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Smithsonian Museums Threatened by Climate Change

By Dave Lubach Facilities Management

As is often heard during the battle against climate change, it’s better late than never to address it. And the world’s largest museum system needs to address the looming issue immediately. 

The New York Times published an article in late November outlining the challenges the Smithsonian Institution is facing with regards to climate change and how it threatens the millions of artifacts in storage and on display inside the 11 museums located on the National Mall. 

As writer Christopher Flavelle described the situation, “An institution that is beloved by the public, well-funded and staffed by top experts is protecting the nation’s treasures with sandbags and garbage cans.” 

As the article outlines, the issue with the museums stems from the National Mall land once being a marsh. Scientists say the land could eventually be submerged in water and threaten basements and ground-level floors and flood areas that contain millions of historical documents and items. 

The American History Museum is already experiencing water intrusions in its basement, where staffers are trying to hold off the waters with flood barriers, sensors that trigger alarms when areas are wet, and plastic bins on wheels that contain cat litter and are designed to soak up water. 

No artifacts have been lost yet, but as a facilities manager told the Times, “We’re kind of in trial and error. It’s about managing water.” 

In addition to potential water damage, the buildings’ electrical and ventilation systems could get knocked out and affect humidity levels that help valuable art and documents. 

Proposed projects to alleviate the issues are blocked by funding, most of which comes from Congressional approval, and what entities are responsible to control the flooding. Potential groups include the National Park Service and the Army Corps of Engineers, among others. 

Dave Lubach is managing editor, Facility Market. 


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