Yellowstone Hasn’t Been Warmer in 800,000 Years
A Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment report authored by scientists from Montana University, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the University of Wyoming was released to illustrate the specific impacts of climate change on the area. It marks the first time a climate assessment has focused on a particular ecosystem, Greater Yellowstone Coalition Executive Director Scott Christensen said during a June 23 webinar.
“The [Greater Yellowstone Area] is valued for its forests, rivers, fish and wildlife,” said Steve Hostetler, a USGS scientist and co-lead on the report. “The climate changes described in this study will likely affect ecosystems in the region and the communities that depend on them.
The researchers found that the Yellowstone area’s temperature has increased by 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950 and is projected to rise between 5 and 10 degrees by 2100. Although annual precipitation could increase overall by up to 15%, the elevated temperates will cause evaporation and drier summers, which in turn will stress vegetation, fuel drought conditions and wildfires.
According to the geologic studies, the average temperature in Yellowstone is as high or higher than at any time in the last 20,000 years and likely the warmest in 800,000 years. That has ushered a longer growing season, which has lengthened by about two weeks since 1950.
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The increase in annual precipitation will be mainly in the form of rain. Average yearly snowfall decreased by 23 inches since 1950, contributing to dwindling water supplies and wildfires.
“The decrease in snow is due to the increase in temperature over time, which caused more precipitation to fall as rain instead of snow,” said report co-author Bryan Shuman, Wyoming Excellence Chair in geology and geophysics at the University of Wyoming.
Yellowstone National Park attracts millions of visitors each year who come for natural beauty and outdoor recreation. However, some of the iconic sights that draw people, such as the hydrothermal features, could be altered. Natural resource managers are especially concerned about the hydrological changes due to climate change and the resulting impacts.
“There is work showing that droughts in the past have reduced the frequency of Old Faithful eruptions,” University of Wyoming Associate Professor of Paleohydrology Bryan Shuman said. “And so changes in water in the future have the potential risk to really significantly impact some of the things that drive visitors to the park. We don't know specifically what those outcomes might look like, but the geological record is clear that there have been changes in the past.”
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