Cultural heritage

Cultural heritage sites have always evolved with climate. Finland's future climatic conditions may no longer be favourable to cultural heritage sites. For example, increasing humidity and rising temperatures may damage many sites of cultural interest, whether on land, underground, or in water. The skills required for restoring historic buildings may have been lost, and maintaining architectural heritage may become increasingly challenging.

Finnish cultural heritage

Cultural heritage sites are places where the combined influence of natural forces and human activity and the evolution of culture are visible. [1] Cultural heritage includes architecture, cultural landscapes, cultural biotopes, and archaeological sites. The influence of human activity is more evident in some cultural heritage sites than in others; for example, historic buildings are completely man-made, while cultural landscapes are mostly shaped by natural forces but considered integral to Finnish culture and identity [1] [2]. In addition to cultural importance, many cultural heritage sites also have economic value through tourism, for example. [1]

The most important cultural heritage sites around the world are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Finland: Fortress of Suomenlinna, Old Rauma, Petäjävesi Old Church, Verla Groundwood and Board Mill, Bronze Age Burial Site of Sammallahdenmäki, Struve Geodetic Arc, and High Coast/Kvarken Archipelago, which is Finland's first natural site on the list [3]. Finland is committed to conserving these and other national cultural heritage sites. [1]

Cultural heritage sites are linked to climatic conditions

Cultural heritage sites are strongly linked to climate. Traditional livelihoods and architecture originally developed to reflect local climate and the associated native species. Climate change is threatening to make our environment hostile to cultural heritage sites that have adapted to past climatic conditions. Some of the changes, such as those relating to temperatures and rainfall, are likely to happen over a long period of time, while the increasing likelihood of storms may cause damage in the short term. Climate change may also affect cultural heritage sites indirectly through mitigation measures. For example, wind farms can have a significant impact on national character areas. All in all, energy generation will become more and more visible in Finnish scenery as a result of the increasing production of different kinds of biofuel feedstocks and potentially uranium mining. New problems may also arise from increasingly strict energy efficiency requirements and more and more frequent repairs, which may lead to the loss of original features especially as builders who are familiar with traditional construction methods may no longer be around. [1]

Cultural landscapes are changing

Cultural landscapes include both built and natural environments, and cultural biotopes associated with old agricultural lands, for example, are among the most threatened biotopes in Finland. According to a Government Resolution, there are a total of 156 landscapes of national importance in Finland. The majority of these are located in Southern Finland, but Northern Finland also has important landscapes shaped by reindeer husbandry, for example. [1]

In the future, changes in temperatures and humidity may have significant implications on the species found in cultural landscapes, as plants and animals disperse to more northern areas with global warming. For example, broadleaf trees are likely to become increasingly dominant in the cultural landscapes found in Southern Finland, while treeless fell tops may disappear in Northern Finland. Cultural landscapes in Northern Finland are under the most serious threat, as biotopes have little scope to move further north towards a more favourable climate. [1]

Climate change may also have indirect effects on the survival of cultural biotopes. For example, the potentially increasing profitability of agriculture may have implications on meadows. Meadows are more likely to escape reforestation if farmers begin to take advantage of the longer grazing period. Without grazing, reforestation may occur faster in the warmer climate unless more intensive management approaches are introduced. Cultural landscapes in Lapland are also affected indirectly by decreasing snowfall in other areas; if Lapland's appeal as a tourist destination improves as other areas become less suitable for winter recreation, the increasing numbers of tourists may create added pressure on property development. [1]

Changing weather conditions increase wear in built environments

Built environments are the result of interaction between humans and the natural environment. Historic buildings are monuments to Finland's spiritual, material, and cultural development. Finland has a total of 1,260 buildings of architectural importance. [4]

Climate change presents many kinds of challenges in terms of the built environment, because the load-bearing structures and façades of most historic buildings are made of wood. Warmer winters coupled with decreasing snowfall and increasing rainfall may increase damp problems and rotting in wooden structures and corrosion in metal components. More and more pests may be able to winter in Finland in the future and cause damage to wooden buildings. Façades may also suffer from mechanical wear as a result of increasingly violent diagonal rain and accelerated melt-freeze cycles. [1]

