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"Earth Gauge": National Public Lands Day, National Parks, African Dust

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Updated: 9/26/2013 11:02 pm

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Earth Gauge: National Public Lands Day 2013

20 Years of Helping Hands Protecting Public Lands! 

National Public Lands Day is Saturday, September 28, 2013! For 20 years, National Public Lands Day has been at the forefront of improving our nation’s public lands. The annual event has grown from 700 volunteers in 1994 to 175,000 volunteers in 2012. Last year, volunteers worked at more than 2,200 sites across every state, the District of Columbia and many U.S. territories. They collected an estimated 23,000 pounds of invasive species, built and maintained over 1500 miles of trails, planted 100,000 trees, removed an estimated 500 tons of trash and so much more! National Public Lands Day is a great opportunity to get outside and help spruce up the parks, community gardens, schoolyards, refuges and other public lands we all enjoy.

Tip: Want to find events happening where you live? Head over to the National Public Lands Day map and search events by state. No event listed nearby? Don’t hang your head! You can still make a difference by spreading the word about National Public Lands Day to friends and family who might be interested in volunteering. You can also visit a national, regional or local park – take a hike or bike ride and enjoy what nature has to offer.

Speaking of parks, check out these interesting facts and weather tidbits about the ten most-visited National Parks in 2012! Park photos are available. (All temperatures are in Fahrenheit.)

·      Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 9,685,829 visitors in 2012. Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers over 521,000 acres in North Carolina and Tennessee with 800+ miles of trails. In September, daily highs are in the 70s and 80s. September to November is the driest part of the year for the park.

·         Grand Canyon National Park – 4,421,352 visitors in 2012. Grand Canyon National Park covers over 1.2 million acres in Arizona with over 500 miles of trails. Average September temperatures reach the 60s at the Rim with temperatures climbing to the 90s along the Colorado River. Summer thunderstorms and early winter storms can bring on sudden weather changes.

·         Yosemite National Park – 3,853,404 visitors in 2012. Yosemite National Park covers over 747,000 acres in California and has 800 miles of trails. Average high temperatures in Yosemite Valley reach into the 80s in September, with lows falling to the 40s.

·         Yellowstone National Park – 3,447,729 visitors in 2012. Yellowstone National Park covers over 2.2 million acres – 96 percent of the park is in Wyoming, three percent is in Montana and one percent is in Idaho. There are over 1,100 miles of trails. Average temperatures in September are highs in the 60s and lows in the 30s. In the fall, be prepared for sudden changes in weather.

·         Rocky Mountain National Park – 3,229,617 visitors in 2012. Rocky Mountain National Park covers over 265,000 acres in Colorado with 355 miles of trails. Temperatures are often moderate below 9,400 feet, but at higher elevations there can be occasional snowfall – even in July! September and October see crisp, blue skies and generally dry weather.

·         Zion National Park – 2,973,607 visitors in 2012. Zion National Park covers over 148,000 acres in Utah with over 90 miles of trails. In the fall, cooler temperatures begin to arrive and make for comfortable hiking conditions. But, temperatures can differ by as much as 30 degrees between day and night, so be sure to check the forecast.

·         Olympic National Park – 2,824,908 visitors in 2012. Olympic National Park covers over 922,000 acres in Washington with 611 miles of trails. July, August and September are the driest months, with average temperatures in the 60s for the month of September.

·         Grand Teton National Park – 2,705,256 visitors in 2012. Grand Teton National Park covers 310,000 acres in Wyoming with 242 miles of trails. The park sees sunny days and cold nights in September, with average high temperatures in the upper 60s and low temperatures in the low 30s.

·         Acadia National Park – 2,431,052 visitors in 2012. Acadia National Park covers over 49,000 acres in Maine with over 120 miles of trails. There is variable weather in the fall in the park, with temperatures ranging from 30-70 degrees.

·         Cuyahoga Valley National Park – 2,299,722 visitors in 2012. Cuyahoga National Park covers over 32,000 acres in Ohio with over 125 miles of trails. Average temperatures reach highs in the low 70s and lows in the mid-50s.

(Sources: National Public Lands Day,; National Park Service, “NPA Visitation 2012.”;National Park Service, “Great Smoky Mountains National Park,”, “Grand Canyon National Park,”, “Yosemite National Park,”, “Yellowstone National Park,”, “Rocky Mountain National Park,”, “Zion National Park,”, “Olympic National Park,”, “Grand Teton National Park,” , “Acadia National Park,”, “Cuyahoga Valley National Park,” ; Image courtesy of the National Park Service)

Climate Fact: Climate Change Impacts in National Parks


Did you know that the United States was the first country to create a National Park? Yellowstone National Park, created in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, was the world’s first national park. The U.S. National Park system has 401 areas covering over 84 million acres in every state and territory. National Parks serve as refuges for wildlife, provide recreation areas for humans and preserve the natural areas for future generations. Unfortunately, many of our iconic National Parks are being impacted by climate change and extreme weather. Here are just a few examples:

Y  Yellowstone National Park: Higher temperatures in Yellowstone have led to reduced snowpack, earlier spring snowmelt and uneven water levels in rivers and streams. Glaciers in the mountains are shrinking in size and warmer conditions have resulted in increased wildfire frequency in the park. Climate change is also believed to be a factor in the spread of the mountain pine beetle, which attacks white bark pine trees that are dominant in the highest elevation forests. Due to beetle infestation, 46 percent of Yellowstone’s white bark pine trees suffered mortality in 2009. Loss of white bark pines has a domino effect: grizzly bears depend on white bark pine seeds to prepare for hibernation. A decrease in this food source has led to a higher number of interactions and problems between grizzlies and humans. Other wildlife are feeling impacts, too – decreasing snowpack and hotter summers are a threat to the native cold water trout, affecting fishing seasons in the park.

