Climate Change and National Parks

Climate change affects national parks and the treasures they protect. Scenic wonders, cultural heritage, plants and animals, and even your national park experience will be altered due to climate change. What will this transformation look like?

Fort Jefferson surrounded by ocean
A moat surrounding Fort Jefferson is the fort's last layer of protection from sea level rise.

NPS photo

We may find that our future climate is challenging to parks and people alike. Although we can't yet predict exactly how climate change will impact a specific area, we are seeing—and will continue to see—the following kinds of changes:

  • The timing of flowering, breeding, and migrating will change.
  • Plant and animal ranges will move upward and northward.
  • Storms will increase in intensity and/or frequency.
  • Animal-borne diseases will spread into new areas.
  • Historic buildings once safe from river floods and ocean levels will be in jeopardy, and park infrastructure will be at higher risk.
  • The iconic views visitors enjoy from our national parks may look upon very different landscapes.

Impacts will vary widely by resource and by region and park. For example:

  • Melting permafrost combined with rising sea levels and changing storm tracks in the Arctic are accelerating coastal erosion and loss of archaeological sites, and structures and disrupting modern Native lifeways and traditions.
  • Higher intensity rainfall in the American Southwest is causing rapid deterioration of adobe structures, while conversely extended droughts and subsequent wildfires are raising threat levels for buildings and landscapes in the same region.
  • In the Gulf of Mexico, sea level rise and more intense storms raise questions of maintenance for historic forts such as Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park.
  • As permafrost melts, archeological artifacts like bone tools from Lake Clark National Park and Preserve are uncovered. When these artifacts are exposed, they risk being lost or destroyed. Their stories would be lost forever as a result.
  • Rising water levels could damage iconic monuments like the Jefferson Memorial due to more frequent and severe flooding in the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC.

As the National Park Service moves forward in a world where climate change is a reality, we must seek common ground where all Americans can stand. First, we are charged with preserving some of the most amazing resources in this country. These special places provide a connection with nature and our nation's heritage and offer personal inspiration. In addition, national parks bring important revenue to surrounding communities. Second, the actions we can take to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions ultimately create a better world through energy efficiency, healthy ecosystems, energy independence, and improved human health. These are all desirable outcomes that benefit everyone, regardless of climate change.

The climate forecasts are sobering. Not only will climate change impact the natural, cultural, and historic resources we protect, but also how we fulfill the National Park Service mission and maintain a high-quality visitor experience.

To address the changes that are occurring or will occur, the National Park Service takes a proactive approach to respond to climate change. Learn more about the NPS response and how you can get involved to be part of the solution.

Part of a series of articles titled Climate Change in Nth California and Sth Oregon .

Last updated: February 3, 2015