5 Ways That Global Warming May Already Be Affecting Yellowstone National Park
The effects of a heating planet may soon bring noticeable changes to an iconic national park
Officials at Yellowstone National Park
are facing challenges that evidence suggests may be caused or influenced by global warming:
Many of the park’s drying creeks and rivers are no longer draining into Yellowstone Lake late in summer, cutting off native fish from spawning grounds and allowing nonnative trout to outcompete them. The consequences are still being studied.
- The number of heat-loving invasive plants in the park doubled during the past two decades as the aliens outcompeted native flora critical to overall ecosystem health. Some native animal species are on the move, following tree and other plant species that are retreating to higher altitudes.
- Yellowstone’s kettle ponds, left behind by retreating glaciers, have been shrinking at an alarming rate. This decline has been one factor that reduced the park’s resident population of trumpeter swans (photo shows a migratory trumpeter in Alaska), which rely on the bodies of water not just for nesting but also for escape from predators. Last year’s count of 9 resident swans was the lowest since surveys began in 1931 and represents a 73 percent decline in swans during the past decade.
- Pikas historically have lived on the park’s cooler rocky alpine slopes, a habitat that is being compressed as global warming raises the temperature of high-altitude zones. This change could jeopardize pikas. As a result, Congress recently funded a study looking at pikas and climate change.
- Finally, even Yellowstone’s Old Faithful is at risk. Park officials worry that the eruptions of Old Faithful and hundreds of other park geysers could soon diminish because the groundwater that regulates the geysers is receding.
Such early signs of climate change within the park have made Yellowstone a laboratory for studying the effects of global warming, as reported in the current issue of National Wildlife magazine.