By presenting a revaluation of the importance of peoples' sense of place and long-term relationship with the dynamic coastal environment, the most significant long-term impact of the proposed research will be on the IPCC and the national organisations that advise governments on the best way to adapt to the environmental impacts of climate change. In this way the proposed research will, beyond academia, benefit individuals and organisations in the public sector, the third/voluntary sector and members of the general public.
- In the public sector, potential beneficiaries include managers and policy makers, including heritage managers, who share responsibility for adapting coastal management to sea level rise and the effects of increased storminess.
- In the third/voluntary sector, potential beneficiaries include organisations with care for coastal landscapes and coastal heritage, such as the National Trust in the UK, a major owner of coastal land and landscapes, and the United Nations Environmental Programme, which has taken the lead in the restoration of the Ahwar/Iraq Marshlands.
- Amongst the general public, potential beneficiaries include coastal communities whose way of life is under threat from the rising sea level or from the management solutions that are imposed on their coast by planners and managers.
These individuals and organisations can benefit in a number of ways from the research. For example, implementation of coastal strategies (e.g. through Shoreline Management Plans in the UK, the Delta works in the Netherlands), has shown to date little regard for local sentiments, but recognizing the significance of peoples' sense of place and heritage and reflecting these in the coastal strategies, can add to the success of their implementation. Such an understanding will also empower local coastal communities to become active participants in finding solutions for the future.
The research has a cultural impact, in that it places value on coastal cultural landscapes that exemplify the sustainable use of the coast. This may lead to a greater awareness of the role of ancient dune systems, reed beds, salt marshes, mangrove forests and intertidal mudflats in mitigating the impact of sea-level rise. In this way, it also has an environmental impact, in that ancient and traditional management of the coast is more likely to provide sustainable solutions than modern engineering works that seek to put up barriers between the land and the sea. In this context, it is noteworthy that ancient landscapes are much more likely to be rich in biodiversity, and deliver a greater range of ecosystem services, than modern constructed landscapes. Finally, the research may have an impact on public services, in particular on the enhancement of the public enjoyment of the coast which impacts on public wellbeing, by raising awareness of the dynamic nature of most coasts, when understood in a long-term perspective.
The proposed research starts from the knowledge that climate change is probably the greatest challenge facing humanity in the 21st century. This is particularly the case for the estimated 400 million people around the world living on land elevated less than 10 m above current sea level, because global warming will cause further sea-level rise. Current scenario planning by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) for this suggests that by the end of the 21st century, global sea-levels could be up to 0.59 m higher than today. Coastal communities are therefore amongst the first to experience the environmental impact of climate change, and the poorest individuals and communities are likely to have the least resilience to sea-level change, as adaptation is often a costly matter.
To date, very little attention has been given by organisations such as the IPCC and the responsible national organisations to how people in the past adapted to (natural) climate change. The essence of the proposed research is to see existing archaeological research as a repository of adaptive pathways, and to actively gather from this ideas and concepts that can help build the social resilience of communities in the face of rapid climate change. These ideas and concepts include social and occasionally technological and ecological adaptations to climate change and its environmental impacts. This has been termed Climate Change Archaeology.
The research question to be addressed in this project is: how can archaeological research in the world's coastal wetlands contribute to strengthening the resilience of local communities in the face of climate change? Specifically, the Fellowship will extend the research into this topic in the North Sea basin, to cover the Ahwar/Iraq Marshlands in the Persian Gulf, the Sundarbans in the Bay of Bengal, and the Florida's coastal wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico, in order to provide a global perspective to the research problem. The themes that are anticipated to emerge from this research are likely to underline the potential risks of short-term 'solutions' to the sustainability of coastal habitation, and the opportunities for long-term perspectives offered by archaeological research to constructively build resilience to climate change.
The proposed research values completed and published archaeological research as a repository of ways in which people in the past adapted to climate and environmental change. These adaptive pathways included changes in social, political, economical, technological and ritual aspects of past societies. It is fully recognised that such changes also occurred for reasons wholly unconnected to climate change but these can nevertheless contain important ideas and concepts on social, and occasionally technological and ecological, adaptations to climate change and its environmental impacts. Methodologically, the proposed research consists of a re-appraisal and analysis of published research, focussed on determining how climate, environmental and sea-level change (and neotectonics) during the Holocene shaped the coastal wetland, what pathways were developed by coastal communities to adapt to these environmental changes, and what we can learn from these pathways to strengthen the resilience of current coastal communities. These reviews of the published research will be enhanced with field visits and focused archival research.
The outputs of the proposed research are a monograph with the same title as the proposed project published by Oxford University Press (the Publishing Agreement has been signed), a peer-reviewed paper targeted at the community of climate change scientists (target journal: 'Climate Change'), a conference session at the 18th European Archaeological Association conference to be held in Helsinki, a presentation addressing coastal engineers and planners, two press releases and web pages dedicated to the project hosted on the University of Exeter website.