name, and a Peabody Award for Will the Circle Be Unbroken?, a radio history of the Civil Rights Movement in five Southern cities. He has been recognized by the National Black Arts Festival’s Living Legends Award and the Smithsonian’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Saturday, June 30, 6 p.m., Panorama Room stage

This special concert features presentations and performances by:
  • Roland Freeman, photographer
  • Bernice Johnson Reagon, composer, songleader, scholar, producer
  • Rising Star Fife & Drum Band (North Mississippi)
  • Sweet Heaven Kings, United House of Prayer for All People, Anacostia (Washington, D.C.)

Rio Chagres at Santa Rosa

Smithsonian Archives - History Div
The image was taken by sixth Smithsonian Secretary (1944-1952) and ornithologist Alexander Wetmore while on a scientific expedition to Panama.

A woman and child stand near the Rio Chagres at Santa Rosa, a town located above Juan Mina Station, Canal Zone, Panama.

Rio's Giant Christ Statue Damaged by Lightning

Smithsonian Magazine

Last Thursday, lightning struck Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, breaking off a piece of the right thumb and damaging the head. The event, captured in the perfectly timed video above, occurred during a three-hour electrical storm, one of the most violent in the country's record, with 1,109 lightning strikes within the city limits.

According to the National Institute for Space Research, the statue, perched atop Rio’s 2,300-foot-tall Mt. Corcovado, sustains an average of three to five mostly harmless strikes each year. "They say lightning does not strike the same spot twice. But with the Christ it does,” joked Father Omar Raposo of the Archdiocese of Rio, the organization that maintains the statue, in an radio interview. Luckily, Raposo said, the church keeps a stash of the original soapstone used to create the statue for just such occasions, and repairs will begin as soon as this week.

Clezio Dutra, the engineer who oversees the 125-foot-tall statue, told O Globo that while several lightning rods are already in place, parts of the head and hands are vulnerable, adding a project has already been approved to extend the rods. Tourists can expect to see workmen repelling from the structure over the next four months, he said, as these repairs are added to previously schedule maintenance activities.

The statue was erected in 1931 and elected one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. It draws nearly two million visitors a year, and numbers are expected to spike this summer as people stream in for the World Cup. It's perfectly safe: according to Father Raposo said, the site’s caretakers receive early warnings from city officials about incoming storms and close the monument when needed.

(original image)

Rio’s Music is Alive and Well

Smithsonian Magazine

On any given night in Rio de Janeiro, music lovers young and old mill in and out of nondescript bars and cafés in Lapa, a bohemian neighborhood of 19th-century buildings with shutter-flanked windows and flowery, wrought iron balconies. Strolling amid street vendors selling caipirinhas, Brazil’s signature lime and cachaça drink, visitors have come in search of samba and choro, the country’s traditional music currently enjoying a cultural resurgence. Late into the night, choro’s melodic instrumentations mingle with the swaying rhythms of 1940s-style samba to create an aural paean to Brazil’s musical past.

On the outskirts of the city in the favelas, or shantytowns, thousands of young partygoers crowd into quadras, community squares, for a “baile funk,” a street dance set to Rio’s thumping popular funk music. An amalgamation of Brazilian genres, Afro-Brazilian beats and African-American soul and hip-hop, baile funk makes the ground pulsate almost as much as the bodies of the gyrating dancers.

The samba and choro revival in Lapa and favela funk are just two facets of Rio’s vast musical landscape, which includes Brazilian jazz, bossa nova, hip-hop, Afro-Caribbean fusion and more. Choro musicians celebrate Brazil’s musical heritage while adding new twists of their own; the favelas’ funk co-opts foreign and native influences to make a style of music distinct from any other.

Samba and Choro

As musicians, locals and tourists converge in Lapa, it has become the musical heart of Rio de Janeiro. But in the early 1980s, when American composer and music educator Cliff Korman first traveled to Rio de Janeiro, he could find few people interested in playing Brazilian music (tourists spots favored jazz and American pop music). It was Paulo Moura, a Latin Grammy-award winner who died at age 77 this year, who introduced Korman to rodas de choro, or choro circles. At these weekly or monthly jam sessions, friends would bring their guitars, clarinets and pandeiros (a Brazilian tambourine-like instrument) to play this 150-year-old, classically derived music. Infused with Afro-Brazilian syncopated rhythms, choro—a name derived from the Portuguese verb chorar, to cry, has an emotive, even melancholy quality despite its often up-tempo rhythms.

