Climate Change Threatening National Parks

Climate change

Many Americans headed to the great outdoors over the Independence Day weekend for barbecues and hikes, but they appreciated what may soon be gone. National Park Service scientists have recently warned that some of the best places to get back to nature are in serious trouble. According to a report published on Wednesday, climate change is threatening many of the country’s National Parks and if urgent measures are not adopted, things will only get worse.

The study, which was published in the journal PLOS One, focuses on weather reports from 289 U.S. parks from the years 1901 to 2012. After accumulating the data, scientists compared historical patterns to trends from the last few decades. The findings highlighted the “extreme and dramatic” shifts that have occurred in many parks, said the study’s lead author Bill Monahan. The parks service scientist noted that the study strongly corresponded with the results of the May 2014 National Climate Assessment published by the Obama administration.

The report takes into account a number of key factors including the average yearly temperature, the year’s lowest temperature, and the mean temperature for the warmest three months of each year. The study’s authors concluded that 81 percent of the parks studied have experienced extremely hot weather over the last few decades. Precipitation, on the other hand, has varied across the parks included in the survey, although Monahan — who is currently based out of Fort Collins, Colorado — noted that 27 percent of the parks have experienced severe droughts in recent years.

The scientists’ findings suggest that climate change is threatening everything in National Parks, said Stephanie Kodish. The director of the clean air program at the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association stated that climate change’s detrimental effects are damaging a wide range of environmental areas, running the gamut from melting glaciers at one park to the lack of tree proliferation at another.

Aside from the macrocosmic effects of climate change, the report also warned that its repercussions will affect individuals as well. Future National Park visitors will have to deal with hotter weather and the loss of several scenic vistas as well as the disruptions to both flora and fauna. Some wildlife may end up losing their sources of sustenance altogether. If left unchecked, global warming may have consequences outside the fields of ecology and biology as well; it could also damage invaluable cultural, archaeological and historical sites in the parks.

At a roundtable on climate change a few weeks ago, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell pointed out that negative environmental shifts were a monetary issue as well, in that National Parks contribute substantial amounts to the economy annually. In 2012, parks across the country earned $26.75 billion in economic activity, and provided 243,000 jobs.

Monahan did provide a glimmer of hope. According to him, there are several weapons in the arsenal against climate change. These include shared management of National Parks with neighboring landowners, scenario planning, vulnerability assessments and the creation of new ecological base line figures. However, Monahan stressed that these will not be enough to counter the repercussions of climate change threatening National Parks. According to the park service scientist, the recent report offers opportunities for creating conversations about climate change but there is still plenty more work that needs to be done.

By Yitzchak Besser

National Geographic
Scientific American

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