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Volume 26
Number 1
Spring 2009
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Photo showing the South Fork of the Merced River near Wawona in Yosemite National Park, California. (James Roche) Physical Sciences
Climate change and water supply in western national parks

By Jessica Lundquist and James Roche
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
Too much water in winter: Warming and flood management
Too little water in summer: Warming and drought management
Park management strategies
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OVER THE PAST 50–60 YEARS, warming temperatures across the western United States have resulted in greater proportions of precipitation falling as rain rather than snow (Knowles et al. 2006) and in earlier snowmelt and streamflow (Mote et al. 2005; Stewart et al. 2005). The years 2004 and 2007 marked two of the earliest spring melts on record (Pagano et al. 2004), and 2007 was one of the driest years on record in California. Glaciers are disappearing across the West, and Glacier National Park (Montana) may cease to live up to its name as early as 2030 (Myrna et al. 2003). Annual precipitation amounts in the western United States have not changed significantly, and predictions of precipitation are uncertain (Dettinger 2005, 2006). However, even without changes in total precipitation amounts, warming temperatures and corresponding shifts from solid to liquid precipitation have profound implications for park water supplies and park management.

“Glaciers have provided a buffer against low flows in dry, warm summers, and their absence could result in perennial rivers becoming ephemeral streams. Streams that are already ephemeral, such as Yosemite Falls, will likely become drier on average earlier in summer.”

Temperature changes will have the greatest influence in mountain parks with a Mediterranean climate such as Yosemite (California), Sequoia and Kings Canyon (California), Lassen Volcanic (California), Crater Lake (Oregon), Mount Rainier (Washington), Olympic (Washington), and North Cascades (Washington) national parks, where nearly all precipitation falls in winter, and where ecosystems and humans depend on snowmelt for water supplies throughout summer. Earlier snowmelt and a greater proportion of rain result in more water flowing into rivers in winter when it is a hazard, and less into rivers in summer when it is a resource.

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This page updated:  8 July 2009

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From the Guest Editor(s)
In This Issue
Information Crossfile
Book Reviews
Masthead Information
The Canon National Parks Science Scholars Program: A legacy of science for national parks
Science for parks / parks for science: Conservation-based research in national parks
The rock and ice problem in national parks: An opportunity for monitoring climate change impacts
1,000 feet above a coral reef: A seascape approach to designing marine protected areas
Management strategies for keystone bird species: The Magellanic woodpecker in Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina
  Climate change and water supply in western national parks
Mercury in snow at Acadia National Park reveals watershed dynamics
Organic pollutant distribution in Canadian mountain parks
Building an NPS training program in interpretation through distance learning
Musical instruments in the pre-Hispanic Southwest
Societal dynamics in grizzly bear conservation: Vulnerabilities of the ecosystem-based management approach
Linking wildlife populations with ecosystem change: State-of-the-art satellite ecology for national-park science
Whale sound recording technology as a tool for assessing the effects of boat noise in a Brazilian marine park
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