At the time of Korman’s visit, Lapa was not a place many people frequented. Though the historic district had been a mecca for samba in the 1930s, it had fallen into decay and become a haven for prostitution. “It has traditionally been a kind of down-at-the-heels bohemian neighborhood,” says Bryan McCann, a professor of Brazilian studies at Georgetown University.

In the ’90s, a small, macrobiotic restaurant in Lapa called Semente started featuring samba vocalist Teresa Cristina and her Grupo Semente. Word spread and soon the group was drawing listeners from around the city. “This restaurant was the seed that sprouted the whole movement of samba again,” says Irene Walsh, an American singer and filmmaker, who is producing a documentary on samba in the Lapa district.

Image by David Laudien / Alamy. Two types of funk first emerged in Rio in the 1970s: montage, a DJ-mixed layering of samples and beats from media ranging from gunshot noises to American funk recordings, and "rap happy," which revolved around sung narratives by emcees. (original image)

Image by BrazilPhotos.com / Alamy. Rodas de choro, or choro circles, are weekly or monthly jam sessions where participants bring various instruments to play. (original image)

Image by Balthasar Thomass / Alamy. Pictured here is Rio Scenarium, a venue becoming increasingly popular in Lapa. (original image)

Image by Ricardo Azoury / Corbis. Youths living in favelas, or shantytowns, flock to Rio's bailes funk, but the scene is not likely to draw tourists. (original image)

Image by Andrew Holt / Alamy. Lapa, a bohemian neighborhood of 19th-century buildings with shutter-flanked windows and flowery, wrought iron balconies, has become musical heart of Rio de Janeiro. (original image)

Slowly but surely, Lapa’s music scene blossomed as more bars and restaurants added live samba and choro acts. “Now we’re 15 years into the scene, so there’s a whole generation of musicians that have literally grown up playing in it,” says McCann. “It adds a kind of depth. What we’re getting now is not just a kind of revivalist mode, but really people who are taking this music in different directions.”

Listen to tracks from the Smithsonian Folkways album, "Songs and Dances of Brazil."

Many musicians have begun experimenting with instrumentation, including piano, drums, or even electric bass in their ensembles. Improvisation with choro is creating a new blend of sounds, a fusion of the genre with American jazz.

“We still have our own music,” musician and undersecretary of culture of Rio de Janeiro, Humberto Araújo recalls Paulo Moura telling him years ago when he studied with the master clarinetist and saxophonist decades ago. “ ‘It’s time for you to feel it,’” Moura had proclaimed to Araújo in the 1980s.

Baile Funk

Though youths living in favelas flock to Rio’s bailes funk, the scene is not likely to draw tourists. The quadras, used by samba schools in the past for Carnaval preparations, are now the turf for funk dances, where the festive spirit is matched by the threat of gang violence and drugs. The funk dances and many of the performers are sometimes funded by some of Brazil’s most infamous gangs, according to Professor Paul Sneed, an assistant professor in the Center of Latin American Studies at the University of Kansas.

Two types of funk first emerged in Rio in the 1970s: montage, a DJ-mixed layering of samples and beats from media ranging from gunshot noises to American funk recordings, and “rap happy,” which revolved around sung (not rapped) narratives by emcees. Variations evolved over the years, from a Miami hip-hop style with a bass-driven rhythm to the heavily syncopated rhythms derived from the Afro-Brazilian syncretic religions Candomble and Umbanda.

Funk lyrics, in the sub-genre called “funk sensual,” are usually sexually suggestive and provoke equally suggestive dancing. While double entendres and sexual objectification abound, funk sensual does not necessarily carry the same sexist and homophobic messages for which American hip-hop has often been criticized. Transvestites are big fans of funk and a few have become prominent performers of the music. According to Sneed, who has lived in a Rio favela, “women can assume a traditionally masculine stance [of being the pursuer] and they objectify men in a playful way.”

