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Glacier, Other National Parks Feel Greater Climate Change Effects

As temperatures have gone up over the past century, many glaciers in Glacier National Park have melted. (Blase Reardon/USGS)
As temperatures have gone up over the past century, many glaciers in Glacier National Park have melted. (Blase Reardon/USGS)
October 1, 2018

HELENA, Mont. – Far from being a future threat, climate change already is making national parks hotter and the effects could get much worse, according to a first-of-its-kind study.

Researchers went back to 1895 to chart temperatures and found they're rising twice as fast in the country's national parks as it they are in the rest of America.

Patrick Gonzalez, a study co-author and climate change scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, says rising temperatures, unfortunately, have made Glacier National Park famous for its melting glaciers.

While the study makes stunning predictions for parks in the future, he says Montana's national parks are in the midst of climate change right now.

"We don't actually need to look just to the future,” he states. “The high elevation national parks in the Pacific Northwest have already experienced substantial warming and impacts that have been detected and attributed to human-caused climate change."

Gonzalez notes that winter snowpack in the Pacific Northwest has fallen to its lowest levels in 800 years and that wildfires have doubled since 1985.

The study says national parks often protect extreme environments, which are more susceptible to temperature rises.

Gonzalez's research predicts that if nothing is done to curb emissions, the country's most vulnerable national parks could see average temperatures increase 16 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

In places such as Montana, warmer temperatures could mean more infestations of bark beetles, which already are killing forests.

The pest has wiped out more than 1 million acres of whitebark pine trees in Yellowstone National Park.

But Gonzalez says this isn't a doom-and-gloom report. He notes that results confirm that reducing carbon pollution from cars, power plants and other human sources can save parks from the most extreme heat.

"Compared to the highest emission scenario, reduced emissions would lower the rate of heating in the national parks by two-thirds by the end of this century,” he points out. “And this reducing greenhouse gas emissions through existing technologies."

Gonzalez adds the country has the technological capacity at its disposal to improve energy efficiency, install renewable sources of power like wind and solar, and expand public transit in order to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT