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article imageAmerica's birthplace in danger of disappearing

By Karen Graham     Jun 6, 2014 in Environment
Jamestown - U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell toured Jamestown Island on Thursday, guided by National Park rangers. She got a first-hand look at America's first permanent English settlement in North America. She also saw that some areas are now underwater.
Secretary Jewell was shown the devastation to the island done by Hurricane Isabel in 2003. The storm left many low-lying areas underwater as she barreled through the island. Thousands of artifacts from the archaeological digs were destroyed. Scientists are still trying to restore some of the ruined artifacts.
Dorothy Geyer is a natural resource specialist for the National Park Service at Jamestown. She says that a 1 1/2 foot rise in sea level would put almost 60 percent of the island underwater, and a 4-foot rise would inundate 80 percent. Jamestown Island is only three feet above sea level in many places, and Geyer said this makes the island very vulnerable.
John Smith statute looking over the James River
Photo taken: March 24  2006
John Smith statute looking over the James River Photo taken: March 24, 2006
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Matthew Bookwalter
In an interview with the Associated Press, Jewell said, "I know enough now having been in this job looking at vulnerable sites that this is a highly vulnerable site. We don't have very many places in the United States that talk about the super-early history of settlers connecting with the native people of the land, so this is a really an important place."
Jewell's visit to Jamestown is part of President Barack Obama's initiative that will address climate change, including his plan announced on Monday calling for a reduction in greenhouse gases from the nation's power plants. The visit to America's birthplace was also in response to a report in May from the Union of Concerned Scientists that cited Jamestown among the 30 historical and cultural sites in the country at risk because of climate change.
There are still mosquito-infested wetlands on the island, just as it was in 1607, and Jewell was an enthusiastic tourist, taking it all in and asking many questions. At the far eastern point of land, she could plainly see that the waters have already reclaimed 20 feet of the island over the years. At the research center, where thousands of artifacts are being restored, a round-table discussion with climate scientists was held.
Remains of the 1639 Jamestown Church tower (with 20th century reconstruction on the original foundat...
Remains of the 1639 Jamestown Church tower (with 20th century reconstruction on the original foundations)
Tony Fischer
On May 14, 1607, Virginia Company members stepped onto the shore of what is now called Jamestown Island, about 60 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. They would establish a colony there, on the banks of the James River.
The colony endured for almost a century, and even today, parts of it can still be seen. In the spring of the year, green grass and wildflowers abound, along with loblolly pines and oak trees, and everywhere you look, you can see the James River. The island is an active archaeological site, with a visitor's center and a restored 17th century church, reconstructed on the site of the original 1639 foundation.
Climate scientists say that by 2100, an expected rise in sea levels of two to three feet are possible. Coastal flooding in the Chesapeake region is already a reality, and Jamestown Island, without human intervention will go under. The National Park Service has watched, as storm surges have slowly crept higher and higher over the years.
But something else is happening to Jamestown Island. Gary Speiran, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey says that as the levels of the ocean and the James River rise, river water pushes through the soil and then underneath the island. Speiran says the river water gets under the freshwater aquifer that is under the island, pushing it toward the surface. Scientists say this is a mystery, and have been monitoring wells on the island in an attempt to solve it.
Scientists really don't know for sure how long the island may last. It may succumb to the rising waters by the end of the century, or it could even go under sooner. The whole Tidewater area of Virginia is at risk, not only because of rising waters, but also because the land is sinking. The big question for conservationists is whether to leave some artifacts where they are, still buried, or dig all of them up in an attempt to save history.
More about Jamestown, first english colony, Global warming, Sea level rise, end of century
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