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Is Climate Change Affecting Ancient Ruins?

Is Climate Change Affecting Ancient Ruins?

For the past few years, staff at Mesa Verde National Park have noticed something curious: It seems like more rocks are falling down from the alcoves where ancestral Puebloans built their magnificent cliff palaces more than 1,000 years ago. Naturally, the same processes that created these amphitheaters will continue until they disintegrate away. But to veteran staff members, it seems like the process is speeding up.

One hypothesis: The freeze-thaw cycles that split the rock apart could be accelerating as a result of the more extreme temperature fluctuations that come with climate change. Currently, they don’t have data to support the idea, but they are discussing precautions to protect both the ruins and the visitors anyway.

Mesa Verde isn’t the first place I would have thought to look for the effects of climate change, but the phenomenon is affecting the park in interesting and concerning ways. My story, “An Uncertain Future,” in the fall issue of National Parks magazine, reports on what’s going on and how park staff are responding.

One of the challenges in writing about climate change is to make this enormous phenomenon relatable on a human scale. This is one attempt. I have a lot to learn about climate change—and about science writing—but I was grateful for the opportunity to tell a climate-change story in such a seemingly unlikely place. And it was great fun participating in a study with some terrific scientists! Click here to read the piece.

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