A National Park Service scientist sets up a remote automated weather station (RAWS) in Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii to monitor changing temperatures. Photo by NPS.
Living in one spot on the planet, we find it difficult to detect or "believe in" global climate change. Weather is just so
chaotic—one winter seems warm, another snowy, spring brings rain but sometimes drought. However, scientists
examining the average weather conditions over a long period of time (i.e. climate) across the entire planet see a
warming pattern emerging. During the last 50 years, it is likely that global temperatures were higher than at anytime
during the last 1,300 years. Scientists compare that temperature data with sea levels, the size and number of glaciers,
the length of fire seasons and the condition of arctic permafrost and conclude that climate change is here today.
Read more about some of the common climate change myths
Though natural evolution and change are an integral part of our national parks, climate change will fundamentally
transform the natural and cultural landscapes of national parks in the not-too-distant future. And it will affect your
experience in a national park. What will this transformation look like? We'll see less permafrost, rising sea levels
and shrinking packs of sea ice. We'll see longer fire seasons, changes in the places different plants and animals
can survive. We'll see more frequents pests and disease.
Over the past 50 years, average global temperature has risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.75 Celsius).
Several key studies, including those represented by the U.S. Global Change Research Program's report
Global Climate Change Impacts to the United States
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report
conclude that the observed changes
in climate are due primarily to human-caused emission of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2
These "greenhouse gases" have been on the rise since the 19th century, and their effect on climate will persist for many more decades.
Levels of carbon dioxide and methane (another greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere are higher now than in the last 650,000 years.
As humans continue burning more and more fossil fuels, scientists believe the impacts of global warming will accelerate in the future.
Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 began a marked increase that coincides with the
Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s. CO2 levels rose by more than 20 percent in the 50-year
Climate Change and National Parks
While scientists have a high certainty in the global trend, the future of a specific regional or local climate is not as certain.
Scientists are working with state of the art computer models and new data collection methods to sharpen our picture of
climate change from worldwide to local scales. We are likely to find that our future climate presents more challenges to
parks and people alike. Animal migration patterns will shift. Plants that once thrived will struggle on the edges of their habitat.
Storms may increase in intensity. Pests, pathogens, and invasive species will increase. While some places will experience
increased drought, others will experience more pronounced flooding. Historic buildings once safe from river levels may
be in jeopardy and park infrastructure will be at higher risk. The iconic views visitors enjoy from our national parks may
look upon very different landscapes.