Climate change impacts all aspects of park management, from natural and cultural resource protection to park operations and visitor experience. A vital step in the climate change adaptation process is understand ongoing and future changes in climate and potential effects to parks.
Ongoing Climate Change
- Of the 276 parks examined, spring is advancing in three-quarters, and half are experiencing an "extreme" early spring exceeding 95% of historical conditions, as measured by first leaf index and/or first bloom index from indicator plant species.
- Climate change is ongoing across the national park system; an overwhelming majority of parks are already at the extreme warm end of their historical conditions. This is a core finding from recently published research by NPS scientists. This study updates the basic climate inventories of 289 national park units.
- What does a park’s historical range of climate conditions look like, and how do recent conditions compare with the past? This page contains animations of various parks showing temperature and precipitation changes over time.
- This research investigated potential forest change in response to climate, differences in projections of change among climate scenarios (uncertainty), and levels of nonnative biotic stressors (tree pests and invasive plants) at 121 parks in the eastern U.S.
- A new paper shows that soils and local climate can strongly influence how forests respond to climate change. This study characterized soils, modern climate, and differences in past fire regime around 12 lakes in northwestern Wisconsin to determine whether observed landscape patterns in geophysical factors or local climate correspond to differences in past variability in forest composition.
Park Visitation and Climate
- Climate change will affect not only natural and cultural resources within national parks, but also visitation patterns. This research sought to understand the temperature--visitation relationship in 340 units of the U.S. national park system. Researchers evaluated the historical relationship between long-term average monthly air temperature and visitation (1979-2013), and then modeled potential future visitation (2041-2060) based on two warming-climate scenarios and two visitation-growth scenarios.
- Scenario planning is a process designed for managing into futures characterized by rapid directional change and complex and uncontrollable uncertainties. Participatory scenario planning is a structured process for building and using these scenarios. Check out the summaries from a few recent scenario planning workshops held at various national parks.
- A nationwide survey of hundreds of climate change vulnerability assessments found that among the three components of vulnerability, adaptive capacity is evaluated the least frequently, that adaptive capacity is often omitted entirely, and that adaptive capacity is often confused with sensitivity. This paper addresses the importance of including adaptive capacity of species as a fundamental component when assessing vulnerability to climate change.
- Changing climate is already affecting wildland fire regimes and is bringing up many questions about managing fire that is shifting beyond the historical range of conditions. Adaptation strategies will depend on the articulated goals, magnitude of climate change, and availability of management resources. The decision on whether to intervene in climate-mediated changes to the fire regime and park resources will be based on multiple NPS policies, tradeoffs among competing values, and input from stakeholder groups.