News Article | September 7, 2016
Trees are dying across Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks. Glaciers are melting in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Corals are bleaching in Virgin Islands National Park. Published field research conducted in U.S. national parks has detected these changes and shown that human climate change – carbon pollution from our power plants, cars and other human activities – is the cause. As principal climate change scientist of the U.S. National Park Service, I conduct research on how climate change has already altered the national parks and could further change them in the future. I also analyze how ecosystems in the national parks can naturally reduce climate change by storing carbon. I then help national park staff to use the scientific results to adjust management actions for potential future conditions. Research in U.S. national parks contributes in important ways to global scientific understanding of climate change. National parks are unique places where it is easier to tell if human climate change is the main cause of changes that we observe in the field, because many parks have been protected from urbanization, timber harvesting, grazing and other nonclimate factors. The results of this research highlight how urgently we need to reduce carbon pollution to protect the future of the national parks. Human-caused climate change has altered landscapes, water, plants and animals in our national parks. Research in the parks has used two scientific procedures to show that this is occurring: detection and attribution. Detection is the finding of statistically significant changes over time. Attribution is the analysis of the different causes of the changes. Around the world and in U.S. national parks, snow and ice are melting. Glaciers in numerous national parks have contributed to the global database of 168 000 glaciers that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has used to show that human climate change is melting glaciers. Field measurements and repeat photography show that Muir Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska lost 640 meters to melting from 1948 to 2000. In Glacier National Park in Montana, Agassiz Glacier receded 1.5 kilometers from 1926 to 1979. Snow measurements and tree cores from Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park, and other national parks contributed to an analysis showing that snowpack across the western U.S. has dropped to its lowest level in eight centuries. On land, climate change is shifting the ranges where plants grow. A global analysis that colleagues and I published in 2010 found that, around the world, climate change has shifted biomes – major types of vegetation, such as forests and tundra – upslope or toward the poles or the Equator. This type of research requires long-term monitoring of permanent plots or reconstruction of past vegetation species distributions using historical information or analyses of tree rings or other markers of the past. In the African Sahel, I uncovered a biome shift by hiking 1,900 kilometers, counting thousands of trees, reconstructing past tree species distributions through verified interviews with village elders and counting thousands of trees on historical aerial photos. Research has documented biome shifts in U.S. national parks. In Yosemite National Park, subalpine forest shifted upslope into subalpine meadows in the 20th century. In Noatak National Preserve, Alaska, boreal conifer forest shifted northward into tundra in the 19th and 20th centuries. Wildlife is also shifting. In Yosemite National Park, scientists compared the species of small mammals they captured in 2006 to the species originally captured along an elevation transect from 1914 to 1920 and showed that climate change shifted the ranges of the American pika and other species 500 meters upslope. Across the United States, the Audubon Society organizes its annual Christmas Bird Count in numerous national parks and other sites. Analyses of bird species results from 1975 to 2004 and possible local causes of changing distributions found that climate change shifted the winter ranges of a set of 254 bird species northward. Examples include northward shifts of the evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus) in Shenandoah National Park and the canyon wren (Catherpes mexicanus) in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Climate change is driving wildfires in and around many national parks in western states. Fire is natural and we need it to periodically renew forests, but too much wildfire can damage ecosystems and burn into towns and cities. Field data from 1916 to 2003 on wildfire in national parks and across the western U.S. show that, even during periods when land managers actively suppressed wildfires, fluctuations in the area that burned each year correlated with changes in temperature and aridity due to climate change. Reconstruction of fires of the past 2,000 years in Sequoia and Yosemite national parks confirms that temperature and drought are the dominant factors explaining fire occurrence. Climate change is killing trees due to increased drought, changes in wildfire patterns and increased bark beetle infestations. Tracking of trees in Kings Canyon, Lassen Volcanic, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks has contributed to a database that revealed how climate change has doubled tree mortality since 1955 across the western United States. High ocean temperatures due to climate change have bleached and killed coral. In 2005, hot sea surface temperatures killed up to 80 percent of coral reef area at sites in Biscayne National Park, Buck Island Reef National Monument, Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, Virgin Islands National Park and Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument. When the U.S. Congress established the National Park Service a century ago, it directed the agency to conserve the natural and cultural resources of the parks in ways to leave them “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” By altering the globally unique landscapes, waters, plants and animals of the national parks, climate change challenges the National Park Service to manage the parks for potential future conditions rather than as little pictures of a past to which we can no longer return. For example, Yosemite National Park resource managers plan to use climate change data to target prescribed burns and wildland fires in areas that will be different from the areas selected using estimates of fire distributions from the 1850s. At Golden Gate National Recreation Area, resource managers have examined stewardship plans resource-by-resource to develop actions that account for climate change. At Everglades National Park, managers are using sea level rise data to help plan management of coastal areas. It is in our power to reduce carbon pollution from cars, power plants and deforestation and prevent the most drastic consequences of climate change. In the face of climate change, we can help protect our most treasured places – the national parks. From Patrick Gonzalez, Principal Climate Change Scientist, National Park Service. