Iraq’s Ancient Sites Are Being Weathered Away by Climate Change
Climate change is damaging mankind’s most precious sites, and Iraq is a place of immense concern. The country’s thousands of sites date as far back to ancient Mesopotamia and provide insight into the essence of civilization and human advancement. However, the state is being plagued with high salt concentrations that continue to erode ancient buildings. Due to the threat of extreme conditions, history is vulnerable to the condition of the climate.
Notably, salinization has struck Unesco-recognized Babylon. In the Temple of Ishtar, the base of the 2,600-year-old walls is crumbling as a result of rising sea levels. Salt is being pushed further inland, where it can seep into cracks that run through mud-brick buildings and erode the foundation once it crystallizes.
“[The salt] will destroy the site — destroy the bricks, destroy the cuneiform tablets, destroy everything,” according to geoarchaeologist Jaafar Jotheri in an interview with the Guardian.
Iraq’s water shortage is another large culprit behind the high salt concentrations since dams built upstream in Turkey and Iran have restricted the flow of water through the Tigris and Euphrates river, leading to worsened soil salinity.
Unfortunately, the high temperatures that are battering Iraq will continue to rise in the next decade. The United Nations estimates that mean annual temperatures in the region will rise two degrees Celsius by 2050; extreme temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius will become more common. In the rainy season, rainfall is expected to drop by 17%. Such drops in precipitation can dry out soil past a healthy extent, which can create cracks that reduce soil moisture and volume. The estimated jump in sand and dust storms is attributed to these long drought durations that hinder the growth of vegetation to the point of desertification. As more water sources suffer the same fate as the once biodiverse and vibrant Sawa Lake, much of Iraq’s terrain will be a salty breeding ground for storms that are more difficult to mediate.
This serves as another reminder that mitigating emissions is no longer a choice; it is important to prioritize clean energy so that historical sites can stay intact to be experienced by generations that will follow.