THEY are places synonymous with the history of America, the locations of the original English settlement in the country and the site where the first shot of the Civil War was fired.

But Jamestown and Charleston are among the spots which are under threat, according to a new study, which warned they could be underwater by the end of the century due to sea-level rise from global warning.

Overall, the study predicts that vast numbers of archaeological and historic sites, cemeteries and landscapes on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the south-eastern USA will be lost to the sea by 2100, if projected sea-level rise trends continue.

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The Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral and the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras could eventually end up underwater, the researchers warn.

“It is clear that small increases in sea level will have great consequences on the coastal archaeological record,” said study lead author David Anderson of the University of Tennessee.

“Sea-level rise will result in the loss of much of the record of human habitation of the coastal margin in the south-east within the next one to two centuries.”

Researchers predict over 13,000 archaeological sites in the south-east alone may be submerged with a 3-foot rise in sea level, including over 1,000 listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Some 4,000 would be lost in Florida alone.

In addition to the loss of large numbers of archaeological sites where indigenous inhabitants, early settlers, and enslaved and later freed peoples once lived, many of the best-known places in American history such as Charleston, Jamestown, the Kennedy Space Centre, St. Augustine, and even the recently relocated Cape Hatteras Lighthouse are all threatened by comparatively minor increases in sea level, the study said.

Eventually, the memorials of Washington, DC could be at risk.

“The loss of archaeological sites will equate to a drowning of libraries full of information about over 15,000 years of human lives, including patterns of social and cultural change, artwork, demography, health, religion, and (a bitter irony) lessons about past human experiences with climate change,” said study co-author Joshua J. Wells of Indiana University at South Bend.

Sea-level rise, one of the most clear-cut signals of global warming, has risen nearly eight inches worldwide since 1880 but, unlike water in a bath, it does not rise evenly.

In the past 100 years, it has climbed about one foot or more in some US cities because of ocean currents and land subsidence — 11 inches in New York and Boston, 12 in Charleston, 16 in Atlantic City, 18 in Norfolk and 25 in Galveston, Texas, according to a USA Today analysis of tide gauge data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

As the Earth’s temperature warms, so do the seas.

Heat-trapping greenhouse gases cause more land ice — glaciers and ice sheets — to melt and water to expand.

Warmer water simply takes up more room than cooler water.

Scientists say global warming will be the primary cause of future sea-level rise.

Their greatest uncertainty is how quickly the massive West Antarctic ice sheet will melt.

Scientists do not know exactly how high the waters will climb. Depending on fossil fuel emissions, they project global sea level will rise about one foot to slightly more than three feet by 2100, according to the Fifth Assessment Report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

NOAA has projected sea level could rise higher, as much as six-and-a-half feet, by the end of the century.

To estimate the impact of sea-level rise on archaeological sites, the authors of the study looked at data from the Digital Index of North American Archaeology, a collection of archaeological and historical data sets.

The area studied spanned from Maryland to the Texas-Louisiana border.

In addition to the archaeological sites, “the displacement of millions of people due to rising seas will cause additional impacts where these populations resettle,” the study said.

With a three-foot sea-level rise, some three million people will be displaced across the south-east.

“The tragic cost of sea level rise will be felt most in the displacement and suffering of millions of people rather than the loss of any one place,” said Mr Wells.

It is not just an issue in the US: The worldwide historic preservation community has begun to express serious concerns over the threat of global climate change to the archaeological and historic record around the globe, according to the study.

Some of Scotland's most prized natural heritage and land is feared to be at risk, including the 5,000-year-old Skara Brae settlement in Orkney and the Old Course on St Andrews.

The new study was published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Public Library of Science.

*This article originally appeared in our sister newspaper, USA Today.