Protect Our Parks

How will Climate Change Affect Yellowstone in 100 Years?

Things will die off. Other things will come in. Yellowstone could go from a forest to a sagebrush prairie. Draught could affect the geysers.

Mammoth Hot Springs Upper Terrace.
Public Domain Photo by Jon Sullivan

Has Yellowstone National Park’s climate change over time? According to park officials, yes.

“There are roughly 80-100 days more per year above freezing than there were in the mid sixties” says Mike Tereck of the National Park Service

In the next 100 years, we will see less snowpack. This snow feeds the rivers and geysers. As a result, geothermal features like Old Faithful could erupt less often. There are already geyser eruption patterns that have changed. As park superintendent Dan Wenk notes, geothermal systems are dynamic. Thirty-one years ago, Echinus Geyser was his favorite because it erupted frequently. Today, it erupts a couple of times a month.

Animal migrations, hibernation, and predator behaviors will change when greening happens earlier and winter temperatures happen later.

With less rain and snow, fire patterns change. Yellowstone could possibly have a fire every three to five years in the scale of the one that happened in 1988.

Ann Rodman, physical sciences branch of the National Park Service is worried that the timing of the seasons “has a cascading effect through the whole ecosystem. The part that we’re really paying attention to is how fast that is going to happen.”

“Things will die off,” he says. “Other things will come in.”

What does this mean? It could be major landscape changes over the long term. Instead of seeing a forest in Yellowstone, you might see a sagebrush prairie.