Another lyric subgenre is called Proibidão, which emphasizes the gangster associations of the music. Sneed says Proibidão may be increasingly popular because it speaks to the social experience of youths in the favelas. “The everyday person who’s not actually involved in a gang somehow identifies with the social banditry as a symbol of some sort of power and hope.” Whether the appeal lies in the hard-driving beats or its controversial lyrics, Rio’s favela funk scene gains more and more listeners every day.

Brazil’s musical diversity is good thing, says culture undersecretary Araújo. “I believe that every style or genre should have its own place, its own stage. Music is no longer an elite affair.”

Rip Van Wallpaper

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
244127_fa3109eec214efae_b[1]Wallpaper, like all design, can be a powerful tool for communicating a specific message. Take for example wallpapers printed during the French Revolution that portrayed ribbons of red, white and blue in support of the uprising. On this object, however, a message has been spelled-out right on top of the design, the pattern becoming a...

Ripple Effect

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image features: Yardage of full manufactured width, silver-colored, metallic coated plain woven polyester with wavy linear pattern from the embossing. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.Embossed Stainless Steel was designed by Reiko Sudo, one of Japan’s most important contemporary textile designers. Educated at Musashino Art University, she and Junichi Arai (Japanese, 1932–2017) were the co-founders in 1984 of the Japanese company and store, NUNO, which produces textiles of extraordinary ingenuity and beauty. Sudo and the other designers at NUNO combine...

Riqueza e abundância de insetos galhadores associados ao dossel de florestas de terra firme, várzea e igapó da Amazônia Central

Smithsonian Libraries
Landscape mosaic found in the Amazonian region is enormous, as well as variation within habitats. This study focused distribution patterns of gall-forming insects, in three types of Amazonian vegetation: terra firme forests, vegetation which never suffer flooding, várzea forests and igapó forests, both seasonally flooded by water level fluctuation. In accordance with hypothesis of water and nutrient stress, plants that grow in poor soils and with shortage or excess of water are more sensitive to galling insect attack. It were sampled 50,238 insect galls in the two flooded forests, 246 gall morphospecies in the igapó and 302 morphospecies in the várzea forests. Of 250 igapó sampled trees, 229 presented insect galls. In the várzea forest, it was verified a higher number of non-attacked plants, 66 individuals of 312 trees. Gall-forming insect abundance did not present statistical differences between habitats or forest types. However, igapó forest showed a trend of lower number of tree species accumulates higher number of galling species. Then, trees of seasonally flooded forest can be more or less attacked by gall-inducing insects, depending on the nutrient availability in the system, corroborating the nutritional stress hypothesis. In the terra firme forest, size and isolation degree of forest fragments determine colonization and extinction rates, and then populations survival and maintenance. Small fragments are dominated by edge processes, presenting an increase in air temperature and soil/air moisture decrease, affecting local flora and fauna. In a total, 91,006 insect galls were collected in 503 continuous forests and fragments trees. Continuous forests and fragments did not exhibit significant differences in the abundance, richness and composition of galling species. Landscape configuration, secondary vegetation around fragments and similarity in the number of sampled trees in fragments and continuous forest can explain the obtained results. Comparisons among terra firme, várzea and igapó forests showed a differential abundance and richness due to variation on tree diversity in each landscape. Higher galling species richness and abundance were found on terra firme forest, compared to igapó and várzea forests. Besides, the ratio between gall-forming insect richness and sampled plant richness (GIR/SPR ratio) was significantly larger in igapó and terra firme forests, while várzea forest presented the lower values for this ratio. However, GIR/SPR ratio of várzea was approximately 2.5 higher than the greater value of this ratio on literature. In this sense, the poorest Amazonian vegetation (várzea) display one of the highest diversity of gall-forming insects, among all biogeographic realms already investigated. The results of this study corroborate Fernandes & Price (1988, 1991), Price et al. (1998) and Ribeiro (2003) hypotheses, once upper canopy represents a higrotermically stressed habitat, with higher sclerophylly levels, compared to a moist and non-scleromorphic understory environment of the Amazonian forests.

