GARY | Dr. Patrick Gonzalez has seen the tangible effects of climate change on national parks and wants people to take action to prevent further degradation.
Gonzalez, a climate change scientist with the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., recently stood on a ledge at a New Zealand national park above a glacier next to scratches the glacier made a century ago.
"Climate change has melted 160 meters (524 feet) in a century," Gonzalez said. "That's about the height of the Washington Monument."
Gonzalez addressed more than 100 scientists and activists from universities, museums, government agencies and nonprofit organizations gathered Wednesday at Indiana University Northwest for a daylong Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore science conference.
Studies have shown human-caused climate change at Yosemite National Park increased the temperature by 6 degrees Celsius from 1914 to 2006 and shifted plant and animal species upslope 492 feet, Gonzalez said. The sea level at Golden Gate National Recreation Area is up a foot from 1855 levels, and tree mortality at Rocky Mountain National Park has doubled since 1955 — all due to human-caused climate change, Gonzalez said.
At the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the temperature increased about 0.6 degrees Celsius per century and precipitation rose 16 percent per century, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez predicts temperatures at the National Lakeshore will rise by as much as 4.8 degrees Celsius in the next century and precipitation will rise by as much as 6 percent if people don't change their greenhouse-gas-causing habits.
Vegetation at the National Lakeshore would shift northward 62 miles, meaning the loss of conifers such as white pine and jack pine, he said.
Gonzalez urged those attending the conference to "take personal action to reduce climate change." Gonzalez said he does not own a car and used public transportation exclusively to get from his home in Washington, D.C., to his hotel in Merrillville for the conference.
"It's possible for us to live a lot of our lives in a way that reduces the impact on climate change," he said.
Gonzalez said the human-caused climate change is driving decision-making processes in the National Park Service.
"This changes the fundamental basis upon which we manage our remarkable resources," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said the National Park Service is issuing a climate change action plan "very soon."
Constantine Dillon, superintendent of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, said science has always been at the heart of the park.
"It is the biological diversity of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore compacted into such a small area that makes it worthy of national significance," Dillon said. "The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has science as one of the core reasons why the park was established in the first place."