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Repeatable approaches to work with scientific uncertainty and advance climate change adaptation in US national parks

A.N. Runyon, A.R. Carlson, and J. Gross
Created: 1/21/2020 - Updated: 1/27/2020


Managers and scientists widely acknowledge climate change as one of the greatest threats to protected areas in the US and worldwide (Gross et al. 2016). The US National Park Service (NPS) began addressing climate change as early as the 1990s, and in 2010 NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis stated that “climate change is fundamentally the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced” (NPS 2010). Today, parks throughout the NPS system experience impacts of human-caused climate change (e.g., Monahan and Fisichelli 2014; Gonzalez 2018) that threaten iconic park resources. Climate-related impacts include: melting glaciers (e.g., Glacier National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park; Burgess et al. 2013); thermokarst formation effects on archaeological sites (Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve; Gagli-oti et al. 2016); loss of Joshua trees (e.g., Joshua Tree National Park; Sweet et al. 2019); and sea-level rise threatening historic lighthouses (e.g., Cape Hatteras National Seashore; Schupp et al. 2015), historic artifacts (Anderson et al. 2017), and seaside forts (e.g., Dry Tortugas National Park; Schupp et al. 2015). Droughts, heat waves, floods, smoke, and fires associated with increasing temperatures and altered hydrological regimes now routinely affect park resources and visitors, and these impacts are in no way unique to US parks—protected area managers worldwide are challenged to rapidly adapt their management to address ongoing and projected climate change. 

NPS established its Climate Change Response Program (CCRP) in 2009 to support climate-informed management for all resources, assets, and values across the US national park system. However, this system of over 400 individual park units is immense and diverse, and therefore requires an efficient, repeatable, and customizable process for developing adaptation strategies. Through numerous collaborations with park managers, planners, climate scientists, scenario experts, and others, CCRP has refined methods for developing and applying climate futures and scenarios to support national park management (NPS 2013; Star et al. 2016). Here, we describe a range of scenario-based approaches that range from simple to complex, and can be adopted and widely used to support climate change adaptation for parks and other protected areas. 

Published On

Wednesday, January 1, 2020


National / Federal
Sector Addressed: 
Conservation / Restoration
Tourism / Recreation
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy: 
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate future conditions into natural resources planning and policies