With 2016 drawn to a close, we're looking back at the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts highlighting research from the USGS National Climate Change & Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC) and the DOI Climate Science Centers (CSCs). In Part 1 of our review, we re-visited 5 of our most popular posts of 2016. Check out 4 more posts below!
Forecasting the Future of Whitebark Pine
Photo: Whitebark pine in Yellowstone National Park (R.G. Johnsson, NPS)
Shout out to Yellowstone National Park, celebrating its 144th birthday this week! If you’ve visited Yellowstone, chances are you’ve hiked through one of its iconic stands of whitebark pine. The whitebark pine is a keystone species in high-elevation forests, providing food for a variety of birds and animals, including the grizzly bear.
While whitebark pine once covered vast swaths of Yellowstone, its populations have been decimated over the last 30 years by invasive pests like mountain pine beetles and white pine blister rust (a fungus). Climate change may be the root cause: warmer, drier weather is stressing whitebark pines while simultaneously allowing invasive populations to soar – until the late 1990s, winter temperatures were generally too cold for these critters to survive. Scientists at the North Central Climate Science Center are using models to forecast how Yellowstone's whitebark pine populations will fare as the climate continues to change. Research findings will benefit park managers as they evaluate management alternatives for the whitebark pine and the species it supports. Learn more.
Photo: Honey bee extracts nectar (John Severns, public domain)
Honey bees may be the ultimate diet masters! Although “junk foods” (like spilled soda and other leftover treats that will be so abundant this Memorial Day Weekend) abound in city environments, bees opt for flower nectar over processed sugars. That’s what researchers supported by the Southeast Climate Science Center discovered in a recent study. This finding is surprising, given that many other urban animals feed on human foods. It suggests that urban flowers and green spaces may be especially important for sustaining healthy pollinator populations. Learn more: http://go.usa.gov/cJvMd
Graphic: Projected seasonal changes from increasing temperatures and precipitation changes (UMCES-IAN)
Climate change is projected to cause increased temperatures and more rainfall in the northeastern and midwestern U.S., which actually could mean more drought. Why? Precipitation patterns will become more variable, with more rain falling during extreme precipitation events, and longer gaps separating rainfall events. Combined with warming temperatures, this equates to more frequent, short-term droughts. Researchers with the Northeast Climate Science Center are working to understand what this will mean for people and ecosystems. Learn more: bit.ly/2dNygK9
The Impacts of Alaska's Retreating Glaciers on Coastal Ecosystems
Photo: Chenega Glacier in Prince William Sound, Gulf of Alaska (Julie St. Louis, USFWS)
Many Alaskan glaciers are retreating (melting) as average temperatures warm. What happens to all that ice? As glaciers melt, their contents are released into streams and rivers and swept away to the ocean. Although melting occurs relatively slowly, the sheer size of glaciers means that massive quantities of freshwater and nutrients, such as iron and nitrate, are being added to coastal ecosystems each year. Researchers supported by USGS’s National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center studied the impacts from melting glaciers in the Copper River region of the Gulf of Alaska and what they might mean for plants, plankton, and fish. Big changes may be on the horizon for these ecosystems - as more melting means more nutrients to support vegetation growth - but it’s tough to predict specifics at this point. Learn more: http://go.usa.gov/cuWPx
This article was originally posted on the ECOIPM blog, run by the Frank Lab at North Carolina State University.
Climate change is generally considered bad for people, earth’s biomes, and, of course, polar bears. But as the climate warms will all critters suffer? Will they all be affected the same way? No. In addition to the losers who slowly fizzle out under the oppressive heat, there will be winners who benefit from warming.
An animal’s response to climate change depends largely on two things: the amount of warming in a habitat and the physiological limits of the animal. It has been shown pretty convincingly that animals closer to the equator are more sensitive to warming than animals farther north. I know what you are thinking, “but tropical animals are hot all the time, they should be used to it.” I thought the same thing, but how it works is that since they are hot all the time, they live close to their thermal limits. So for animals in hot places, a little more heat pushes them over the edge.
Therefore the biological effects of climate change are expected to vary geographically, particularly for ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals such as insects. Elsa Youngsteadt and other folks in the lab took a road trip to test the hypothesis that insects at high latitudes, where it is cold, should generally benefit from warming whereas insects at low latitudes should have mixed responses: some should benefit, but others should be pushed over their thermal limits.
