Grinnell Glacier with Salamander Glacier. The glaciers were once connected, measuring 710 acres in whole in 1850, but now have separated separated. Between 1966 and 2005, Grinnell Glacier lost about 40% of its acreage, and was last measured at just 220 acres in 1993. Photo: Wendy Chan

A couple of weeks ago I attended, “Our National Parks at 100: Confronting Change and Committing to Science”, a public lecture hosted by the UCLA LA Kretz Center. The event invited speakers from the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) and Santa Monica National Recreation Area to give the public an overview of how the NPS is responding to climate change.

The NPS efforts to confront the challenges of climate change are focused in these four areas:

Science: Using science to help us manage.
Adaptation: Adapting to an uncertain future.
Mitigation: Reduce carbon footprint within the national parks.
Communication: Educating visitors about climate change.

During the talk some of the NPS presenters were asked how the new Trump administration is affecting how the NPS responds to climate change and management of the parks.

The National Parks themselves exhibit the realities of climate change: shifting mitigation patterns, coastal erosions, disappearing glaciers, and changing plant communities and biodiversity. One of the things that was evident from the lecture is that the NPS depends heavily on science and research; the data gathered by scientists and partnering agencies is used in the decision making process and management within National Parks in regards to climate change.

On my way home from the lecture, I thought of my favorite National Park to date, Glacier National Park in Montana. Named after its glaciers, the health of Glacier National Park’s ecosystems are directly threatened by climate change. In 1850, there was a recorded 150 glaciers inside the boundaries of Glacier NP. Today, only 25 remain, and they’re all shrinking. It’s estimated that by 2030 these remaining glaciers will entirely disappear from the park.

In order to track the rate of which the glaciers are shrinking, scientist are taking GPS data points at various points across the glaciers. One of the valuable tools for communicating the effects of global warming on the glaciers is repeat photography. The comparison between historic images of the glaciers taken decades ago to their current state is shocking, and a testament to the urgency of action to preserve our environment for future generations.

Left: Grinnell Glacier 1938 (T.J. Hileman). Right: Grinnell Glacier 2009 (Lindsey Bengstson)

To learn more about various case studies within the NPS, I recommend watching the video series,
The Science of Climate Change in NP Video Series.


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