Climate change targeting Iraq's ancient architecture
Rising salt concentrations are occurring due to water shortages and ancient sites are being eroded by sandstorms.
Climate change is destroying some of the world's most ancient structures, as rising salt concentrations in Iraq eat away at mud brick and more frequent sandstorms ruin historic monuments.
Iraq is regarded as the cradle of civilization. Agriculture was born there, as were some of the world's earliest towns, such as the Sumerian capital Ur, and one of the first writing systems, cuneiform. According to Augusta McMahon, professor of Mesopotamian archaeology at the University of Cambridge, the nation possesses "tens of thousands of sites from the Palaeolithic through the Islamic eras."
McMahon says damage to places like the famous Babylon will create gaps in human evolution knowledge, the growth of early cities, empire administration, and the dramatic shifts in the political landscape of the Islamic era.
Mesopotamia, the territory between modern-day Iraq's two rivers, is rich in salt, which exists naturally in the soil and groundwater. Cuneiform writings mention the occupation of a salt collector and detail the use of salt in a variety of applications ranging from food preservation to healing and ceremonies. According to a Sumerian saying, the essential requirements of life are food and salt.
In certain cases, salt in the soil can help archaeologists, but it can also be detrimental, destroying cultural sites, according to geoarchaeologist Jaafar Jotheri, who describes salt as "aggressive," and capable of destroying everything from bricks to cuneiform tablets.
Salt's destructive effect is growing as concentrations rise due to water limitations caused by years of mismanagement of water resources and agriculture inside Iraq.
Read more: Iraq’s Agriculture Reaps the Despoiled Seeds of US Meddling
Ahmad N A Hamdan, a civil engineer who studies water quality in Iraq's rivers stated that the salinity in Shatt al-Arab river increased has been increasing since the 90s.
According to his observations, the Shatt al-Arab – formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates – annually tests poor or very poor quality, particularly in 2018, which he dubbed a "crisis" year because brackish water sent at least 118,000 people to the hospital in southern Basra province during a drought.
The climate catastrophe is exacerbating the situation. Iraq's weather is becoming hotter and drier. According to the UN, mean annual temperatures would climb by 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, with more days of severe heat exceeding 50 degrees Celsius, while rainfall will decline by as much as 17 percent during the rainy season and the frequency of sand and dust storms will more than quadruple from 120 to 300. Meanwhile, increasing saltwater is driving a wedge of salt into Iraq, and areas of southern Iraq might be submerged in less than 30 years.
Jotheri, a professor of archaeology at Al-Qadisiyah University and co-director of the Iraqi-British Nahrein Network researching Iraqi heritage believes that in the next decade, most sites will be submerged by saline water.
Other buildings that have been impacted include Samarra, the Islamic-era capital, which has had its spiral tower eroded by sandstorms, and Umm Al-Aqarib, which has had its White Temple, palace, and cemetery swallowed up by the desert.
Iraq lost a portion of its cultural legacy this year. On the outskirts of the desert, 150 kilometers south of Babylon, lies a salt bed that was originally Sawa Lake. The spring-fed lake which was home to over 31 species of birds is now completely dry owing partially to climate change.