In a brilliant new paper, Elsa reports her findings from this trip. The team sampled insects from street trees in the hottest and coolest parts of four cities – Raleigh, Baltimore, Queens, and Boston – taking advantage of the urban heat island effect as a natural warming experiment.
In the lowest latitude city, Raleigh, some taxa (groups of organisms) became more abundant with warming while others declined. This suggests that, although some species benefited from warming, just as many species suffered. In the coldest and highest latitude city, Boston, most insect groups were unaffected or became more abundant, suggesting that warming was good for most species living in a frigid northern metropolis. Just as predicted! This doesn’t happen very often.
It seems good that not all taxa tank in Raleigh – but the fact that some benefit and others decline could be ecologically disruptive, too: Maybe a parasitoid and its host respond differently, or a predator and its prey. This sort of mismatch could lead to extinction of higher trophic levels (e.g., large predators) if the prey does poorly, or herbivore outbreaks if the predator fails.
I’ll warn you upfront, this paper is dense and there are probably a lot of new concepts packed in that most people will need time to unpack. However, capturing the response of a whole community to a couple degrees of warming is novel and worth the read. Think about the responses of your favorite organisms. Not just in cities but across the globe.
This project was funded by the Southeast Climate Science Center, which is managed by the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center. The center is one of eight that provides scientific information to help natural resource managers and communities respond effectively to climate change.
Photo: Moth on the trunk of a tree. Public Domain.
Published Date: March 24th, 2018
The Interior Department’s Climate Science Centers, managed by USGS, are helping the National Park Service pinpoint the specific impacts of climate change on parks and their cultural and natural resources. Doing so will help managers answer a critical question: which resources will require human intervention to ensure their continued existence?
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse in 1883, Cape Lookout National Seashore. NPS photo(Public domain.)
On the East Coast of the United States, rising seas are lapping at the foundations of historic sites and structures. With this rise in sea level comes elevated storm surges, increasing the risks of flooding and shoreline erosion.
These impacts of climate change are making the future more uncertain for structures like Cape Lookout National Seashore’s historic lighthouse, a beacon of our nation’s rich maritime past.
Protecting these national treasures and other cultural resources is no easy task for the National Park Service, mandated to preserve culturally significant areas and artifacts. Forces of nature have always been a threat, but now climate change is poised to inflict even more significant damage. Perhaps this is the biggest threat to date. According to the NPS, several thousand historic sites are threatened by a rapidly changing climate.
In light of these and other climate-related threats, the Interior Department’s Climate Science Centers, managed by USGS, are helping the NPS pinpoint the specific impacts of climate change on parks and their cultural and natural resources. Doing so will help managers answer a critical question: which resources will require human intervention to ensure their continued existence?
In this two-part series on climate change and cultural resources, we look at research to help NPS managers preserve historic sites and structures. Part Two, on Jamestown and the Colonial National Historical Park, will be published next.
Keeping Our Lighthouses and Other Maritime Resources
The barrier islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore entice visitors with remote beaches, wild horses and historic maritime attractions. For a cultural experience, visitors can tour the park’s two historic villages, Portsmouth (est. 1753) and Cape Lookout (est. 1887), and climb the steps of its iconic mid-19th century lighthouse. This lighthouse notably managed to survive the Civil War, during which time it was disabled, raided, and caught up in efforts to both darken and illuminate the coast for Union troops, depending on which side was in control.
Today, the relics of this region’s maritime past are threatened by stronger storms and hurricanes, rising seas and shoreline erosion.
To secure the future of Cape Lookout’s cultural resources, the DOI Southeast Climate Science Center is testing a new approach for prioritizing climate adaptation actions. Erin Seekamp, an associate professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism at North Carolina State University and a researcher working with the Southeast CSC, is developing a method to identify cultural resources most in need of management action.
Says Seekamp: “Because so many coastal resources are highly vulnerable to climate-related impacts, resource managers will have to make tough decisions about which ones to maintain in their current historic condition, which to adapt using storm-resilient materials, which ones to elevate or move, and which ones to let go.”
