Adapting to the reality of climate change at Glacier National Park, Montana, USA



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The glaciers of Glacier National Park (GNP) are disappearing rapidly and likely will be gone by 2030. These alpine glaciers have been continuously present for approximately 7,000 years so their loss from GNP in another 25 years underscores the significance of current climate change. There are presently only 27 glaciers remaining of the 150 estimated to have existed when GNP was created in 1910. Mean annual temperature in GNP has increased 1.6°C during the past century, three times the global mean increase. The temperature increase has affected other parts of the mountain ecosystem, too. Snowpacks hold less water equivalent and melt 2+ weeks earlier in the spring. Forest growth rates have increased, alpine treelines have expanded upward and become denser, and subalpine meadows have been invaded by high elevation tree species. These latter responses can be mostly attributed to longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures.

Ecosystem modeling of possible future changes in the GNP mountain environments suggest that increased tree growth rates and evapotranspiration will reduce soil moisture and streamflow. The drier forests, with more wood, will burn more frequently and with greater severity, leading to degradation in air quality and increased risk to people and infrastructure. Management of forest fires is an important issue in the arid western United States. In 2003, 13% of GNP’s 4,082 km2 was burned in three large fires and numerous smaller fires. Managers can accomplish some of their goals, such as preserving threatened wildlife populations, by altering their management of fires. In 2003, intense efforts were successfully made to divert the fires away from valuable grizzly bear ( Ursus arctos horribilis ) habitat that contained huckleberry plants ( Vaccinium spp .) necessary to ensure bear survival through the winter.

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Publication type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Title Adapting to the reality of climate change at Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
Year Published 2007
Language English
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 15 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Conference publication
Larger Work Title Proceedings of the first international conference on the impact of climate change: On high-mountain systems
First page 221
Last page 235
Public Comments Conference held at the Instituto de Hidrologia, Meteorologia y Estudios Ambientales - IDEAM
Conference Title First International Conference on the Impact of Climate Change: On High-Mountain Systems
Conference Location Bogota, Colombia
Conference Date November 21-23, 2005
Country United States
State Montana
Other Geospatial Glacier National Park
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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