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Climate Change in our Coastal National Parks

Eroding shorelines and melting permafrost damage at Bering Landbridge National Preserve (NPS photo).
Eroding shorelines and melting permafrost damage at Bering Landbridge National Preserve (NPS photo).

Climate change is currently affecting our National Parks. Climate change phenomena that are affecting coastal parks include:

These processes and other coastal hazards are threatening parks' cultural and natural resources, infrastructure, and public recreational opportunities. To effectively cope with these issues, the NPS is working to identify and meet the needs for scientific information, decision support tools, and coastal adaptation.

Climate Science

Over the last 50 years, average global temperature has risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.75 Celsius). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 4th Annual Report and the Global Climate Change Impacts to the United States report conclude that the rise in global temperature and other observed changes in climate are due primarily to human-caused emissions of greenhouses gases, such as carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap heat within the Earth's atmosphere, warming the planet. High quantities of these gases are emitted into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal, etc), agriculture activities, and industrial processes. Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to accelerate in the future if humans continue to burn more and more fossil fuels.

NPS Action

The NPS Coastal Geology group collaborates with other divisions and agencies on climate change work. Recent projects include:

  • Report on Coastal Assets Exposed to 1M of Sea-level Rise for 40 Parks new
  • Coastal vulnerability sea level rise maps for 22 coastal parks.
  • Park-specific vulnerability assessments based on storm events the park is likely to experience:
    • Hurricane inundation vulnerability for Fire Island National Seashore (NS), Cumberland Island NS, and Cape Lookout NS (USGS project website).
    • Coastal Hazard Analysis Report for Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site and Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park (report PDF - 5.1 MB).
    • Potomac River shoreline erosion vulnerability in George Washington Birthplace National Monument (report PDF - 5.5 MB).
  • Cape Lookout National Seashore Storm Recovery Plan is one example of how a better event based response can enable coastal parks to adapt to climate change (report PDF - 6.7 MB).
Visit the NPS Climate Change Response Program website to learn more about the NPS response to climate change.


Last Updated: January 04, 2017