Seekamp’s method calculates a value for each cultural resource, based on its vulnerability to climate change, its historical significance and its importance for the park’s day-to-day operations and education efforts. These non-monetary scores allow resources to be ranked in terms of their need for management action.
Seekamp is testing this approach in Cape Lookout, where she is ranking 17 buildings in the Portsmouth and Cape Lookout historical districts.
“The districts and their cultural resources are vulnerable to climate change-related impacts such as storm-related flooding and erosion and sea-level rise,” Seekamp said. In fact, an assessment of the vulnerability of the park’s historic buildings, completed by Rob Young of Western Carolina University, rated most of these buildings as highly vulnerable because of storm-related flooding, erosion and sea-level rise.
An essential component of Seekamp’s approach has been active engagement with stakeholders, including personnel with the NPS and the North Carolina State Preservation Office. “Decision-making is a value-laden process and cultural resources are imbued with diverse values. Stakeholders provide guidance on how we determine which factors should be considered, and can help us refine our methods as the project continues,” Seekamp said.
Ultimately, Seekamp hopes that the method her team is developing can be used to prioritize cultural resources beyond Cape Lookout. “After we complete this pilot study, our goal is to develop a process that can be applied to all historic buildings at Cape Lookout, to other types of cultural resources in other parks, and, ultimately, to help the NPS make regional and landscape-level decisions about cultural resource climate adaptation.”
The Southeast CSC is part of a national network of eight regional DOI Climate Science Centers, managed by the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC). The CSCs provide scientific information to help natural and cultural resource managers respond effectively to climate change.
Photo: The 1859 Cape Lookout Lighthouse and keeper's quarters. Credit: Erin Seekamp, NCSU
Published Date: March 24th, 2018
The Southeast is currently undergoing high rates of population growth, urbanization, and land use change while also facing challenges brought by climate change, including sea level rise and more frequent extreme weather events. These changes are threatening and will continue to threaten wildlife and their habitats in the region, as well as infrastructure and important resources like freshwater. Recognizing these problems, state fish and wildlife agencies, together with federal and non-governmental partners, have initiated and recently released version 1.0 of the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS).
The SECAS aims to establish a connected network of landscapes and seascapes that supports thriving fish and wildlife populations and improved quality of life for people across the southeastern United States and the Caribbean.
The announcement of SECAS 1.0 came on Monday October 17, 2016 at the Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) annual conference in Baton Rouge, LA where the SECAS Conservation Leadership Summit was held. The first half of the Summit was spent with state agency leadership from nearly all of the 15 SEAFWA member states. They heard presentations from Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) staff and from a Southeast Climate Science Center sponsored researcher about SECAS and case studies from their own staff on how SECAS can be used. On the second day of the meeting, the state agencies unanimously approved continuing to move SECAS forward.
Photo: LCC and SE CSC Staff at the SEAFWA Meeting.
Published Date: March 24th, 2018
New research from North Carolina State University (and supported by the Southeast Climate Science Center) finds that urban warming reduces growth and photosynthesis in city trees. The researchers found that insect pests are part of the problem, but that heat itself plays a more significant role.
“Earlierstudies have shown that urban warming increases pest abundance in street trees,” says Emily Meineke, lead author of a paper describing the work. “We wanted to know how urban warming and pest abundance affect tree growth, since trees pull carbon out of the atmosphere and convert it into biomass. This is important, because we know that high levels of atmospheric carbon play a role in climate change.” Meineke did the work while a Ph.D. student at NC State. She is now a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard.
To explore this issue, researchers went to 20 pairs of willow oak trees (Quercus phellos) across Raleigh, North Carolina. At each site, one tree was treated with an oil that kills insect pests, and the second tree was left untreated. The sites were located across a variety of different urban temperatures, and air temperature was monitored at each site over the course of the experiment.
The researchers tracked the growth of all 40 trees for two years. Growth was assessed in two ways: by measuring the circumference of each tree’s trunk, and by measuring how much specific branches grew on each tree. The researchers also measured each tree’s photosynthesis, which is how trees capture carbon from the atmosphere and is a key marker of tree health.
The researchers found that scale insects and spider mites – well known tree pests – were more abundant at hotter sites. Specifically, they found that spider mite populations more than doubled when a site’s average temperature crossed a threshold of 16.4 degrees Celsius (61.5 degrees Fahrenheit). Scale insects, however, showed a linear relationship with temperature. In other words, the hotter it got, the more scale insects there were.
