Yellowstone Warming Up

Climate change is melting glaciers in the Wind River Range and making other parts of Greater Yellowstone warmer during the winter and drier during the summer, researchers say.

San Francisco State University adjunct professor of geography Healy Hamilton and Western Wyoming Community College professor of geology and anthropology Charlie Love made the comments Friday at the annual meeting of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition at Snow King Resort.

Love compared old photos of glaciers — some from newspapers from the 1920s — to contemporary photographs to show that some glaciers have receded substantially.

“The glaciers are melting so fast that, by the time some of you are my age, they won’t be there anymore,” Love said.

One glacier has melted down about 300 feet, Love said.

“We go there today, and there’s no ice left from 1922,” he said. “The timberline has climbed about 100 feet. Is that evidence of global warming? That would be evidence to me.”

The melting could impact water supplies, Love said.

“You’re melting your reservoir and you’re losing the storage capacity,” he said.

Hamilton used historical weather data from various sites around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to show that some parts of the region are getting warmer and drier while other, smaller areas are getting colder and wetter, depending on the time of year.

She looked at temperature and precipitation figures from the 1900s to the 1970s to create a baseline she used to determine how temperatures and precipitation have changed in the last 30 years. She found temperatures in the winter have warmed.

“The coldest part of January has disappeared,” she said, explaining precipitation levels in winter haven’t changed that dramatically.

Summer temperatures are about the same, but some areas are drier, she said, while fall has been wetter.

“These are all observations,” Hamilton continued. “I’m not talking about models here.”

Greater Yellowstone Coalition board chairwoman Marcia Kunstel likened Greater Yellowstone to Noah’s Ark.

“All the species that were here when Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872 are still here, and we are still trying to hold on to them,” she said. “The story of Noah does carry some lessons about the consequences of what we do.”

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