JAMESTOWN -- For 100 years everyone believed the James Fort had been swallowed by the James River.
In another century, it just might be.
Fresh coastal maps created by scientists at the University of Arizona predict that Jamestown may be one of many coastal locations swamped by rising sea levels. Their data from the U.S. Geological Survey predict the flooding as a byproduct of global warming from melting polar ice.
Oceans are expected to rise by one meter, or about 39 inches, over periods that scientists variously predict as 50, 100 or 150 years.
Many climatologists, including skeptics about the causes of global warming, say the rise of sea levels will happen regardless of any efforts to limit greenhouse gases. They consider both coasts imperiled.
William Kelso, who unearthed James Fort, said a one-meter rise in water levels would not necessarily submerge the fort and town sites.
"They are 14 or 15 feet above sea level," he said Tuesday. "Even when we had the [Hurricane] Isabel storm surge, which was 9 feet, that didn't reach the fort or the church."
Kelso said rising water levels could cause problems for some lower-lying buildings, especially the new Archaearium.
He said the potential for higher water levels could pose problems someday for historians.
"If this global warming is going to continue," he said, "it points out the importance of doing this archaeology now, rather than diving for these sites in the future."
Climatologists interviewed by the Associated Press said the rising waters are a certainty.
"We're going to get a meter and there's nothing we can do about it," said University of Victoria climatologist Andrew Weaver, a lead author of February's report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, on which this article is based. "It's going to happen no matter what. The question is when?"
John Christy, a scientist at the University of Alabama often quoted by global warming skeptics, told the AP he expects seas to rise at least 16 inches and possibly as much as three feet. The sea level has risen about one foot in the past century.
Experts predict that protecting America's coastlines would cost billions and that not every coastal location could be saved.
Rising ocean water is caused by melting glaciers, disappearing ice sheets and warmer waters expanding. The problem is compounded because higher water means greater storm surges from future hurricanes and nor'easters.
Mike Litterst, spokesman for the National Park Service, which co-administers Jamestown Island with APVA Virginia, said his agency has already been planning for climate change.
"We conducted a shoreline protection program in 2003, shoring up some of the weaker areas," he said. "Unfortunately, we've already had to do some rescue archaeology on areas of the island that were eroding."
Litterst said that climate change was taken into account in the building of the Park Service's newest buildings.
"They were built with an eye toward the future, what might happen in the next generation, which is probably the useful life of the buildings," he said.