The researchers also found that warming negatively affected tree photosynthesis and growth, regardless of whether pests were present.
“Trees that didn’t have pests had more branch growth than trees with pests,” Meineke says. “But trees at warmer sites had less trunk growth, which accounts for more tree biomass, regardless of pests.”
The researchers then plugged these results into a model to determine the extent to which urban warming impacted carbon storage for all of the willow oaks in Raleigh.
“We found that urban warming reduced carbon storage by all of Raleigh’s willow oaks by 12 percent, or 27 metric tons per year,” Meineke says.
“We think the findings are generalizable to other tree species and other cities, especially hotter cities like Atlanta, but additional work needs to be done to determine whether that’s the case,” Meineke says.
The paper, “Urban warming reduces aboveground carbon storage,” is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The paper was co-authored by Elsa Youngsteadt, an entomology research associate at NC State; Rob Dunn, a professor of applied ecology at NC State; and Steve Frank, an associate professor of entomology and plant pathology at NC State. The work was supported by the Department of the Interior’s Southeast Climate Science Center, under cooperative agreement numbers G11AC20471, G13AC00405 and G15AP00153; by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, under grant number 2013-02476; and by the National Science Foundation under grants 0953390 and 1136703.
The U.S. Geological Survey has released a Program Announcement via Grants.gov to request applications to host Climate Science Centers (CSCs) in the Northwest and Southeast.
The program announcement invites proposals to host each CSC (including identification of consortium partners), and to determine if their proposed science, partnership, and program support activities and strategies are appropriate to serve in these roles.
Applications must be submitted to grants.gov by January 12, 2017 at 3:00 PM EST.
To facilitate the financial assistance application process, a 2-hour informational conference call / webinar will be conducted on October 18, 2016 at 2:00 PM EDT by the NCCWSC to accommodate inquiries from applicants about this program and the proposal review, evaluation, and selection process. Interested applicants should email Kristen Donahue, firstname.lastname@example.org, to obtain call-in/web address information.
“From the mountains to the coast, the southeastern U.S. contains ecosystems that harbor incredible biodiversity. Many of those ecosystems are already highly at risk from urbanization and other human land-use change. Identifying the ecosystems at risk from climate change will help inform conservation and management to ensure we don’t lose that biodiversity.” (Jennifer Constanza, report author)
At least several southeastern U.S. ecosystems are highly vulnerable to the impacts of present and future climate change, according to two new USGS reports on research conducted by scientists with Interior Department's Southeast Climate Science Center.
At-risk ecosystems occur in states ranging from Texas to Florida, Virginia to Georgia as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
They include Caribbean coastal mangrove, Edwards Plateau limestone shrubland, karst-depression wetlands, Nashville Basin limestone glade and woodland, southern Appalachian balds and southern loess bluff forest (more info about each of these ecosystem types is at the bottom of the release).
“From the mountains to the coast, the southeastern U.S. contains ecosystems that harbor incredible biodiversity,” said Jennifer Costanza, lead author of one of the reports and a scientist with North Carolina State University. “Many of those ecosystems are already highly at risk from urbanization and other human land-use change. Identifying the ecosystems at risk from climate change will help inform conservation and management to ensure we don’t lose that biodiversity.”
Some of the vulnerable ecosystems lie within the boundaries of the North American Coastal Plain, an approximately 1.1-million-square-kilometer (425,000-square-mile) area, mainly located in the southeastern U.S., that was designated the world’s 36th global biodiversity hotspot in February 2016. Moreover, many can be considered regional hotspots, as they comprise pockets of land that are especially biologically rich compared with their surroundings.
Researchers used the existing scientific literature and, in some cases, geospatial analysis to determine each ecosystem’s sensitivity to changes in climate, its exposure level to those changes and its capacity to adapt.
All ecosystems identified as highly vulnerable support a variety of rare and geographically restricted plants and animals, including numerous federally endangered or threatened species. Because most of these at-risk ecosystems are geographically isolated and have unique geological characteristics, the authors noted that it may be difficult for species to escape or adapt to the effects of climate change.