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Scientists at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center have teamed up with researchers at Willamette University, a liberal arts college in Salem Oregon, to develop genetic tools that could save the Joshua tree from extinction. Together with scientists from The University of Georgia and the University of British Columbia, and with the support of several Mojave Desert conservation organizations, researchers are inviting members of the public to help get the project off the ground by making donations at the crowdfunding site Experiment.com. In the past two weeks, more than 100 backers have donated more than $4,000 to The Joshua Tree Genome Project. The project aims to raise $8,500 by March 24th. Joshua trees are the iconic species of the Mojave Desert, the hottest and driest desert region of North America. This keystone species provides food and habitat for many other species, and numerous State and National Parks are dedicated to their conservation. However, emerging research suggests that Joshua trees are disappearing across much of the Mojave Desert, perhaps because of ongoing global warming. Some scientists predict that the trees may go extinct within the next 100 years. The project, one of 17 projects that are participating in Experiment.com's Liberal Arts College Pilot Program. The pilot program at Experiment.com aims to bring the power of crowdfunding to research labs at small undergraduate institutions. To help support colleges participating in the program, Experiment will contribute an extra $2,000 to the project that receives the most donors by March 16th. "Understanding the genome will help us make conservation plans that allow Joshua tree to adapt to changing climates and environments," said project scientist Christopher Irwin Smith, a biologist at Willamette University. "The genome could also answer many important questions about the evolutionary history of this iconic desert species." "The data will provide our first detailed look into the Joshua tree genome," said Michael McKain, an evolutionary biologist working on the project and a post-doctoral associate at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. "It will allow us to untangle Joshua trees' diversity at the most basic level, and identify how major evolutionary events contributed to its unique form." Ensuring that Joshua trees will flourish into the future means preserving the plants themselves and the genetic variation that will allow them to evolve in response to environmental changes. "Sequencing the Joshua tree genome is the first step to revealing the genetic basis of climate adaptations," said Jeremy Yoder, a post-doctoral fellow studying evolutionary biology at the University of British Columbia. "And from there we can identify gene variants that may allow Joshua trees to survive rising global temperatures." Explore further: New findings suggest species' interactions don't always promote diversity
News Article | September 13, 2016
The layered geologic past of Mars is revealed in stunning detail in new color images returned by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, which is currently exploring the "Murray Buttes" region of lower Mount Sharp. The new images arguably rival photos taken in U.S. National Parks.
"2016 marks the centennial of the National Park Service, the mission of which is to preserve 'unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.' And though we’re celebrating 100 years of the National Park System this year, from Maine to Hawaii, Florida to Alaska, and everywhere in between, not to mention American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, it may come as a surprise to learn that the first National Park was designated in 1871, 45 years before the National Park Service as we know it came into existence in 1916. According to The National Parks: Shaping the System, published by the National Park Service, the idea of land being preserved for everyone to enjoy was first expressed in 1832 (that’s just 56 years after the birth of United States of America in 1776) and is credited to artist George Catlin. During a trip to the Dakota region in 1832, Catlin, best known for his paintings of Native Americans, pondered the impact the western expansion would have upon these civilizations, the wildlife and the wilderness. He wrote that they might be preserved “by some great protecting policy of government…in a magnificent park…a nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild(ness) and freshness of their nature’s beauty.”" "On Its 100th Anniversary, The National Park Service Plans For The Future" (NPR) "The Political Crusades Targeting National Parks For Drilling And Exploitation" (Guardian) "National Park Service Turns 100, And Some Sites Are Showing Their Age" (Washington Post) "Science in the Wild: The Legacy Of the U.S. National Park System" (Yale Environment 360) Opinion: "We Must Recommit To National Parks, America’S Cathedrals" (Washington Post/NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis)
This is almost becoming a regular TreeHugger feature, the wanton destruction of (pick one) trees, natural monuments, air quality, whatever, just because some people think that it is fun. The latest is an iconic sandstone formation known as "the duckbill" at Cape Kiwanda in Oregon: The state park people initially thought that it was natural erosion that took it down, noting that "The rubble serves as a sobering reminder of the ever present dangers of our fragile coastal rocks and cliffs." Then a video turned up: (warning: swear word in sound track) The guy behind the camera phone, David Kalas, asked them why they did it: The first thing that came out of his mouth was that, oh his buddy broke his leg on it and it was a safety hazard and they were doing everybody a favor by knocking it down, you know which frustrated me because nobody forced them to climb on top of the rock. He says what’s disappointing is how significant that one rock is to so many people. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have taken their picture on it over the years. “People got married on top of the rock, got their engagement photos on top of the rock,” Kalas said. "They can’t share that moment any more with their future children or their grandchildren or anyone like that, it will always just now be a memory," he added. Oregon State Police is now on the case, as is the recreation department. "The department takes vandalism of a state park's natural features seriously." The maximum fine? $435. In an earlier post on vandalism in National Parks, Jaymi wrote that social media might be part of the problem: Is showing off on social media part of the problem behind a recent and serious rise in vandalism of wildspace? Many state parks have been hit much harder than usual with graffiti and destruction, and some wonder if the ability to show off one's "work" via platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram could be adding fuel to the fire. But I cannot help but think that the opposite is true, now that people like David Kalas are using phones and social media to record the vandals. These days, if you do something stupid, everybody is going to know.