Case Study: Climate Change and Recreation

The Importance of Winter Snow

Winter ski trails in Idaho
While climate change may seem distant and far away for many people, winter sports enthusiasts in the Northern Hemisphere are already aware of climate change's impacts on their winter recreation opportunities. People who love the winter sportsskiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice-skatingare reporting shorter sporting seasons that start later and end earlier each year.

What will the future bring for these outdoor sports? Should you invest in skiing or skating lessons for your children or grand children? Does it make sense to develop new trails for Nordic skiing and snowmobiling? How can the ski resorts adapt so that they can stay in business beyond 2050?

Rafting the Grand Canyon of the Colorado
Changing seasonal patterns involve more than just winter. Over the past several decades, scientists and observers have noted that even as snow and ice coverage is decreasing across the northern latitudes, it is also melting earlier in the spring, affecting runoff to local rivers and streams. Less snow that also melts earlier means less runoff in the summer months, when irrigation water is needed for agriculture. These impacts are also changing water-based recreation activities as rivers, lakes and reservoirs become unnavigable for some groups of boaters and the water becomes too warm or too shallow for some fish habitats.

Run-off from Grinnell Glacier summer 2004. Glaciologists predict that there will be no remaining glaciers in Glacier National Park by the year 2030.
Photos on this page courtesy of Betsy Youngman.

Since much of the world's fresh water supply for drinking and farming depends on this frozen storage system, it is a significant topic to explore and understand. In this chapter, you will use a Global Climate Model (GCM) specifically adapted for Education, EdGCM, to discover the impact of climate change and increasing surface temperatures on the Northern Hemisphere's snow and ice cover.