Scientists Studying Climate Change in Yellowstone

Today marks the first day of the Copenhagen Climate Conference. Here at Under Solen we’re hoping for a strong plan of action, so for the length of the conference, we’ll be posting a story each day about how climate change is affecting us and how people in the U.S. are taking action.

Some folks like Bill McKibben are thinking big, others are looking for local solutions, but we hope to do our part to put climate change action at center stage — where it belongs.

Our first story comes from one of our country’s most iconic national parks…

Spasm Geyser is one of hundreds at Yellowstone — including Old Faithful — that may be affected by global warming. Park officials worry that receding groundwater levels could diminish the geysers' dramatic displays. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Yellowstone National Park’s virtually intact ecosystem is a perfect place for scientists to study the biological effects of climate change. Yellowstone is one of 20 U.S. sites selected to be part of the National Ecological Observatory Network. The observatory will gather ecological and climate data, which will be collated with information from sites around North America and used to detail and forecast wide-scale ecological and climate shifts.

From the LA Times:

Reporting from Yellowstone National Park — Roy Renkin is a biologist by training but a detective by inclination, and something about the willows was nagging him.

The shrubs flanking a creek in Yellowstone’s Blacktail drainage had never grown so tall and lush. But why?

Many of the park’s scientists theorized it was related to the successful reintroduction of wolves, which might have pushed elk out of the area, putting an end to the constant nibbling that stunted willows’ growth.

But this summer, Renkin and a colleague arrived at their own theory: climate change.

Warmer temperatures have extended the park’s growing season for plants by up to 30%. Renkin found that given the additional growing time, willows produced powerful defensive compounds that made them unpalatable to wildlife, enabling some to grow more than twice as high.

The tentative findings are a small piece of a much larger climate puzzle whose effects are making themselves known at national parks across the country. In some cases, the changes are imperiling the very features that define some of the nation’s most-beloved parks.

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