Climate Change

Climate change is a natural occurrence over periods of thousands of years. However, due to large-scale deforestation and the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) for transportation and electricity generation, humans are speeding up the rate at which the climate is changing. After the last ice age, the earth warmed around 7⁰F over a period of 5,000 years. In the last 100 years, the earth has warmed over 1⁰F; this is more than 8 times faster than natural climate change.1

Deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels release huge amounts (in 2015, the United States alone released 6,587 million metric tons) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.2 Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, traps solar radiation (heat energy) from the sun in the atmosphere rather than reflecting the sun’s energy back into space. This “greenhouse effect” is a natural and essential process, but human activities are emitting so much of these greenhouse gases that an unbalanced amount of solar radiation is trapped in the atmosphere without being reflected back into space. As a result we are seeing warming global temperatures.1

97% percent of climate scientists are in agreement that global climate change is happening and that it is caused by human activities. Most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing anthropogenic climate change.3

Climate Change Impacts at Shenandoah National Park

It is important to know that increasing global temperatures impact different parts of the world in different ways. At Shenandoah National Park, some potential local impacts of climate change include...

  • Milder winters with fewer frost days: Warmer winters with fewer days below freezing can allow for invasive species and pest species that normally die off during the winter to survive and reproduce into the next season.

  • Wetter and cloudier conditions: Researchers have already seen increases in the amount of precipitation at Shenandoah National Park, which could affect people’s ability to enjoy the natural beauty that the park has to offer.

  • More extreme storms: Because greenhouse gases trap energy in the atmosphere, storms can have more energy and can therefore cause more damage.

  • Shifts in the seasonal timing of natural events: Both plants and animals rely on climatic signals, especially to indicate the beginning of spring. Milder winters can cause plants to bloom or animals to migrate or wake up from hibernation too early. This can make it difficult for animals to find enough food to eat, and may cause plants to die because they bloom too early.

  • Warmer water in Shenandoah streams: Scientists at Shenandoah National Park have measured warmer stream temperatures in recent years, which can further stress Shenandoah’s native brook trout.

  • Changing ranges for Shenandoah plants and animals: As temperatures and climate conditions change at Shenandoah National Park, plants and animals may no longer be suited to living in the park. The endangered Shenandoah salamander, which is found nowhere else on the planet, is one such animal that may become a climate change casualty.4


Monitoring & Research in the Park

  • Phenology monitoring: Researchers from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) are studying how the seasonal timing of natural events is shifting due to climate change. These shifts, particularly an earlier start to spring, have already been observed in the park.

  • Greenhouse gas research: The University of Virginia is collecting data in the Pinnacles area of Shenandoah National Park in order to learn more about greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor.

  • Long-term data collection: The Big Meadows area has been contributing important weather information to long-term datasets for a number of years. These datasets allow climate scientists to predict what impacts climate change will have both at Shenandoah National Park and in the region.


What You Can Do

Consider using an online calculator to learn how much carbon dioxide you release in a year, your carbon footprint. Then, decide which energy-intensive activities you do can be scaled back.

  • Conserve energy: Carpool to work with at least one other person, avoid sudden acceleration and stops while driving, cut highway speed from 70 to 60 mph, drive less by completing several errands at once or using public transportation, wash all clothes in cold water, line dry your clothes in the spring and summer, set your thermostat to a lower temperature in the winter (instead of 72⁰F, set it to 68⁰F and 65⁰F at night and when no one is home) and a higher temperature in the summer (instead of 73⁰F, set it to 78⁰F and turn off the air conditioning when no one is home).5
  • Be more energy efficient: Buy a more fuel-efficient car, get frequent car tune-ups, upgrade the insulation and ventilation in your attic, replace older windows with high-efficiency windows, caulk/weather-strip your home, replace 40 Watt and 60 Watt incandescent light bulbs with LED or CFL bulbs, install more efficient appliances (heating/air conditioning unit, refrigerator, water heater, washer, dryer, and TV).5
  • Talk to others: Inform others about the science and potential impacts of climate change, use your vote to support city, state, and country-wide policies to mitigate climate change, encourage others to make steps towards energy conservation and efficiency.

Last updated: February 3, 2020

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East

Luray, VA 22835


540 999-3500
Emergency Phone: 1-800-732-0911

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