Monuments that constitute part of our global cultural heritage are also part of an important ‘collateral damage’ of the environmental disaster, often forgotten or ignored. This disaster arises as a result of both, large scale environmental issues such as climate change, as well as problems arising on a local geographical scale, such as atmospheric pollution of the cities.
Recently, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in collaboration with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) published a report titled “The Atlas of Climate Change: Mapping the Worlds Greatest Challenge”, in which expert scientists argue that climate change is expected to have an immediate impact on priceless natural and archaeological treasures over the coming decades.
On a more local scale, the atmospheric conditions formed over a majority of cities, result in the gradual degradation of historical and cultural monuments. The primary cause of this destruction arises mainly as a result of atmospheric corrosion causing the subsequent aesthetic dilution of the surface of historical monuments (commonly referred to as soiling) The key causes are both, acidic deposits in the atmosphere, in addition to deposits of other hovering particles in the atmosphere.
More recently, the Department of Physics of the University of Athens, headed by Professor Kostas Varotsos, participated, during 2002-2005, in the European Programme MULTI-ASSESS, in order to study the effect of atmospheric pollution on monuments across a number of various European capitals. The identified ppm (parts per million) levels of HNO3 and SO2 levels, in addition to an analysis of the surfaces of the exposed samples, indicated that on a comparative to other European cities, basis, Athens is under a greater risk so far as monuments corrosion is concerned.
The above findings raise the alarm and intensify the need for immediate measures to be introduced to reduce atmospheric pollution, and minimise the speed of monument corrosion and thus, preserve our rich cultural heritage.