Climate Change and National Parks

Giant sequoia
Giant sequoia habitat is moving to higher elevations. Can the trees make the move?

NPS photo

National parks are often in areas with extreme environments. This means that they are even more vulnerable to extreme changes in climate patterns. Across national parks, glaciers are melting, alpine habitats are being replaced by warmer climate zones, wildfires are larger and more frequent, and floods and diseases are more commonplace.

Some of our national parks could lose their signature treasures. Glacier National Park could be without glaciers by the mid part of this century. Some scientists believe that Joshua trees could disappear from Joshua Tree National Park, and saguaro and giant sequoia are threatened in their namesake parks.

Here are some predicted effects on western national parks:

  • The loss of beaches and marine habitat as coastal areas erode and flood
  • The spread of invasive diseases and species, like Sudden Oak Death
  • Alpine meadows replaced by fir and sagebrush.
  • Aquatic life stressed by early runoff, warmer water, and evaporative stress
  • Vegetation drought stressed by increased summer temperatures and late season drying
  • Recreational opportunities impacted by environmental changes, such as loss of snowpack, and by limiting of access to protect disrupted habitats

Visit the NPS Climate Change Website to find out more about the overall National Park Service response to climate change.

West Glacier 1913 and 2005
West Glacier (on left in 1913) in Glacier National Park has melted away (on right in 2005). The other glaciers in the park are facing the same threat and may disappear within the next 30 years.

NPS (left), USGS (right)

Last updated: September 20, 2019

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