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Climate change report reveals risks to Grand Canyon

Visitors crowd together on a fenced cliff edge, with the rosy and purple layers of the Grand Canyon in the background
National Park Service
Mather Point

The National Park Service released a report on climate change in the Grand Canyon that projects a warmer, drier future for the iconic national park.

The study’s authors analyzed climate records dating back to 1895 and found a sharp acceleration in warming temperatures beginning in the 1970s. Climate models projecting the future see the temperatures continue to rise by 2 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by midcentury.

Park Service ecologist David Lawrence, one of the authors, says, "Climate change is happening now. We’re already seeing its effects… and using climate projections we can see that many of these effects will continue if not increase in magnitude."

Those effects include drier soil, reduced snowpack, lower flows in the Colorado River, more wildfires, and challenges for native trees, birds, butterflies, and fish.

Garrison Loope of Grand Canyon National Park points to rising health risks for humans. "We already have a pretty long season where hikers are at risk from heat, and yeah, we expect that to broaden out across the spring and fall."

Loope says the park is adapting to climate change with preventative search & rescue rangers advising visitors of heat risks and plans to diversify the South Rim’s water source.

Read the report here.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.