By Robert Winfree
Although that became one of our most popular and award-winning issues, the environment for discussing climate change was mixed when we started work. That changed quickly with release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s highly influential 4th Assessment (IPCC 2007) and with formation of a Climate Change Task Force in the Department of Interior (DOI). Within the next few years, two DOI secretarial orders on climate change had been issued (DOI 2009, 2010), the National Park Service (NPS) had established a Climate Change Response Program, and NPS had released climate change response strategies for the National Park System as a whole (NPS 2010a) and focused on the Alaska Region (NPS 2010b).
At the same time, readers were asking for more articles about climate change in Alaska Park Science, and we responded with a diverse set of articles on monitoring change (NPS 2010c), zooarchaeology (Etnier and Schaaf 2012), traditional knowledge (Krupnik 2009), visitors’ perceptions (Brownlee and Halo 2011), wildland fire (Loya et al. 2011), wildlife (Joly and Klein 2011), and scenario planning (Winfree et al. 2011), to name a few. Today, we take pause again to reflect on climate change in even more depth, providing information about innovative approaches to ecosystem monitoring and research, vulnerabilities and impact assessments, modeling and predicting future change, and planning for and communicating change.
In this issue, authors Carny and Wesser, Gray et al., and DeGange et al. report on state-of-the-art landscape-scale approaches to ecosystem monitoring, research, and modeling that could scarcely be envisioned a few years ago. Roland shares evidence of landscape-level change from historical repeat photography at Denali, and Elias describes how fossilized Beringian insect remains can reveal vegetation changes over thousands of years into the past.
Swanson provides an overview of dramatic changes that are becoming increasingly apparent as permafrost thaw expands further into arctic landscapes. Loso et al. report on glacier change detection from a high-level regional perspective, and Young reports on her detailed investigation on one glacier. Glaciers are frozen reservoirs that release fresh water as they melt, so when glaciers change it can also mean changes to seasonal water supplies. Milner’s long term ecological research shows how differences in stream flow also affect stream life.
It is vitally important for people to understand that climate change is not just an academic issue for scientists and natural, cultural, and scenic resource managers. Geertsema and Callaway explain how “front line” impacts of climate change can be dramatic, life-changing, and sometimes life-threatening for people who work, live, and travel in the midst of such changes.
But how should parks respond to the challenges of climate change? Over the last few years, and with support from the NPS Climate Change Response Program and others, Winfree et al. organized climate change scenario planning workshops for parks, partners, and communities across Alaska. In this issue they summarize the information needs and management actions identified by hundreds of participants, with full reports posted on the project website (https://www.nps.gov/akso/nature/climate/scenario.cfm). Rice et al. describe how forward-looking NPS planners can assess and mitigate impacts to existing assets, while developing new approaches for factoring climate change uncertainties into future planning. Morris et al. describes climate change interpretive and educational initiatives by NPS and partners, and Conners reports on a multi-faceted hands-on approach to climate change education, where high school students combined traditional knowledge, historical accounts, and boots-inthe- mud fieldwork to discover how Glacier Bay’s environment, resources, and people have changed over multiple time frames—lessons they will remember for a lifetime.
It is very clear that climate change is a fast-changing field of study. For anyone with more than a passing familiarity with Alaska, it’s also clear that major changes to ice, sea level, flora, and fauna have occurred here for thousands of years. What’s different now is that the changes are happening faster—fast enough for people to sense and recognize. The myriad ways in which climate change is affecting our lives, environment, resources, and the places we care about, will be incompletely understood for long into the future—but waiting for complete certainty before responding is unlikely to be a viable solution. The activities described in this issue, and others like them, bring us closer to the goals outlined in the NPS Alaska Region’s five-year climate change response strategy (NPS 2010b). We hope this issue of Alaska Park Science provides new insights about what climate change means for Alaska’s national parks, and sparks discussion about how the National Park Service and its partners are responding to the challenge.