Yellowstone and Climate Change

Yellowstone National Park

One of the most popular and loved national parks of the United States hasn’t been faring well with the impacts of climate change.

Yellowstone National Park is experiencing twice the temperature hike as compared to the rest of the country due to its geographical placement of being at a higher altitude. Paleo-climate records by Cathy Whitlock, a paleo-climatologist at Montana State University in Bozeman and an author of a Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment of the park suggest that the park region may be currently as warm as 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1950-2018) or higher, indicating the warmest temperature in 20,000 years. Further, the level of the major snow-prone areas may become 9,500 feet by 2100, a 2500-foot increase from the 1950s level. According to Whitlock's research, the park is predicted to hit 5 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer overtime than past temperatures and more alarmingly temperatures could increase by 10 degrees by the end of the century if the current trend continues.

Meanwhile, the droughts hampering the equilibrium of heat and water which is necessary for geothermal features, places the iconic geothermal features of the park at risk, ultimately comprising the water flow and supply. This wouldn’t be the first time Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful cone geyser shut down for decades after it erupted following a megadrought in the 13th century.

The troubles of Yellowstone National Park are taking a toll on visitors and the economy, but the wildlife at Yellowstone shares the brunt of these burdens. Researchers are studying wildlife migration corridors outside the park to ensure the assortment of species have ways to exit the park and the rising heat. According to Betsy Buffington, vice president of the conservation society, safeguarding the places through which wildlife can wander, migrate, and retain genetic diversity is how we will preserve the spectacular species of Yellowstone.

Another challenge is keeping cultural assets safe. A significant portion of the park’s pavement was destroyed by a violent rain in June last year that overflowed the Gardner River. According to Yellowstone’s superintendent, Cam Sholly, the only harmed structure in the park so far is a 1930s backcountry ranger hut that was swept away by the torrential rain. However, the archaeological sites are being reviewed to see if there are more structural damages.

As the nation's oldest national park entered its 150th year, it is confronted with existential choices in the face of climate change. According to experts, national parks and protected regions worldwide are facing similar challenges, unable to respond to climate-related consequences like drought, floods, fires, etc. While repairs and rebuilding of Yellowstone are ongoing and some completed, extreme events are unpredictable. Echoing Whitlock, “The park needs to be thinking about extreme events, the kind we haven’t seen before, and fortifying its buildings, roads, and infrastructure.”

Protected areas around the world receive around 8 billion visitors every year, which is almost equivalent to the total world population. It plays a huge role in building the communities’ economy, while also giving a 66% higher diversity of species than unprotected areas.

Every possible effect of climate change will be taken into account as park officials work to restore Yellowstone.

Read more here.

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