Climate Change Threatens Five Popular National Parks

Climate Change Threatens Five Popular National Parks

Climate change is a significant threat to the environment and our natural resources, and United States national parks are no exception. Human-caused climate change has exposed the U.S. national parks to heating at double the rate of the country as a whole since 1895, according to climate change scientists at the University of California-Berkeley. Many national parks are located in extreme environments, such as the Arctic, mountains, or the Southwest, making them more susceptible to climate change. In this article, we will explore some of the biggest climate change threats to five of the most popular national parks in the United States.

1. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is located in California and is known for its stunning natural beauty. Wildfires have always been a part of the park’s natural landscape, but drought, made worse by warmer temperatures, has driven more intense fires in recent years across California as a whole. Human-caused climate change has doubled the area burned by wildfire across the western U.S., including Yosemite National Park, according to Patrick Gonzalez, a climate change scientist at the University of California-Berkeley. Models project climate change will continue to drive an increase in the number of annual fires in the park.

Currently, a large section of Yosemite Valley within the park is scheduled to be closed until at least May 3 due to flooding concerns. A recent study showed that these kinds of periods of intense drought and extreme rainfall are happening more often because of global warming.

2. Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is located on the Gulf of Maine, which is considered to be one of the fastest-warming parts of the world’s oceans. The annual average surface temperature at Acadia has risen 3.4 degrees over the past century. That has consequences for animals, plants, and humans. Lyme disease, for example, is becoming more common in the region as warmer weather contributes to an increase in ticks.

Sea-level rise and erosion are taking aim at important Wabanaki cultural sites in the park. The park is seeing an average of 6 inches more precipitation each year, resulting in flooding, damage to roads and trails, changes in growing seasons and animal behavior, and a shift in visitor habits. A storm in June 2021 caused more than $1.5 million in damage.

3. Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is located in Colorado and is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including elk, moose, and bighorn sheep. A similar warming trend is being seen at Rocky National Park, where more frost-free days are happening, and the snowpack is melting up to three weeks earlier each year. That means less water in the summer for animals and plants.

More mountain pine beetles are surviving the winter season, which contributes to pine beetle outbreaks in the park’s trees. Trees already stressed by climate change are more susceptible. Certain species that live in the park, including the tiny rodent-like American pika, are sensitive to warmer temperatures. Researchers are still studying how they might be impacted by climate change.

4. Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is located in Arizona and is one of the most famous national parks in the United States. The 277-mile stretch of the Colorado River that runs through the park recently topped one environmental group’s annual list of America’s most endangered rivers. Drought has stressed the river, which is not only an important recreation area and tourist draw but also supplies drinking water to 36 million people.

Animals that live in the park, including desert bighorn sheep, are at risk from the effects of climate change, including warmer temperatures and drier conditions.

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in Tennessee and North Carolina and is known for its lush forests and diverse wildlife. The park is facing a range of climate change threats, including the spread of invasive species, changes in precipitation patterns, and more frequent extreme weather events.

The park’s iconic hemlock trees are under attack from the hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect that thrives in warmer temperatures. Invasive plants like kudzu and Japanese stiltgrass are also spreading more rapidly, crowding out native plants and altering the ecosystem.

The park is experiencing more frequent heavy rainfall events, which can cause flooding and landslides that damage roads and trails. Warmer temperatures are also affecting the park’s streams and rivers, with some areas experiencing lower water levels and higher water temperatures, which can be harmful to fish and other aquatic species.

Overall, the impacts of climate change are threatening the natural beauty and ecological diversity of some of the most beloved national parks in the United States. It is crucial that we take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect these important natural resources for future generations.