Rise and Shine: Pop Art Breakfast by Roy Lichtenstein

Smithsonian Libraries

If life were like a work of art, what would it look like? How would you take the most ordinary daily routine, such as breakfast, and transform it into an artistic masterpiece? While looking through the Art and Artist Files at the Hirshhorn Museum and American Art/Portrait Gallery libraries, I was given a better idea more »

The post Rise and Shine: Pop Art Breakfast by Roy Lichtenstein appeared first on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

Rise of the (Cow Milking) Robots

Smithsonian Magazine

Next year, the largest robotic dairy farm in the United States will go online in Michigan. The future is here.

DeLaval International, a large Swedish producer of dairy and other farming equipment, is installing 24 robotic voluntary—meaning the cows approach the stations on their own—milking machines at TDI Farms LLC of Westphalia that will be able to milk 1,500 cows. The new system will be operational sometime next year (no firm date has been set yet), according to Muhieddine Labban, solution manager of automatic milking systems at DeLaval.

The farm is owned by the Trierweiler family. They decided to transition to a robotic milking system after seeing improved longevity and lower cull rates of cows in dairy farms using these systems.

“For the last few years, my family has been discussing the farm’s next steps. Ultimately, the conversations kept coming back to robotics as we felt it was the best fit,” said Bryant Trierweiler, one of the owners, in a press statement.

Here’s how the Voluntary Milking System machine works: the cows are free to come to the machine to be milked as they please, drawn by the feed that is dispensed during milking. Because the animals are creatures of habit, they learn this routine within a few days, says Labban in an email. The system cleans, pre-milks, dries and stimulates each teat individually using water, compressed air and a vacuum. After this preparation stage, the cows are milked via a robotic attachment that scans their underside to detect where the teats are located and checks the milk flow before releasing the suction cup at the end of the milking session.

According to DeLaval, the VMS is better for cows than traditional milking systems since it has an open structure that allows the cow to see her surroundings and to stand in a comfortable position without human management, which can be stressful for the animals. The VMS also monitors udder health and can detect potentially life-threatening mammary gland infections.

Now to the question that always comes up when we talk robots: what about the farm workers who previously did the milking? The Trierweilers say they plan to develop their employees’ skills in other directions in the company. “We have a great core of employees and prefer to develop their talents as opposed to adding more labor,” said Bryant Treirweiler.

Labban says the “human element remains a critical factor” and that without a “motivated, competent and committed workforce, it’s impossible to build a successful dairy business.” Robotic milking technology allows for a better trained and more flexible workforce, he says.

“Workers can now make better use of their time by handling chores and tasks that are critical to a well-managed dairy operation. The VMS increases efficiency, providing the dairy producer with the opportunity to hire fewer, but higher-caliber trained and qualified people,” he tells Modern Farmer in an email.

Labban wouldn’t give specifics on the cost of the VMS system, only saying that the price is “dependent on several factors.”

DeLaval is also involved in the creation in one of the largest robotic milking facilities in the world, which is being constructed in Los Angeles, Chile. El Fundo Risquillo farm will have a total of 64  machines milking 4,500 cows, according to DeLaval. It’s slated to be online early next year.

The VMS isn’t the only robotic milking system out there. GEA Farm Technologies, based in Germany, has the DairyProQ, a robotic rotary system that is in use on two dairy farms in Germany and two in Canada.

Here’s a video of the dairy farm in British Columbia using the DairyProQ.

More stories from Modern Farmer:

This article originally appeared on Modern Farmer.

Rise of the Chimp Movies

Smithsonian Magazine

Rising From the Sea, the Mysterious Handwork of Giants

Smithsonian Magazine

Author Robert Wernick journeyed to the three-island nation, 60 miles off the tip of Sicily, to explore a little-known archaeological wonder. Malta is the site of the world's most ancient temple complexes: recent dendrochronological dating has put the age of these monuments at just short of 6,000 years. The islands' limestone megaliths, centuries older than Stonehenge or the pyramids of Egypt, therefore antedate anything we think of as an advanced civilization.