For example, the woody plants found in Edwards Plateau limestone shrubland are restricted to the unique soils and topography of the area. Similarly, because southern Appalachian balds are found at the tops of mountains, native plants and animals will be challenged to migrate to new areas.
According to the reports, present and growing threats to Southeast ecosystems include warming temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and rising sea levels. In addition, droughts, wildfires and extreme storms could become more frequent in some areas. At the same time, ecosystems are stressed by human impacts, such as the conversion of land for urban or agricultural use, which can exacerbate the effects of climate change.
The authors emphasized that assessing ecosystem vulnerability to climate change is a key first step in regional conservation planning and prioritization. Ecosystem-level assessments can offer insight as to how climate change may alter hydrology and other ecological processes, and provide information on many rare species at once by capturing the vulnerability of their shared habitat.
“These reports provide the groundwork for future explorations of how climate change will affect ecosystems and the plants and animals that rely on them,” said USGS scientist Jennifer Cartwright, lead author of the other report. “With this kind of information, managers can take steps to thoughtfully assess where conservation actions should be directed to preserve the ‘conservation stage’ upon which the drama of interacting human and natural systems will unfold under changing climate and land use conditions in coming decades.”
Caribbean coastal mangrove is found along coastal Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it is vulnerable to expected sea-level rise, precipitation changes and more frequent storm events.
Edwards Plateau limestone shrubland, found in central Texas, is subject to stress from drought as the climate becomes warmer and drier. Nearby urbanization will make adaptation difficult or impossible for native species.
Karst-depression wetlands, which occur throughout southeastern states from Virginia to Florida, are highly sensitive to anticipated changes in precipitation and groundwater levels.
Nashville Basin limestone glade and woodland is primarily located in central Tennessee, but also found in parts of Kentucky, Virginia, Alabama and Georgia. Its major threats from climate change include warmer temperatures and precipitation changes, resulting in either more or less drought.
Southern Appalachian balds are located in high-elevation areas of the southern Appalachian mountains, from West Virginia to Georgia. Warmer temperatures may compromise this ecosystem by allowing woody plants from lower elevations to take over.
Southern loess bluff forest occurs on the eastern bluffs of the Mississippi River in Mississippi and Louisiana. Warmer, drier conditions and competition from invasive species will stress the cool-climate plants and animals native to this area.
The original USGS press release can be found here.
Photos Top: Catawba rhododendron blooming at Round Bald, an example of a southern Appalachian bald ecosystem, in the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forest, North Carolina. Credit: Alan Cressler. Bottom: Gum Swamp, a karst-depression wetland in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee. Credit: Alan Cressler.
A new statistically downscaled climate model dataset covering the conterminous U.S. is now available for download in the USGS GeoData Portal. This dataset is called MACAv2-METDATA and it contains daily downscaled meteorological and hydrological projections for the conterminous U.S. at 4-km resolution. The dataset includes the following variables:
Maximum & minimum temperature
Maximum & minimum relative humidity- the amount of moisture in the air compared to what the air can ‘hold’ at that temperature.
Specific humidity- the ratio of the mass of water vapor in the air to the total mass of air
Downward shortwave solar radiation- shortwave energy from the Sun that reaches the land-surface
Eastward & northward wind
Here’s what you need to know:
What is Statistical Downscaling?
Statistical downscaling is one of two methods (the other is dynamical downscaling) that uses climate data produced at a large scale (such as global) to make predictions about future climate at a smaller scale (such as a particular watershed). The downscaling process generates information that is useful for making decisions and adapting to the impacts of climate change on a local or regional scale. A number of statistical downscaling methods exist, one of which is MACA.
What is MACA?
MACA stands for ‘Multivariate Adaptive Constructed Analogs’ (Abatzoglou and Brown, 2012) and is a new method for downscaling Global Climate Models (GCMs). There are several types of GCMs, and MACA used model outputs from the Coupled Model Inter-comparison project (CMIP5). The method also requires the use of a training dataset— an observational dataset of the variables, downscaled to a smaller resolution. This product used METDATA (Abatzoglou, 2011) as a training dataset, a meteorological dataset at 4-km resolution. The benefits of MACA include the fact that it provides a number of key meteorological variables and that it allows for the consideration of extreme climate events.
