Yellowstone Iconic Park faces stunning climate threats

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This story originally appeared on Yale Environment 360 and is part of it Climate table cooperation.

In 1872, when Yellowstone was declared the first national park in the United States, Congress decided to “reserve and withdraw from settlements, occupy and sell, and” set it aside as a public park or as a refuge for the benefit and enjoyment of the people. ” today, Yellowstone – which stretches 3,472 square miles across Montana, Wyoming and Idaho – faces a threat that no sign of a national park can protect against: rising temperatures.

Since 1950, the cult park has undergone a series of man-made global warming changes, including reduced snow, shorter winters and longer summers, and an increased risk of fire. These changes, as well as predicted changes as the planet continues to warm in this century, are set out in a just-published text climate assessment those were the years in the making. The report examines the impacts of climate change not only on the park, but also on the larger Yellowstone ecosystem – an area 10 times larger than the park itself.

The climate assessment says temperatures in the park are now high or higher than at any time in the last 20,000 years – and are most likely the warmest in the last 800,000 years. Since 1950, Yellowstone has recorded an average temperature rise of 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, with the most pronounced warming taking place at altitudes above 5,000 feet.

Today, the report says, Yellowstone’s spring thaw begins weeks before, and the river’s largest annual runoff is eight days before 1950. The region’s agricultural growing season is nearly two weeks longer than it was 70 years ago. Since 1950, snowfall in the greater Yellowstone area has dropped by 53 and 43 percent in January and March, respectively, and snowfall in September has virtually disappeared, falling by 96 percent. Annual snowfall has dropped by almost 2 meters since 1950.

Due to the constant warming, the rains that once fell like snow are now increasingly coming as rain. The estimate says annual rainfall could increase by 9 to 15 percent by the end of the century. But with declining snow cover, and rising temperatures and evaporation, future conditions are expected to be drier, stress vegetation and increase the risk of fire. Extreme weather is already common, and like it Yellowstone’s massive 1988 fires“800,000 hectares have been burned,” is a growing seasonal concern.

Future projections of the assessment are even darker. If heat capture emissions are not reduced, cities in the wider Yellowstone area – including Bozeman in Montana and Jackson, Pinedale and Cody in Wyoming – could experience another 40 to 60 days a year when temperatures exceed 90 degrees F. And below According to the current emission scenario greenhouse gases, temperatures in the wider Yellowstone area could rise by 5 to 10 degrees by 2100, causing a reversal in the ecosystem, including changes in forest composition.

At the heart of the problems facing a large area of ​​Yellowstone is water, and the report warns that communities around the park – including ranchers, farmers, businesses and homeowners – must devise plans to address rising drought, snowfall and seasonal changes in water availability.

“The climate will challenge our economies and the health of all the people who live here,” he said Cathy Whitlock, a paleoclimatologist from Montana State University and co-author of the report. He hopes to “engage residents and political leaders on local consequences and develop habitat lists that are the most endangered and specific indicators of human health to be studied”, such as connection between the increase in forest fires and respiratory diseases. Activating the alarm is not new, but the authors of the Yellowstone report hope that their approach and the plethora of derived evidence will convince those skeptical about climate change to accept that it is real and that it is intensifying.

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