The effects of changes relating to rainfall may vary temporally and geographically. All in all, increasing rainfall may cause groundwater levels to rise and moisture levels in the soil to increase, causing subsidence in buildings. On the other hand, longer and longer dry spells may cause groundwater levels to drop so low that the foundations of buildings become under threat. This is likely to be especially problematic in terms of stone houses, which are more susceptible to movement in the foundations than wooden buildings. On the other hand, damage to chimneys may increase the risk of fires in wooden buildings. [1]

Archaeological sites under threat

According to Finland's National Board of Antiquities, there are approximately 20,000 archaeological sites in Finland at the moment. The sites are monuments to the earliest human settlements in Finland during the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, for example. The majority are ancient dwellings and burial sites, but there are also cave paintings, tar-burning pits, castles, and fortresses, for example. There are also 700 known underwater archaeological sites in Finnish waters, the majority of which are shipwrecks. [1]

Increasing humidity and rising temperatures may threaten underground archaeological sites if harmony between the sites and the environment is disrupted. Decreasing ground frost, for example, may become a problem due to the increasing likelihood of forest machinery damaging as-yet-undiscovered archaeological sites. Accelerated corrosion has already been observed in metal structures found in burial sites dating back to the Iron Age. The problem may be exacerbated by the potential need to increase the use of salt on roads in Central and Northern Finland, because salt accelerates the corrosion of metal in the ground. Many archaeological sites located above ground are also at risk of falling into disrepair and crumbling as a result of increasing rainfall. For example, cave paintings may be destroyed by weathering. [1]

The future of underwater sites is still uncertain. Rising sea levels and stronger winds may result in more salty water entering the Baltic Sea, which may increase the numbers of shipworms (Teredo navalis), which are notorious for boring into submerged wood and which are currently relatively rare in the Baltic Sea thanks to low salinity levels. On the other hand, increasing rainfall may lower salinity levels and cause more and more nutrients to leach into the sea, causing eutrophication and making the sites increasingly inaccessible. The increasing likelihood of storms may increase mechanical wear in places, while the decreasing likelihood of pack ice may reduce it in shallower areas. [1]

Case studies: Verla Groundwood and Board Mill and the Fortress of Suomenlinna

Verla Groundwood and Board Mill, which is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and currently functions as a museum, has been badly affected by flooding in the past. The wooden structures and brick façades of the mill, which is located on a slope near the town of Kouvola, have suffered when water levels have risen in the dammed reservoir of a nearby hydropower station. Verlankoski Rapids have flooded more and more frequently in recent years, and the risk of flood damage is forecasted to increase in the future. There is little scope for water levels to rise any higher if the mill is to be preserved. [1]

The Fortress of Suomenlinna is at risk from momentary rises in the levels of seawater. The water level rose by one and a half metres during a storm in January 2005, causing damage to the lowest-lying structures of the fortress. High sea levels combined with heavy swells may cause serious damage to the piers, bridges, retaining walls, and coastal banks of Suomenlinna. Storms may also damage roof structures and trees. Dry spells in the summer may decrease the abundance of vegetation and therefore exacerbate erosion caused by tourists, for example. The wooden structures of the fortress are increasingly prone to damp problems and rotting, and accelerated weathering has already been observed in the stone façades and natural rock walls because of rapid freeze-melt cycles. [1]

Rantaeroosio Suomenlinnassa © Heikki Lahdenmäki

Coastal erosion around the Fortress of Suomenlinna in 2005. Photo: Heikki Lahdenmäki.


  1. Berghäll, J. & Pesu, M. 2008. Climate Change and the Cultural Environment - Recognized Impacts and Challenges in Finland. Ministry of the Environment, Department for the Built Environment, Helsinki. The Finnish Environment 44en/2008, Built Environment. 34 p.
  2. Opetusministeriö. 2009. Kulttuuri – tulevaisuuden voima. Taustaselvitys kulttuurin tulevaisuus -selontekoa varten. Opetusministeriö, Kulttuuri-, liikunta- ja nuorisopolitiikan osasto, Helsinki. Opetusministeriön julkaisuja 2009:58. 58 s. + liitteet.
  3. Museovirasto. 2010. Maailmanperintökohteet Suomessa. (Viitattu 27.9.2010.)
  4. Museovirasto. 2009. Rakennetun kulttuuriympäristön inventointi.