National Parks Are Getting Slammed by Climate Change—Twice as Hard as the Rest of America

Glacier National Park
Glacier National ParkMark C Stevens / Getty Images

Would Joshua Tree National Park still be the same without any Joshua trees? How about Glacier National Park without any glaciers? America’s national parks could look very different in the future, according to a new study on global warming, climate change, and how it affects land across the U.S.



Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin looked at “spatial analysis of historical and projected temperature and precipitation” of all 417 US national parks between the years of 1895 and 2010.

(Side note: There are actually only 60 official U.S. National Parks, but there are 417 protected areas that the National Park Service oversees, which is what the study looked at.)

USA, Arizona, Grand Canyon, National Park, UNESCO, World Heritage, sunset along the South rim. (Photo by: Prisma by Dukas/UIG via Getty Images)

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They found temperatures have skyrocketed at “double the U.S. rate,” and that U.S. National Park areas could be in danger of losing some of the features that make them so unique due to “retreating ice, melting permafrost, prolonged droughts and increased wildfires,” according to NBC News.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Salt Flat, Texas
Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Salt Flat, Texas Courtesy of Travel Texas / Chris Zebo


“The findings are consistent with what people think about those areas. But, before our research, the severity of climate change across all national parks was unknown,” said Patrick Gonzalez, the lead author of the study and a professor of environmental science at UC Berkeley. “The surprising result is the magnitude of the difference; that national parks are exposed to temperature increases and conditions that are double the national increases. That is a major difference.”

Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA

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The researchers found that it’s possible that temperatures could “increase between 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit and 16.2 degrees Fahrenheit” in national park areas in coming years.

It boils down to location. Many of the areas are “in the Arctic, at high elevations, or in the arid southwestern U.S.,” where they’re exposed to more of the climate change effects.

Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree Andia/UIG via Getty Images

“At this point, I think it’s likely that the glaciers in Glacier National Park will ultimately disappear, and what is [Montana’s] Glacier National Park if it doesn’t have glaciers anymore?” said Jack Williams, a report co-author and a geography professor at the University of Wisconsin.

Check out the full study for more details on the effects of global warming on U.S. National Parks.

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