"I believe climate change is fundamentally the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced." |
- Jonathan B. Jarvis, NPS Director, 2010
Climate change is here, it will worsen over time, and it threatens our natural and cultural resources. Although our weather is variable — we might experience a rainstorm, a dry week, or a cold snap — the average long-term pattern of these weather conditions, known as "climate," is changing.
Certain gases like carbon dioxide are released as a byproduct of human activities such as transportation and manufacturing. The gases build up in the atmosphere and trap heat. As we overload the atmosphere with these gases, the planet's average temperature increases.
Many things are changing as a result. Ice is melting, sea levels are rising, and seasons are shifting. These changes have the potential to substantially alter the character of our national parks. For example, the Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park might not survive in a hotter world.
In the face of climate change, how can we take care of the important resources in our national parks? These web pages explain our response, and show how you can help.
It's easier to predict changes in climate over larger geographic areas than it is to predict changes in individual parks. Although our planet is warming on average, different places have experienced different amounts of warming.
Why is this? Local details such as elevation and water bodies can affect the precise amount of change at any one spot. Human factors, such as urbanization and land-use changes, also affect local climates.
To make matters more complicated, many of our local parks are facing other threats to the health of their systems, such as habitat degradation and the spread of exotic plant pests and diseases. These and other factors will interact with climate change to produce unexpected effects on the landscape.
Many scientists are hard at work refining their projections of future conditions at scales that will be most useful for land managers. The National Park Service uses the best available science to predict future changes in parks, and is preparing to adapt to change.
Listen here (5:32 min./5.1 mb) to the perspective of an anthropology intern and the experiences of three National Park Service employees on environmental change in the Greater Washignton, D.C. area.