How can this data be used?
This dataset can be used to predict future climate conditions at local and regional scales throughout the conterminous United States. Once conditions are predicted, vulnerable areas can be identified and prioritized for adaptation efforts. This dataset represents an important step towards predicting future climate scenarios in the U.S. at scales that are important to resource managers.
How can this data be accessed?
This dataset can be downloaded from the USGS GeoData Portal (GDP). The GDP houses large datasets, often the products of large-scale modeling efforts such as climate downscaling, and makes these datasets easier for scientists, managers, and the public to access and process the information for additional analyses.
Our national parks play a critical role in protecting wildlife and ecosystems in an ever evolving landscape. Climate change, however, is one threat that can’t be stopped by park boundaries. National Park Service (NPS) Director Jonathan Jarvis has called climate change “the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced”. From retreating glaciers in Alaska to severe drought in the Southwest, climate change is set to dramatically alter our national parks, preserves, and other protected areas.
August 25, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, formed in 1916 to oversee the expansion of what was at the time a small network of parks and monuments. The network has since grown to include over 400 protected areas.
Continuing to protect these parks into the future requires an understanding of how climate change has and will impact parks. Tasked with identifying the effects of climate change on wildlife and ecosystems, the Department of the Interior Climate Science Centers (CSCs), managed by the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC), have conducted research projects that inform this critical issue. These projects have been geared towards helping park managers adapt to climate change by providing vital information on the implications of climate change for parks.
To celebrate the NPS centennial, we’ve highlighted 10 CSC and NCCWSC projects that provide a snapshot of our work in national parks:
Acadia National Park, Maine
Located on Maine’s rugged coast, Acadia has miles of rocky shoreline, vast networks of streams, lakes, and wetlands, and is home to the tallest mountain on the North Atlantic seaboard. With 338 known bird species, it’s also a bird-watcher’s paradise. Unfortunately, the threats of climate change to Acadia are numerous, and include sea-level rise, heightened storm surge, heavier rainfall, and invasive species. To help park staff prepare for and adapt to climate change, researchers with the Northeast CSC are working to identify a range of possible climate change scenarios that could affect the park within the next 25 years. Such scenario planning enables managers to adapt to climate change in the face of uncertainty, by considering multiple plausible futures for the park. Learn more>>Photo: Acadia National Park (Kristi Rugg, NPS)
Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
The barrier islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore entice visitors with remote beaches, wild horses, and cultural attractions such as the Cape Lookout Lighthouse (completed in 1859) and the historic buildings of Portsmouth Village (established in 1753). Climate change will affect Cape Lookout beyond just warming temperatures and changing precipitation. More frequent heat waves, drought, floods, and a longer frost-free season are all expected. Sea-level rise also poses a big threat to these low-lying islands. Focusing on the park’s cultural resources, researchers with the Southeast CSC are developing a strategy for assessing the vulnerability of cultural resources to climate change to help guide cultural resource decision-makers at Cape Lookout and across the country. Learn more >>Photo: Cape Lookout National Seashore (Erin Seekamp)
Everglades National Park, Florida
Everglades National Park is a renowned wetland ecosystem that provides critical habitat for 30 threatened and endangered species, such as Florida’s iconic manatee and the elusive Florida panther. This ecosystem is recognized worldwide for its importance—it is designated as a World Heritage Site and a Wetland of International Importance. As part of a project exploring the potential effects of climate change on Florida’s ecosystems and biodiversity, researchers with NCCWSC examined how sea-level rise has impacted Everglades National Park and may continue to impact the park in the future. Findings show that sea-level rise not only increases water levels, but it also increases water salinity, which could spell change for the entire ecosystem. Learn more >>Photo: Alligator, Everglades National Park (NPS)
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Remote Dry Tortugas National Park, located 70 miles west of Key West, is mostly comprised of open water, with the exception of 7 small islands. The park is home to a number of threatened and endangered species, including 5 species of sea turtle. In fact, the park is the most active sea turtle nesting site in the Florida Keys. The park’s sea turtles were the focus of a project spearheaded by researchers with the Southeast CSC, in which the movements of breeding green sea turtles were tracked. Green turtles can be highly migratory, and understanding their movements and habitat use is a priority for ongoing conservation efforts for this species, which is endangered in Florida. This work is part of a larger project assessing the vulnerability of sea turtle nesting grounds to climate change. Learn more >>Photo: Green sea turtle, Dry Tortugas National Park (Ed Lyman, NOAA)
