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Last Update: 2018-03-26   Source: Research Headlines
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Saving Europe's cultural heritage from climate damage

Europe has some of the richest cultural heritage in the world. Yet its historic sites, monuments and museums are at risk from climate change and natural disasters. An EU-funded project is developing methods, tools, services and policies to protect this irreplaceable cultural legacy.

Fortezza of Rethymno in Crete,Greece

© Jaroslav Moravcik -

Imagine Rome without the Colosseum, Athens without the Acropolis, or London without the iconic Tower Bridge. These sites, and many more like them, are all part of Europe’s rich cultural heritage. Churches, castles, museums and archaeological remains are a vital cultural legacy for local and national populations. They also boost the economy by bringing in valuable tourism.

Unfortunately, like many culturally important sites around the world, the historic locations of Europe are under threat from natural forces, made worse by climate change. Storms bring damaging high winds and rain. Rising seas and floods can weaken, erode or destroy precious artefacts. Priceless paintings and frescoes can be ruined by damp, while earthquakes and forest fires can bring total devastation. Even seemingly harmless trees and plants can quickly overrun and damage vulnerable structures.

Although some countries have put plans in place to preserve their most important icons, little has been done on a Europe-wide basis to secure the continent’s rich cultural heritage in a changing world. The EU-funded STORM project is aiming to change that by developing methods, tools and policies to safeguard this irreplaceable legacy for the future.

“One of the most important values in Europe is our cultural heritage,” says project co-ordinator Silvia Boi of Engineering Ingegneria Informatica, Italy. “All of the cultural heritage sites in Europe have in some way been affected by climate change and natural disasters. We need to try to save them, to protect our cultural identities.”

Measuring and monitoring

Using five sites located in Italy, Portugal, Turkey, Greece and the UK as case studies, the project is developing methods and technologies to monitor and evaluate the impact of natural forces on historic cultural sites in real time. This information will be used to develop international policies and plans to protect them as the environment and climate changes.

STORM is a multi-disciplinary project bringing together researchers from a wide range of disciplines, including curators, conservators, architects, archaeologists, engineers and risk management specialists. Together, these experts are developing techniques for measuring the impact of different risk factors at the sites.

For example, the impressive Baths of Diocletian in Rome date back to the 3rd century AD. But they are close to the city’s busy metro system and can be buffeted by high winds and storms. This causes vibrations that can make the walls unstable and dangerous. The STORM team is installing optical fibres under the site to measure vibrations, helping the site’s management to monitor and predict any potentially damaging changes.

Tróia in Portugal is another ancient Roman site, close to the sea and affected by erosion and flooding. High humidity and rapidly growing vegetation are also putting ancient frescoes and structures at risk. The team is installing sensors to measure sea height and humidity, as well as tools to monitor the invasion of plants and other biological pests.

Sourcing and sensing

As well as bringing together professional specialists from a range of disciplines, STORM is using the power of crowdsourcing and crowdsensing, taking advantage of high tourist traffic to help keep an eye on these important sites. Visitors can use a smartphone app to take photos and add relevant information to the monitoring system. Add-on phone sensors can be used to provide data about the environment, too.

The information from all these sources is being gathered together to build a real-time early-warning system. This alerts site managers to the first signs of potential problems and provides information about how best to protect and preserve their irreplaceable cultural assets.

“I live in Pisa and I can't imagine the city without the leaning tower,” says Boi. “It’s important for populations to protect their cultural heritage, but there is currently no solution that gives a picture of what is happening right now at these historic sites. I’m excited because STORM is providing integrated systems that will enable decisions to be made to protect them in the future.”


Project details

  • Project acronym: STORM
  • Participants: Italy (Coordinator), Portugal, Greece, Uk, Germany, Austria, Turkey
  • Project N°: 700191
  • Total costs: € 7 297 875
  • EU contribution: € 7 297 875
  • Duration: June 2016 to May 2019

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