·         Yosemite National Park: As temperatures are getting warmer, melting of the Sierra snowpack is occurring earlier. Lyell Glacier and other glaciers are shrinking. Winter precipitation has been falling as rain instead of snow. Animals living at high elevations, like the pika, are experiencing range contractions, whereas low-elevation species are expanding their ranges upwards. Fire suppression has also changed forest density and species composition, replacing fire-tolerant trees with fire-sensitive trees. The increased forest density increases tree mortality due to drought, because a higher number of trees leads to competition for soil moisture. High temperatures and drought are increasing the risk of wildfires such as the RIM fire, which has consumed over 250,000 acres of forest with an estimated cost of 113 million dollars.

·         Acadia National Park: Acadia has ground-level ozone levels that exceed air quality standards. Hotter temperatures promote the formation of ozone in the area. Ozone, a respiratory irritant that can affect the health of tourists and animals in the park, is known to reduce growth in white pine as measured by tree rings. The park is also experiencing a shorter winter season which affects snow cover and snowmelt, having a direct effect on ecosystems and tourism activities. In the past century, the amount of rainfall and heavy storms has increased over 60 percent in the Northeast, affecting roads, trails and unique carriage roads. Carriage roads were constructed under the supervision of John D. Rockefeller and are important to the history of the park. Acadia is also a hotspot for atmospheric mercury deposition and accumulation. Mercury can be found in all levels of the food chain and it can lead to slower growth rates in species such as the tree swallow.

·         Rocky Mountain National Park: Milder winters in Rocky Mountain National Park are putting pressure on cold-weather wildlife. White-tailed ptarmigans depend on deep snow to survive and due to earlier and warmer springs, their offspring are hatching earlier. Premature hatchlings are vulnerable to low food supplies and temperature swings, which has resulted in a population decline. Warming temperatures also present a threat to wildflowers in the Park by impacting the timing of their blooming season. As with other parks, Rocky Mountain National Park has seen shifts in species distribution due to higher temperatures. For example, the low elevation Douglas fir has been documented at higher elevations.

(Sources: Harris, T.B., N. Rajakaruna, S.J. Nelson, and P.D. Vaux. 2012. Stressors and Threats to the Flora of Acadia National Park, Maine: Current Knowledge, Information Gaps, and Future Directions. The Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 139(3):323-344. Yosemite Association. 2006. Climate Change and Fire in Yosemite National Park. Yosemite 68(3):3-5 pp. and Moritz, C., J.L. Patton, C.J. Conroy, J.L. Parra, G.C. White, S.R. Beissinger. 2008. Impact of a Century of Climate Change on Small-Mammal Communities in Yosemite National Park, USA. Science 322(10):261-264. and Guarín, A. and A.H. Taylor. 2005. Drought Triggered Tree Mortality in Mixed Conifer Forest in Yosemite National Park, California, USA. Forest and Ecology Management 218:229-244. and. and Logan, J.A. and W.W. MacFarlane. Beetle Devastates Yellowstone Whitebark Pine Forests. Accessed 20 September 2013. and National Park Service. Air Pollution Impacts. Accessed online 20 September 2013.  and National Park Service. Climate Change and the Red Cheek Salamander. Accessed online 18 September 2013,  and Public Broadcasting Service. America’s Best Idea. Accessed online 19 September 2013 and Pederson, Gregory T., Julio L. Betancourt and Gregory J. McCabe, 2013, “Regional patterns and proximal causes on the recent snowpack decline in the Rocky Mountains, U.S.,” Geophysical Research Letters, 40:1-6 and Wilmers, C.C. and W.M. Getz. 2005. Gray Wolves as Climate Change Buffers in Yellowstone. PLoS Biol 3(4): e92 and B. Finley. Colorado Scientist Study Ptarmigans as Bellwethers of Climate Change. Accessed online 20 September 2013 and Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Climate Report: Restoring Watersheds. Accessed online 20 September 2013 and Schaming T. Importance of Whitebark Pines and Clark’s Nutcrackers in Western Ecosystems. Accessed online 20 September 2013.) 

Climate in the News: “African Dust Storms in Our Air: Dust Storms in Africa Affect U.S. and the Caribbean's Air Quality” Science Daily, September 18, 2013 — 

You might find it hard to believe that dust from the African Sahara can travel thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, but it does every year and in large quantities.

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