Temperatures and aridity have risen dramatically in our national parks while precipitation rates have gone down, according to a new study, and at a rate faster than the rest of the country. The importance of our national parks cannot be overstated. They’re home to irreplaceable ecosystems, cultural sites and extraordinary wildlife.
But according to a new study, things are not looking good for them. The study revealed that temperatures across the country’s 417 protected areas have increased by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, double that of the rest of the country, reports KEYT 3.
Why this is happening
Patrick Gonzalez, a climate change scientist at the University of California Berkeley and one of the study’s authors, says the reason why the national parks are adversely affected is usually because of their locations. A lot of national parks are in the Arctic, at high elevations or in dry weather areas in the southwestern United States.
The high temperatures, according to the study, often occur because a large portion of national parks are at high elevations, “where warming occurs more quickly due to a thinner atmosphere.”
The 15 parks, preserves, monuments and national historical parks managed by the National Park Service in Alaska covering about 54 million acres of Alaska land – more than 60 percent of the land managed by the National Park Service nationwide – have seen the worst temperature increase.
“The permafrost is melting,” Gonzalez told CNN. “The ground there is frozen because of the cold climate through most of the year, so once you heat it up, the ground melts.” When the snow melts, Gonzalez said, the land’s color turns darker, with the snow gone, darker colors absorb more sunlight and get hotter.
The study found precipitation was also down by 12% across the country’s national parks, while it had only decreased by 3% in the U.S. as a whole.
What this means for parks
Between 1948 and 2000, Muir Glacier in the Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska has shed more than 2,099 feet; forests in the Noatak National Preserve and Yosemite National Park have thinned and shifted.
Vast areas of forests are dying in Yellowstone National Park from droughts and bark beetles, which have thrived due to climate change, are attacking the trees.
And in areas like Yosemite National Park and preserves in Alaska, trees are growing in meadows and tundra.
It could get much worse, scientists say.
Yellowstone National Park – the world’s first national park – could see up to 10 times more areas burned by wildfires by 2100, while Joshua Tree National Park could see its famous Joshua trees die out.
Read more (including what Gonzalez says can be done about this).