Climate change at Mount Rainier expected to increase ‘mismatch’ between visitors and iconic wildflowers
Without cuts to our carbon emissions, by the end of this century, scientists expect that snow in the subalpine meadows at Mt. Rainier will melt months earlier due to climate change. New research led by Janneke Hille Ris Lambers at the University of Washington shows that, under those conditions, many visitors would miss the flowers altogether.
The research team made this discovery using crowd-sourced photos of Mount Rainier’s subalpine meadows taken from 2009 to 2015 and uploaded to the photo-sharing site Flickr. As they report in a paper published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2015 was an unusually warm, dry year when snow melted and disappeared from the meadows about two months earlier than usual. As a result, wildflower season was shorter and arrived earlier. But Flickr photos showed that visits by people to Mount Rainier in 2015 peaked later than the flowers, after the height of wildflower season.
“We know from park surveys that the wildflowers are a major reason people visit Mt. Rainier National Park,” said lead author Ian Breckheimer, a researcher at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and Harvard University who conducted this study as a UW doctoral student in biology. “They’re an iconic resource, drawing people from around the world.”