The origins of the Maltese builders, and the substance of their culture, is lost to time. How was it that a colony of isolated settlers subsistence farmers and herders created such enduring grandeur? This question absorbed a team of archaeologists from the Universities of Malta, Cambridge and Bristol for nearly eight years. Their investigations uncovered many treasures, including pots, stone friezes, a wealth of small figurines and an entire burial ground.

Last year, UNESCO placed the Malta temple complexes on its list of irreplaceable world treasures to be preserved at all costs.

Rising Seas Pose Imminent Threat to Dozens of Historical Sites Across the Mediterranean

Smithsonian Magazine

The Mediterranean coast is dotted with a host of significant cultural sites. To name just a few, there’s Tyre, an ancient Phoenician port city once besieged by Alexander the Great, at the far eastern reaches of the sea. The Leaning Tower of Pisa and the waterlogged canals of Venice lie roughly opposite each other on the western and eastern Italian coasts. Across the Adriatic Sea, the picturesque streets of Croatia’s Old City of Dubrovnik earned them a starring role on “Game of Thrones,” and to the south, the Greek city of Ephesus boasts the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

But these landmarks are in trouble, among the 47 Unesco World Heritage sites identified along the Mediterranean’s coasts that face imminent flooding or erosion risks triggered by rising global sea levels. As Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis report for the Washington Post, a new study predicts that within the next 100 years, 37 of these world heritage sites could be significantly damaged by a 100-year storm surge event, while 42 are already threatened by coastal erosion.

To calculate the extent of these threats, a team of researchers led by Lena Reimann of Germany’s Kiel University created four sea-level rise models centered on Italy, Croatia, Greece and Tunisia. Analysis suggested that by 2100, the region’s flood risk could increase by 50 percent and erosion risk by 13 percent. The study appears in Nature Communications.

Conservative projections of sea-level rise and erosion fail to paint a more promising portrait of the future. Under any scenario, the researchers write that already more than 90 percent of the sites included in the study are at risk, and it appears that conditions will continue to decline. In the team’s worst-case erosion scenario, historic sites lose the safety of surrounding coastal lands as average distance from encroaching waters drops by 90 percent. In the worst-case flooding scenario, Reimann tells Jessica Leigh Hester of Atlas Obscura that up to 98 percent of Venice and its saltwater lagoon could be submerged.

Of the 49 world heritage sites examined, just two are currently projected to avoid both erosion and flooding: the palaces, mosques and monuments of the Medina of Tunis and the ancient Lycian capital of Xanthos-Letoon. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is the only site at risk of flooding but not erosion, while seven sites—the Grecian island of Rhodes; the Medina of Sousse; Archaeological Areas of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre; Old Town of Corfu; Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto; White City of Tel-Aviv; and the Stari Grad Plain in Cyprus—are solely at risk of erosion.

The Washington Post’s Mooney and Dennis report that the Mediterranean coast is particularly vulnerable because the early human civilizations that settled in the area clustered near the water. For much of the past 3,000 years, this hasn’t been an issue, but the ongoing effects of climate change and rising sea levels are forcing re-evaluation.

Reimann tells Atlas Obscura’s Hester that “innovative adaptation measures” will determine the fate of the world’s cultural heritage sites. Venice, one of the cities most at risk, has already installed submerged floodgates aimed at combating flooding, but it’s one of the few to take such preventative action.

Still, a sliver of hope remains. As Reimann concludes in an interview with CNN’s Sandee LaMotte, “If rigorous climate change mitigation is pursued as planned under the Paris Agreement, future increases in flood risk and erosion risk could be kept to a minimum."

Rising Seas Threaten to Swallow These Ten Global Wonders

Smithsonian Magazine

Not all of the world's treasures are kept in museums. Cultural heritage sites—historic cities, monuments and archaeological sites—inspire awe and show the best of humanity throughout time.

Yet cultural heritage sites around the world face a host of impending threats, and perhaps none seems more inevitable than rising seas fueled by melting ice caps. “It’s one of the most dramatic effects of climate change,” says May Cassar, a professor of sustainable heritage at University College London.

