The Spatial Footprint and Frequency of Historic Snow Droughts in Yellowstone

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Yellowstone Science


National Park Service


In the face of climate change and increasing human pressures, monitoring and characterizing environmental change is increasingly important in national parks and protected areas (Hansen and Phillips 2018). Regional measurements of snowpack are a critical vital sign (see “Vital Signs Monitoring is Good Medicine for Parks,” this issue) both for monitoring ecosystem health and anticipating future water availability. Snowpack represents accumulated cool-season water storage that, if kept cool, is slowly released as summer meltwater which maintains ecosystems and replenishes reservoirs that sustain society. Western snowpacks have been shrinking since around 1950 due to warmer temperatures resulting from human-caused climate change (Fyfe et al. 2017). Future climate projections indicate this trend will continue throughout the 21st century (Mankin and Diffenbaugh 2015). In Yellowstone National Park (YNP), deep snowpacks and subsequent meltwaters contribute substantially to the flow of the Missouri, Colorado, and Columbia rivers, making a “snow drought” or period of abnormally low snowpack in this region a serious threat to ecosystems and water supplies for much of the West (Tercek et al. 2015).


Environmental Monitoring | Environmental Sciences | Physical Sciences and Mathematics



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