Shored Up: Dealing With the Realities of Climate Change


A view of Long Beach Island from the East.

Shored Up is a documentary that delves into the impact that climate change is having on sea levels and therefore beachfront property that is close to the shoreline.  Included in the documentary are interviews with scientists, activists, lobbyists, and others with opinions on beach erosion and its effect on homes.  The focus of the documentary is on Long Beach Island, an island off the coast of New Jersey that is 18 miles long and about 400 meters (around a quarter of a mile) wide.

One of the release posters for the Shored Up film.  The image of waves flooding a construction plow and coastal houses perfectly conveys the film's anti coastal development message.

One of the release posters for the Shored Up film. The image of waves flooding a construction plow and coastal houses perfectly conveys the film’s anti coastal development message.

On the island in question, beaches are being eroded by rising sea levels and by general ocean activity (the movement of waves and such).  Owners of expensive waterfront property are having the beaches in front of their property “replenished”, which means essentially that extra sand is being dumped in front of their houses to replace that lost to erosion.  This is all being done at the expense of taxpayers through the federal, state, and local governments (although most of the funds are being raised federally).  This “beach replenishment” has sparked a wide-ranging debate concerning whether it is a good idea or not.  Some feel that it is, some feel that federal funds are being squandered, and some feel that “beach replenishment” is not an effective long-term solution due to the fact that rising sea levels projected by scientists over the next century (over a meter) will flood over the houses that are being temporarily protected anyways.

I agreed with the overall argument of the movie that rising sea levels will eventually destroy any economic or residential development close to the shoreline and that we should therefore think more carefully about where we build.  However, I noticed that mentions of “global warming” were scarce and that talk of greenhouse gases generated by human activity was lacking altogether, although this would be a logical explanation to give for the rising sea levels.  I believe that this was done to avoid alienating those who deny the existence of “global warming” and still appeal to them.  Mention of recent temperature increase was given, but this was not attributed to “global warming”.  I personally believe that deniers of global warming would much more easily object to “global warming” itself than an abject statement of temperature change, meaning that the film would still be able to appeal to those non-believers.  I don’t believe in the use of these tactics and I think that the full scientific argument should have been presented, not parts of it.  After all, making one’s argument more “presentable” is not going to have a real impact on our nation’s anti-scientific political climate, which is at the heart of the problem.

The relation between the climate change described in the documentary to archaeology was implicit yet relatively simple.  As long as this erosion of the beaches due to sea level rise continues, archaeological sites that formerly existed under those beaches will be destroyed.  In addition, the “beach replenishment” itself may be destroying archaeological remains, as heavy plows which could damage those records are being used to spread the new sand.  In other words, the only way to save archaeological sites on the coast is to find a long-term solution to the erosion problem that would most likely involve combating rising sea levels and global warming.

Also, archaeological methods have been used to collect much of the data that proves climate change is occurring, as described in Colin Renfrew’s Archaeology Essentials.  Many ice cores have been extracted from ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.  These cores tell us that whenever the greenhouse gas level rises (as measured within the cores themselves), global temperatures increase.  And right now greenhouse gas levels measured in our atmosphere are higher than they have been for the last half a million years.  So, in this way, archaeology can be used to provide evidence that climate change will take place in the near future.


Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, and Practice. 2nd ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.


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2 thoughts on “Shored Up: Dealing With the Realities of Climate Change

  1. Underwater archaeology is not only difficult to carry out, but also extremely time sensitive. When submerged in or near water, artifacts inevitably move and shift. Consequently, they are removed from their contexts and our potential knowledge of them is often limited as a result. As you note in your post, global warming adds another layer of complexity to this process since erosion resulting from global warming and from current methods of land restoration similarly threaten archaeological sites. A long-term solution to global warming is definitely paramount for archaeology, but what short-term solutions can we employ in the meantime to ensure that these archaeological sites receive the archaeological attention they deserve? What forms can these solutions potentially take and how can we make sure they are enacted before it’s too late? Should we change current policy or address each site on a case-by-case basis?

    • One policy change that might help (at least in my opinion) would be for federal lawmakers in the United States to start treating archaeological sites threatened by imminent flooding the same as archaeological sites threatened by imminent building projects. When builders want to build on a certain site, they have to first hire archaeologists to excavate the site in order to record any material and artifacts that would be destroyed by the building project. The same rule should apply to coastal sites scientifically projected to be flooded over within a certain number of years (let’s say 10) due to rising sea levels caused by global warming. This way, that material can be added to our recorded version of the archaeological record before it is too late, and we will have a more complete picture of the past. Having this information will help us learn about our past mistakes (such as burning fossil fuels) and ensure not to repeat them in the future. It might be a bit impractical to excavate all coastal sites in this way due to the sheer amount of coastline our nation possesses. For this reason, priority should be given to sites that have inherent historic value (such as the Dresden Falls Archaic Site in Maine and Roanoke Island), so we can be sure to have excavated them in time.

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