Badlands National Park, South Dakota & Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, North Dakota
In the face of climate change, the future of the northern Great Plains is uncertain. Two protected areas in this region, Badlands National Park (South Dakota) and Knife River Indian Villages National Historical Site (North Dakota), are the focus of a project seeking to clarify what the future may look like for the Northern Plains. Researchers from the North Central CSC are drawing on global climate models to identify a range of plausible future climate scenarios for the region. A series of workshops will then help managers explore different management options under each scenario, enabling them to be proactive in the face of uncertainty. As a final step, simulation modeling will be used to help managers answer the "what if" questions surrounding how certain actions might affect resources, under the different scenarios. Learn more >>Photo: Bison, Badlands National Park (NPS)
Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, & Cascades National Park, Washington
The alpine landscapes of Olympic, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades national parks offer a diverse range of ecosystems, from lowland forests to montane wetlands—the latter of which are thought to be among the most sensitive ecosystems to climate change. To better understand the effects of climate change on the region’s biologically rich wetlands, researchers from the Northwest CSC monitored changes in the water level and extent of wetlands in the three parks and forecasted their future hydrologic conditions. Results show that montane wetlands will become increasingly dry due to factors such as reduced snowpack and longer summer droughts. Amphibians, such as the Cascades frog, rely on wetlands for breeding and are at risk of local extinction due to the loss of suitable wetland habitat. Learn more >>Photo: Mount Rainier National Park (Alan Cressler)
Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Park, & Yosemite National Park, California
Research shows that climate change is already increasing the frequency and severity of drought. To help guide resource managers engaged in climate adaptation efforts, researchers with the Southwest CSC, along with collaborators, are examining whether a key forest management tool - prescribed fire - can increase forest resistance to severe drought in three California parks: Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite. So far, results have shown that when some trees are removed by prescribed fire, the remaining trees are more likely to survive during future drought, possibly because they face less competition for water. This information will help managers better understand how they can take action to lessen the impacts of drought and improve the health of forests. Learn more >>Photo: Yosemite National Park (Alberto Cruz)
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai'i
As its name implies, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is home to two active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. From sea to summit, the park protects a wide diversity of species and ecosystems, including 23 species of endangered vascular plants and 15 species of endangered trees. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change are already being felt across the Hawaiian Islands, and understanding how climate change may impact the park’s plants is vital for their long-term survival. Researchers with the Pacific Islands CSC are identifying how plant distributions within the park may shift as the climate changes. This information will help park managers determine how management strategies may need to change in order to remain effective in light of these new species distributions. Learn more >>Photo: Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park (Alan Cressler)
Haleakalā National Park & Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai'i
High elevation plant communities in Hawai’i are expected to be altered by climate change, as conditions become hotter and drier and as invasive species move upslope. Researchers supported by the Pacific Islands CSC are working to characterize the subalpine vegetation communities found in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and Haleakalā National Park. Subalpine vegetation occurs in a transition zone between dense forest and higher elevation treeless tundra. Researchers will first identify how plants respond to environmental factors such as precipitation and elevation. This information will then be used to help predict future vegetation changes that may occur in these subalpine communities, and to identify how to best protect them against non-native plant invasions that may increase as temperatures warm. Learn more >>Photo: Haleakalā National Park (NPS)
Denali, Gates of the Arctic, and Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska
Alaska’s national parks draw millions of visitors each year, primarily during the warmer summer months. As temperatures in the state rise due to climate change, it’s possible that the tourist season could expand in length. Researchers with several CSCs (Alaska, Northwest, Southwest, and Pacific Islands) helped examine the potential effects of climate change on visitor use in three Alaskan parks: Denali, Gates of the Arctic, and Katmai. Researchers found a strong relationship between temperature and visitor use at all three parks, suggesting that as temperatures warm the peak tourist season could expand by as much as two months. This information will help park managers and the tourism industry anticipate and plan for future management needs. Learn more >>Photo: Grizzly Bears, Katmai National Park & Preserve (NPS)