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Climate Change is Revealing Sunken Histories Around the World

Never-before-seen wrecks, ghost villages and more are appearing as water levels slide.
By Tiffany Duong | Updated On September 13, 2022
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Climate Change is Revealing Sunken Histories Around the World

Climate change is often associated with sea-level rise, but extreme heat and abnormal weather patterns caused by the climate crisis have also led to historic and catastrophic drought conditions around the globe. As glaciers melt and water levels plunge, we’re discovering wrecks, corpses, ghost villages and other never-before-seen discoveries around the world.

Low Rivers

Low to minimal rainfall exacerbates the effect of intense heat from climate change. This potent mix of climactic situations has caused water levels in lakes, rivers and reservoirs to drop worldwide.

In Italy, little rain and snowmelt from the Alps have left the River Po at its lowest in 70 years. The result: the discovery of a World War II-era German wreck. In Rome, intense drought has revealed more of the east pile of the bridge of Nero—a rarely-seen piece of history nearly 2,000 years old.

Melting Ice

“We are melting back in time, as the ice retreats,” said archaeologist Lars Pilø. Pilø’s team at the Glacier Archeology Program has discovered hunting relics – including an Iron Age woolen tunic, a Roman-style shoe and an arrow 300 to 600 years old—in Norway as high mountain ice melts.

These discoveries were well-preserved and “frozen in time”—until now. Pilø’s team has developed new survey techniques and methodologies as the glaciers melt and they pioneer this emerging field of glacial archeology.

Earlier this year, melting ice in Antarctica also revealed arctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s infamous vessel, the Endurance, at the bottom of the Weddell Sea. In 1914, the Endurance left London, England with Shackleton at the helm to explore the southern ice continent. It never made it there, and what happened to the Endurance was one of the biggest unsolved maritime mysteries—until now. Record low Antarctic sea ice allowed for further exploration that led to the ship’s discovery. Frigid conditions had preserved the vessel in “somewhat good condition,” according to National Geographic.

Empty Reservoirs and Lakes

30 years ago, the village of Aceredo, Spain was flooded during the building of Alto Lindoso reservoir. Climate-induced drought has caused the sunken ghost village to become re-exposed.

In the western U.S., extreme heat and dry conditions have led to wildfires and drought. Vital reservoirs including Lake Powell and Lake Mead are at the lowest levels ever since they were filled. They’re only 28% filled, and as water evaporates, sunken boats, jet skis, ski masks and at least four sets of human remains have resurfaced.

The Future

Historic discoveries aside, the heat and dryness have created present-day crises. The government of Italy declared a state of emergency, and the Spanish Council of Ministers a climate emergency. Norway enacted very progressive climate and environmental policies.

In the U.S., if water levels continue to drop, it will affect almost all hydroelectric power and water supplies to western states. “We have urgent needs to act now,” Tanya Trujillo, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science, said during a speech. “We need to be taking action in all states, in all sectors, and in all available ways.”