Yellowstone National Park, the world’s largest park, has an estimated 8 million visitors annually.
But the park has seen a rise in human-caused climate change and the park is facing a potential extinction.
In the meantime, the Glacier National Park in Montana is home to an estimated 1.4 million visitors a year.
But, the park’s ice shelf is shrinking and scientists warn that the glacier’s thinning ice shelves could eventually become a major problem for the park.
“If we have a sudden increase in the glacier ice shelves that are going to be catastrophic,” says James C. Taylor, a glaciologist at the University of Montana, “they’re going to cause huge losses.”
A large chunk of the glacier is in a position to lose more than half its mass by 2100, according to Taylor, who is the co-author of a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience.
“That means the ice shelves are shrinking by around one-third in the next two decades,” he said.
Taylor and his colleagues have modeled how melting ice shelves in Yellowstone could lead to an increase in meltwater runoff into streams, lakes and rivers that supply the park with drinking water and recreation opportunities.
And while Taylor acknowledges that it is too soon to know if this might happen, he says there are a few ways the park could prepare.
First, the glaciers themselves could be strengthened.
This would require adding large ice shelves to a caldera.
“You need to add a lot of the calderas to the ice shelf,” Taylor said.
Second, the parks could reduce its summer ice cover by removing trees and other vegetation and planting a new forest canopy.
Third, the glacier could be increased in thickness by removing some of the ice from its edges.
“The edge of the edge of a glacier can melt and the ice can melt,” Taylor explained.
“It’s like a big ice cream cone, and that’s where it’s going to go.”
He says the ice could be more than 50 meters thick, which could make it difficult to access for recreational purposes.
“So, it’s a question of how many of those can be done?”
He added, “We’re not sure how the glacier will look like 20 years from now.”
The Glacier National Parks Conservancy is leading a national effort to protect the park from future melt.
The group is working with other groups and is looking to develop a new plan to keep the glaciers and park open.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re not taking a step back,” Taylor told The Washington Post.
“In order to keep this park safe, we’ve got a lot to learn about how to do this safely.”