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Nature & Science

Temperatures In U.S. National Parks Are Increasing Faster Than Other Parts Of The Country

Image Source: Virrage Images / Shutterstock

Yellowstone National Park’s Eagle’s Peak stands at an impressive height of 11,372 feet (3.466 kilometers), while Rocky Mountain National Park’s Longs Peak reaches even higher at 14,259 feet (4.346 kilometers). Despite their extreme environments, the 417 national parks in the United States of America are generally considered dangerous or uninhabitable for humans.

However, scientists have found that human-caused global warming has led to these iconic parks experiencing twice the rate of temperature increase compared to other areas in the United States. A study published in the Environmental Research Letters revealed that from 1895 to 2010, temperature levels in American national parks rose by over 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius), which is double the rate of temperature growth in the rest of the country. During the same period, rainfall in the parks decreased by nearly 12%, while the rest of the country experienced a decrease of only 3%.

This information sheds light on the unique nature of national parks. “National parks aren’t a random sample—they are remarkable places and many happen to be in extreme environments,” said Patrick Gonzalez, associate adjunct professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study. “Many are in places that are inherently more exposed to human-caused climate change.”

The increased temperatures in national parks have various impacts. They lead to drier forests across the West and increase the intensity and extent of wildfires during peak season. Yellowstone National Park, for example, now experiences an extra month without snow each year and overall higher average temperatures. Additionally, glaciers and snowpack are melting at a faster rate.

In the Southwest, severe droughts are becoming more common and exacerbated by rapid climate change. This has significant effects not only on the parks but also on people’s health. Alaska’s national parks are experiencing the most drastic rise in temperatures, but this pattern is evident throughout the entire park system. As temperatures climb, entire ecosystems are impacted.

High-altitude regions particularly suffer, with plant and animal species that are accustomed to lower temperatures facing hardships. Meanwhile, species adapted to warmer temperatures struggle to survive as they attempt to move to higher elevations. Some plant and animal species that are unable to adapt to these rapid climate changes face the risk of extinction.

While temperature changes have occurred naturally over the Earth’s history, they usually take place over thousands of years. However, due to human activities such as greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, factories, and agriculture, these climate changes are now happening in a matter of decades. Scientists have been working to raise awareness of climate change for a long time, with national parks serving as an important indicator of its effects.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to be released into the atmosphere, temperatures in national parks could increase by more than 16 degrees Fahrenheit (9 degrees Celsius) by the year 2100. Even with stricter regulations in place, researchers estimate that at least 50% of the entire park system will experience a temperature rise of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) by the end of the century.

Image Source: Virrage Images / Shutterstock

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