Climate is one of the primary drivers of the physical and ecological processes that determine the distribution, structure, and function of ecosystems. Moreover, climate is critical to park management and visitor experience, is a driver of change in other vital signs and park resources, and there is evidence that climate has changed in the past century and will continue to change. For these reasons, the Greater Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain inventory and monitoring networks identified climate as a high-priority vital sign. Together, the two networks developed the Rocky Mountain Climate Protocol to monitor and report on climate for nine national park units in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
We have two overarching goals for our climate inventory and monitoring: (1) to determine variations and changes in key climate measures relative to an established baseline, and (2) to develop comprehensive and high-quality climate datasets for use in understanding how climate may affect other vital signs. Specifically, we have the following five objectives:
- Determine the status, trends, and periodicity in daily, monthly, and annual temperature, including extremes, at the scale of points, climate zones, and parks
- Determine the status, trends, and periodicity in daily, monthly, and annual accumulated precipitation, including extremes, at the scale of points, climate zones, and parks
- Determine the status, trends, and periodicity in monthly and annual drought at the scale of climate divisions, parks, or climate zones
- Determine the status, trend, and periodicity in daily, monthly, and annual snow water equivalent (the amount of water contained within the snowpack) at the scale of points, climate zones, and parks
- Determine the status, trends, and periodicity in daily, monthly, and annual streamflow at the major watershed level
Protocol Development and Status
To monitor climate, we rely on data from existing climate monitoring programs. Rather than establishing new climate stations in park units, our approach is to rely on existing programs with climate stations in or near the parks, which provide consistent, long-term, and high-quality climate records for our regions.
In the Rocky Mountain Climate Protocol, we outline methods to acquire, quality-control, archive, and process climate data from these national programs and report on climate at scales relevant to parks (parks or climate zones within parks). Our goal is to produce status and trend reports, as well as a website.
The primary product of the climate protocol is the climate status reports. Status reports will be produced every one-to-three years and will provide a descriptive summary of the past years' climate to support yearly park science and management planning.
When funding is available, climate variability and trends reports will be produced on 5- to 10-year cycles. These will present rigorous analyses of inter-annual variability and long-term historical trends. In the process of preparing these reports, we will create high-quality historical climate datasets that will be available to support research linking resource dynamics to climate, as well as to aid resource management and park interpretation programs.
Finally, we will create and maintain a website that provides links to timely climate information, reports, and high-quality climate datasets that are relevant to the parks within the networks.
Parks This Protocol is Monitored At
- Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
- Glacier National Park
- Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
- Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
- Rocky Mountain National Park
Vital Signs This Protocol Monitors
- Weather and Climate