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This page was published on 11/02/2004
Published: 11/02/2004

   Special Collections

Last Update: 11-02-2004  
Related category(ies):
Special Collections  |  Environment

 

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The monumental task of preserving Europe's memories

The bright lights and festive cheer surrounding Europe's great monuments mask the invisible erosion caused by traffic pollution and changing weather conditions. Noah's Arkand other EU-backed projects seek to protect Europe's collective heritage from decay.

Noah's Ark and other EU projects are trying to keep Europe's collective memories from falling into oblivion  © Image: PhotoDisc
Noah's Ark and other EU projects are trying to keep Europe's collective memories from falling into oblivion

© Image: PhotoDisc

We may all fear time, goes the Arab proverb, but time, itself, fears the Pyramids. But even these timeless monuments that have stood watch over humanity since the dawn of civilisation are not impervious and are slowly being corroded by sandstorms from the desert and air pollution from the nearby metropolis. Although it will take thousands of years to wear the Pyramids of Giza down, not all our collective memories are as resilient to the wear and tear of the elements.

Pollution is nothing new and has been attacking buildings and monument for centuries. Nevertheless, European monuments are increasingly under threat from the noxious fumes emitted by the traffic clogging inner city roads and rising temperatures.

In the Renaissance city of Florence (IT), for instance, urban air pollution is reacting with marble facades to create a chalk that can be dissolved in acid rain. Warmer, wetter winters are causing water tables to rise which can flood the basements of historical buildings, such as the Louvre in Paris (FR), and threaten their foundations.

With EU backing, specialists are fighting back to protect Europe's heritage. Since 1986, the Union has been supporting the biggest international research programme dedicated to damage caused to our cultural heritage – buildings, monuments, paintings and other artworks – by the environment. The projects concerned encourage a multidisciplinary approach and cross-border co-operation.

Know thy enemy
One EU-backed project seeks to understand how changing weather patterns affect Europe's heritage. Although climate change has not reached biblical proportions, the EU-backed Noah's Ark seeks to help minimise the damage to monuments by forecasting just how these forces influence – not always negatively – monuments.

“The impacts on individual processes can be described, but it is difficult to assess the overall risk posed by climate change using currently available data,” Noah's Ark explained in a statement. “Linking global changes to the response of material surfaces of archaeological and historic structures remains a challenge.”

Noah's Ark is in the process of building up models to describe and forecast the effects of climate change on European monuments and historical buildings over the next century. Once an accurate picture has been formed, the project will go on to develop strategies for protecting these examples of European cultural heritage and send them on to the appropriate authorities.

In the European Commission's ‘information society technologies' (IST) thematic area of its current Framework Programme for research (FP6), one unit – DigiCULT – was created especially to study better ways of preserving and enhancing cultural heritage.

EU sources and BBC online

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See also

DigiCULT (IST programme)
Noah’s Ark abstract (pdf)

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c.sabbioni@isac.cnr.it
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