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Study: National Parks, Including Washington's, Heating at Alarming Rate

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North Cascades National Park has lost half of its glacial coverage over the past 100 years. (samara_breeze/Flickr)
North Cascades National Park has lost half of its glacial coverage over the past 100 years. (samara_breeze/Flickr)
 By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA - Producer, Contact
October 1, 2018

SEATTLE – 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 they are in the rest of America.

Patrick Gonzalez, a study co-author and climate change scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, says while the study makes stunning predictions for parks in the future, national parks such as North Cascades in Washington are in the midst of climate change right now.

"In North Cascades National Park, the temperature since 1950 has increased at a rate of 1.8 degrees per century, or 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit, and consequently, the glaciers in North Cascades National Park have been melting," he points out.

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.

Over the past century, the area covered by glaciers in North Cascades National Park has shrunk by 50 percent.

Gonzalez notes that has consequences for the surrounding region, such as summer melt for local watersheds that provide drinking water for Washingtonians.

But he says this isn't a doom-and-gloom report, adding that the Evergreen State has joined other states to reduce their impact on the climate.

"The 16 states of the United States Climate Alliance and Puerto Rico – and that includes the state of Washington – has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent, and they're on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals," he points out.

Gonzalez says the country has the technological capacity to lower the rate of heating in national parks by two-thirds by the end of the century through improved energy efficiency, the installation renewable sources of power such as wind and solar, and expanded public transit.

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