UNC-CHAPEL HILL (US) — Peak visitation at US national parks is four days earlier on average than 30 years ago, one example of how global warming may be influencing people’s “weather-related” behavior.
A new study published in the International Journal of Biometeorology finds that of nine parks that experienced significant increases in mean spring temperatures since 1979, seven also saw shifts in the timing of peak attendance.
For example, peak attendance at Grand Canyon National Park shifted from July 4 in 1979 to June 24 in 2008. Peak attendance at Mesa Verde National Park changed from July 10 to July 1. In contrast, of the 18 parks without significant temperature changes, only three exhibited attendance shifts.
“While the public continues to debate whether global warming is real, it appears that they are already adjusting their behavior,” says Lauren Buckley, assistant biology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Visiting parks earlier may not be a big deal, but it may serve as a bellwether for more severe human adjustments required to cope with climate change.
“We can’t say for sure that global warming is causing this swing in visitation trends. But this discovery does complement rapidly accumulating evidence showing how other organisms have had to alter their behavior in response to climate change. National and state park agencies may need to plan for shifts in when users and tourists visit, as well as how wildlife respond to changes in the environment.”
Buckley acknowledged that other factors—such as population changes, economic trends, park popularity, and travel costs—influence park visitor numbers, but those elements are more likely to have an impact on total annual visits, rather than affect the timing and size of trends at the monthly and seasonal scale, as observed in the current study.
The findings highlight a long-term, chronic shift in human behavior, she says. Existing studies related to global warming and human behavior have mainly focused on the potential impact of extreme events and disasters, such as droughts and floods.
Buckley also is investigating whether climate change is driving alterations in other aspects of human behavior, from consumption of certain types of seasonal foods to shifts in birth rates.
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