"Monumental" Climate Change

Trevi fountain, Rome, Italy,
The stress climate change can have on people is beginning to be felt. But a new international study has warned, there will be other victims as well, CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports.

From the rising waters of Venice to the ancient temples of Greece to the archeological grandeur of Rome to the more modern wonders, global warming may hasten the destruction of some of the world's most treasured buildings and heritage sites.

"The building is that canary in the mine that we can see and appreciate in terms of the change," said study author May Cassar of University College, London.

And the canary is beginning to look decidedly ill. The study looked at how rising temperatures, higher humidity and more rainfall — all predicted consequences of a warmer world — are all likely to have a destructive effect on monuments that have survived for centuries … until now.

One major worry is that as warmer, more humid air, absorbs more natural salt, it will then deposit that salt in ancient stonework. When it dries, the salt crystallizes, breaking up the surface.

"So, what we will get within a hundred years is the fine detailing on buildings being lost," Cassar said. "We appreciate buildings not only for what they are as structures but for the decoration and skills that today are lost."

And that is a risk?

"And that is a risk," Cassar said.

At Rome's 2000-year-old coliseum, report author Christina Sabbioni said "this monument is facing a problem."

The damage, the report's authors say, may in fact go much deeper and affect the very structure of the buildings.

"It will produce on the masonry and within the building's material fracture and deterioration of the material itself," Sabbioni said.

The point of the new study is that climate change may not only threaten our future, it may also threaten some of the most inspiring and important touchstones of our past. And we may have to choose which of these monuments we try to preserve and which we allow to crumble and be lost forever.

"The notion that we can save everything for all time is, I think, one that we have to seriously think about because it's unrealistic — we cannot," Cassar said.

The message: See them now, because within 50 to 100 years, treasures that have lasted for centuries may look very different, or not be there at all.