While the drama of submerged landmarks piques the artistic imagination, it’s a harsh reality that both scientists and local communities will soon have to cope with. Current projections suggest that by 2100, sea levels may rise by six feet on average. Earlier this summer, researchers reported that sea-level rise is speeding up, and according to estimates released this month, burning off Earth’s remaining fossil fuels would completely melt the Antarctic ice sheet and raise sea levels by 190 feet.

If things continue unchanged, many coastal sites of historical and cultural significance will be underwater. “We have to deal with that knowledge and make some prioritizations,” says Adam Markham of the Union of Concerned Scientists. International organizations like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) compile lists of important sites, but determining what’s at most risk and what’s worth saving is no easy task.

Last year, climate scientists Anders Levermann and Ben Marzeion modeled how sea-level rise might play out at 720 UNESCO World Heritage sites. If global temperatures rise only moderately—by three degrees Celsius—over the next 2,000 years, their models suggest that 136 of these sites could be underwater, including the Tower of London and the Sydney opera house. However, predicting this worst-case scenario in the short term is a bit of a crapshoot.

Further complicating matters, sea-level rise can have other unintended impacts. Flood levels and frequencies may increase, and storm surges might be higher. That’s a problem because "a single storm can completely destroy a site," explains Tom Dawson, an archaeologist at St. Andrews University in Scotland.

Still, storms can also have beneficial effects. "What’s more likely is that a storm will do some damage but actually expose something in the process,” Dawson says. On Scotland's coasts, storms have revealed ancient dwellings and even skeletons of past inhabitants.

Coastal erosion is a more chronic issue that rising seas could exacerbate. “It’s not new, but it has gotten a lot worse. We’re kind of powerless against it,” says Torben Rick, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Natural History. Most coastal archaeological sites aren’t famous or flashy but contain evidence of how people lived thousands of years ago. “With every bit that erodes away, we’re losing a piece of cultural heritage,” says Rick.

On the plus side, the impending demise of some sites has spurred new levels of creativity in efforts to preserve and record them—though photographs, excavations, ground-penetrating radar and land and aerial surveys. A startup called CyArk aims to create 3D digital blueprints of 500 heritage sites using lasers in the next five years.

Successful efforts will depend on local communities. “The focus is typically on the monument. But the focus also needs to be on the people that surround that monument,” says Cassar. Sea levels may displace a lot of coastal communities, but helping them survive and preserve heritage extends the life of those sites as well.

Ultimately, communities will have to make tough decisions about whether to try to preserve, move or abandon these areas. Here are ten sites that could face a watery fate:

Rising Star Fife & Drum Band

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

In founding the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band, Othar Turner revitalized a style of country blues music integral to African American community life in the Mississippi Delta. The music is often performed at summer gatherings.

Led by Sharde Thomas, the granddaughter of Othar Turner, this performance at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival conjurs up the spirit of a July picnic.

This presentation was part of the Rinzler Memorial Concert, which honored the work of folklorist, cultural worker, and activist Worth Long.

Filmed: Kelsey Michael, Marinna Guzy, Michael Headley, and David Barnes
Edited: Marinna Guzy

Rising acidification of estuary waters spells trouble for Chesapeake Bay oysters

Smithsonian Insider

Already under siege from overfishing, disease and poor water quality, the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay today stands at 2 percent of what it was in colonial times. Now, new data show that rising acidity in the Bay will have a negative impact on oyster shells.

The post Rising acidification of estuary waters spells trouble for Chesapeake Bay oysters appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

Rising ocean temperatures and acidity may deliver deadly one-two punch to the world’s corals

Smithsonian Insider

A recent experiment by scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama has revealed just how rising atmospheric carbon dioxide will deliver a one-two […]

The post Rising ocean temperatures and acidity may deliver deadly one-two punch to the world’s corals appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

Rising seas, development are altering prehistoric artifacts in the Chesapeake’s tidal zone

Smithsonian Insider

As a coastal archaeologist and expert in prehistoric and historic settlement sites in the Chesapeake Bay region, Darrin Lowery of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and University of Deleware, is carefully watching the effects of coastal erosion and rising sea levels on coastal archaeological sites.

The post Rising seas, development are altering prehistoric artifacts in the Chesapeake’s tidal zone appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

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