By Patrick Gonzalez, National Park Service
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.