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news and stories about regional climate science


Connecting the interaction between the natural world and humans with climate

National Parks are protected and managed natural area which serve as a haven away from the daily grind of busy, bustling life: a refuge for wildlife, habitats safe from development. Yet perhaps the most important aspect of Natural Parks is the window between humans and nature. National Parks give an outlet to experience, gain compassion for, and become connected to nature, which sometimes seems so far away.

“Climate change will fundamentally transform the natural and cultural landscapes of national parks within the not-too-distant future,” as is pointed out on the National Parks Service website.

The deterioration of natural land due to climate change can be seen through seeing less permafrost, rising sea levels, shrinking packs of sea ice, longer fire seasons, changes in the places which plants and animals can survive and more frequent pest and diseases. Through the north United States area this is already being seen through longer and more intense fire seasons, pine beetle outbursts and the changing of habitat for plants and animals. 

National Parks Service Climate Response Program

In a battle to deter and adapt to these changes, the National Park Service (NPS) implemented the Climate Change Response Program in 2010, directed by Leigh Welling, based in Fort Collins, Colorado. The program was launched after Congress provided national funding to the project, which morphs technical expertise, education, outreach and products in order to fight the negative affects of climate change. The program is made possible due to funding through the Congressional Appropriation for the Department of the Interior climate change program. Guided by four areas of action, the program has been working hard to extend the National Parks Service mission of protecting natural environments for the benefit of the community. The guiding areas of action are using science to learn more about climate change and manage its impacts, adapting to the uncertainty ahead, communication to public as well as NPS employees about climate change.

“Using science to inform what the drivers are, what the impacts are, but also having individuals who have to make decisions by thinking if that changes, if this changes—then what happens?” said Welling at a recent seminar presentation at Colorado State University.

The role of protected areas in climate change includes promoting ecosystem adaption, enhancing scientific knowledge and engaging communities. Protected natural areas have huge power to promote awareness and change in the public because without natural space to discover, explore, and see habitats in which are affected by climate change, it can hard to relate and be invested in the off-put of this climate change.

Educational Initiatives within National Parks 

Science lessons showing the effects of climate change, such as showing the physical water level difference through time, and other educational lessons are being implemented in the parks. Technology that connects parks together is a tool being used to demonstrate the wide range of climate affects as a hands-on educational tool at many parks. The use of Smart Phone Apps connected to on-site lessons bridges knowledge and activity for all generations visiting a National Parks site. Many times, it is easy to over look things we do not experience first hand—yet the NPS is trying to bridge the gap between nature, daily lives, and why human investment is important within climate change.

"One of the most precious values of the national parks is their ability to teach us about ourselves and how we relate to the natural world,” said Jon Jarvis, National Parks Service Director of the Climate Response Program. “This important role may prove invaluable in the near future as we strive to understand and adapt to a changing climate."

National Parks provide a first hand view of climate change and its direct impacts, which provide an opportunity to create a strong connection within the public. NPS serves nearly 300 million visitors a year.

“Climate change is happening and human activities are contributing,” Said Welling. The National Park Service’s Climate Response Program is dedicated to reaching those humans, and changing the perspectives of how the natural and human world interact.