Predicting climate change to preserve cultural heritage
Climate change is putting our cultural heritage at risk. EU-funded researchers have developed simulation tools that can predict the future indoor climate and the energy demand of historic buildings and museums to enable preventative actions to conserve this heritage.
© Fraunhofer IBP, 2014
Updated on 22 March 2018
Climate change poses many threats to our planet. While the focus has been on the potential effects on the environment and the economy, there has been limited investigation into its effects on our cultural heritage.
The changing climate has the potential to cause irreparable damage to historic buildings and the artefacts they contain. It is possible to adapt buildings so they can mitigate effects, but with climate uncertainty it is difficult to predict what measures are required to maintain temperature and humidity, for example.
To help, the EU-funded CLIMATE FOR CULTURE project developed a software tool that simulates the effects of predicted future climate up to the year 2100 on the indoor climate of historic buildings and museums across Europe and Egypt.
The data collected and models developed by the project can be used to understand the effects of a changing climate on art collections and objects within these sites. In addition, they can determine and map the future energy demands for European heritage sites.
For the first time, we can see how our cultural heritage will be impacted by climate change, says project coordinator Johanna Leissner, the scientific representative of the Fraunhofer Cultural Heritage and Sustainability Network. The network is part of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft for the advancement of applied research, Germany.
She adds: Importantly, we were able to combine climate modelling and whole-building simulation to predict the influence of the changing outdoor climate on the indoor climate in historic buildings.
Combining climate modelling and building simulation
The researchers carried out climate modelling for the whole of up to the year 2100. The models provide 12 climate indices which include temperature, humidity, cloud coverage and rainfall.
These indices were used to map the future outdoor climate across Europe and the Mediterranean and show the impact of climate change in these regions. Data was collected from more than 100 historic buildings, enabling the team to develop a generic historic building model. This model could be adapted for various sites around Europe to understand how indoor climate will be affected by changes in the climate outside. More than 55 000 climate and risk maps were created that highlight the possible risks to historic buildings and their interiors.
Using data from four types of objects found in historic buildings panel paintings, wooden sculptures, furniture and paper the researchers were also able to assess the risk that these changing indoor climates pose to the collections within. They could then calculate how much energy was required to put in place appropriate climate control systems to prevent object damage.
Preventive conservation and predictive maintenance
The tool we have created will help historic buildings and museums plan for the future. It allows for predictive maintenance and preventive conservation, says Leissner. In addition, it can outline the effects of implementing internal climate control measures such as changing windows and installing energy-expensive dehumidifiers.
The projects building simulation tools are already in use by the National Trust in the UK, the Bavarian Administration of State Palaces, Gardens and Lakes in Germany, and St Barbaras Chapel in Croatia.
The project also examined a broad range of mitigation and adaptation measures on how to control indoor and microclimate energy efficiently. The CLIMATE FOR CULTURE methodology is integrated into a decision-making support system which gives building owners information on how to adapt buildings to climate change.
In addition, the teams work has led to the creation of a computer program called DigitChart (Digitising Chart). This can convert analogue measurements into digital form, which simplifies climate data recording and has a reach far beyond this project. The software is available for free on the CLIMATE FOR CULTURE website.
The project undertook for the first time a comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the economic benefits associated with reducing climate change damage to build heritage interiors in Europe.
The interdisciplinary project brought researchers together from across Europe and resulted in the training of 20 PhD students. More than 30 peer-reviewed papers have been published as well as a number of articles in books and conference proceedings. The project was shortlisted for the 2015 N.I.C.E award, which recognises innovations in culture and creativity.