National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis stated in a recent interview that climate change is “the greatest threat to the integrity of the National Park System (NPS) that we’ve ever faced” (The BigOutside Blog 2010). Global temperatures are rapidly rising. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2011) has announced that for the entire planet, 2010 is the hottest year on record, tied with 2005. And the period 2001 to 2010 is the hottest decade on record for the globe (fig. 1).
Rising temperatures will influence many aspects of Earth’s hydrologic systems, such as precipitation, snow, ice, and permafrost, which will in turn affect plant and animal life and processes such as fire. These cascading effects are already impacting the natural and cultural resources the National Park Service is charged to protect. The range of impacts land managers will need to address are unprecedented and most are not well understood. There is much uncertainty about the specific ways in which ecosystems, populations, and species will respond to these changes.
Over the last several years, there has been renewed commitment in the federal government to addressing the important issue of climate change. The National Park Service, in particular, is looking at new ways to think about, and plan for, the effects of climate change. In fall 2010, the National Park Service published its Climate Change Response Strategy, which outlines a broad framework for how the agency will address climate change. Planning for climate change within an adaptation framework is a cornerstone of that document. But even before that, the Service had been quietly exploring and testing ways to plan more effectively in this dynamic environment.
Weeks, D., P. Malone, and L. Welling. 2011. Climate change scenario planning: A tool for managing parks into uncertain futures. Park Science 28(1):26–33.
Available at http://www.nature.nps.gov/ParkScience/archive/PDF/Article_PDFs/ParkScience28(1)Spring2011_26-33_Weeks_et_al_2787.pdf.