Learn how climate change affects life in Grand Teton National Park and what you can do to help reduce your carbon footprint.
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- National Park Service
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We’ve all heard the term “Climate Change.” Warming temperatures, changing weather patterns, melting glaciers and rising sea level are results of global climate change. The geologic record tells us that the Earth’s climate has been warmer and cooler in the past, but what is happening today?
Mountain regions such as Grand Teton National Park are especially susceptible to climate change. How fast and how much will temperatures rise? Plants and animals adapted to a cool climate may have to move from their current their homes, glaciers will melt and rivers will warm. The National Park Service Organic Act says that parks should preserve their resources for the enjoyment of future generations. During these times of uncertainty, the plants, animals and vistas you see today may not be the same on your next trip.
Native mountain pine beetles have killed many mature lodgepole and whitebark pines throughout the region. Extreme winter cold and cooler summers used to keep these beetles in check, but today their numbers have exploded. Grizzly bears who feast on whitebark pine nuts are losing a critical food source, breaking a natural cycle.
Plant communities may shift locations and fragment in an attempt to survive. Animals will follow their food and shelter to new areas. These isolated communities may reduce genetic diversity. The pika, a symbol of the alpine, seeks cool rocky slopes as its home. Biologists are tracking pikas to see if they are moving away from their historic homes. Protecting large areas such as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem may help keep habitats connected.
A number of small glaciers cling to the high slopes of the Teton Range. Comparing historic and recent aerial photographs, scientists estimate the Teton Glacier has shrunk by up to 40% in the last 40 years. Glaciers not only excite our curiosity, but also provide a reliable source of water for mountain streams and plants during the late summer.
As snowpack diminishes, cold spring runoff will peak earlier, leaving streams and rivers warmer by late summer. Fish, such as native cutthroat trout will struggle to find the cold water they need for survival. Heat stress and low water has already caused fish die-offs in the ecosystem.
What can we do to help? Get out of your car and take a hike. Don’t idle your car watching wildlife. Recycle—look for receptacles throughout the park. Bring your own shopping bag. Rent an energy efficient car. Insulate your home. These efforts add up! When you visit Grand Teton National Park, look for the signs of ongoing change in the park.