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Earth Day 2021, Renewable Energy & Climate Change in the Shenandoah

image credit: Photo by Marjorie Weisskohl, All Seasons PR, LLC

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CEO All Seasons PR

Marjorie Weisskohl is CEO of All Seasons PR, a public relations firm focused on the environment and protecting the outdoors. She bring successful career experience from the U.S. Departments of...

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Well-worn hiking boots

Until a few days ago, the last time I wore these hiking boots was on February 22. An icy sleet had begun to cover the sidewalk as I walked my dog. To be safe, I had strapped on my Yaktrax and stayed on the grass near the mailboxes. Suddenly my energetic four-legged buddy lurched to sniff the grass across the sidewalk. 


Restraining my 45-pound canine, I stepped onto the ice and came crashing down on my right wrist. Now, two months post-surgery,  I’m wearing those boots again to hike on Skyline Drive in Virginia. 

My dog near the Pinnacle Overlook
on Skyline Drive.

 

 

 

 

 

  The famous Blue Ridge Mountains as seen from Big Meadows on Skyline Drive.

On April 23, one day after Earth Day, we arrived at Big Meadows on Skyline Drive, part of the Shenandoah National Park. Climate change is a research priority for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service (NPS), which manages all the national parks. Research partners from Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are studying how the seasonal timing of natural events is shifting due to climate change. The NPS website informs us about ongoing work to monitor and study conditions in the park. These include:

  • Phenology monitoring, the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life: These shifts, particularly an earlier start to spring, have already been observed in the park.
  • Greenhouse gas research: The University of Virginia is collecting data in the Pinnacles area of Shenandoah National Park to learn more about greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor.
  • Long-term data collection: The Big Meadows area has been contributing important weather information to long-term datasets for a number of years. These datasets allow climate scientists to predict what impacts climate change will have both at Shenandoah National Park and in the region.

We know from the NPS that “scientists at Shenandoah National Park have measured warmer stream temperatures in recent years, which can further stress Shenandoah’s native brook trout. As temperatures and climate conditions change at Shenandoah National Park, plants and animals may no longer be suited to living in the park. The endangered Shenandoah salamander, which is found nowhere else on the planet, is one such animal that may become a climate change casualty."

It was too early in the season to see any salamanders, but we did find beautiful streams along the forested Appalachian Trail near Big Meadows. 

A stream supports plants and animals on the Appalachian Trail.


The salamanders lay their eggs in damp logs, moss, or moist crevices in late spring or summer; one would expect a new crop of baby salamanders by fall. Because salamanders are mostly nocturnal creatures, however, they are more likely to be out at night.   

This species serves several important ecological roles, including “predation on insects and other invertebrates, soil aeration and influence on soil dynamics brought about by burrowing, and they are a food source to other forest animals. Their predation on insects also influences ecosystem processes such as decomposition.”

The NPS is working with partners to better understand the Shenandoah salamander, which is facing extinction. "Monitoring will further describe the species' range and characterize its abundance. Work is also being done to further minimize local human impact on the salamander, such as hiking and camping. In addition, major efforts are being made to understand the potential impacts of climate change on this rare species," the agency reports.

Two of the many hikers we met on the
Appalachian Trail near Milam Gap south of
Big Meadows. One couple reached their
200th mile that evening.

One can think of the Earth as a network of systems, not separate systems. While we want to enjoy hiking in our national parks, it is important to be conscious of the impact we humans have on the environment, tread lightly on it, and give back to restore healthy ecosystems.

How do we do that while addressing climate change? One answer is to look at our energy sources – transitioning from fossil-based to more  renewable energy options. It is encouraging to see solar-powered electric charging stations at parks, businesses, and elsewhere because they represent a low carbon future, except for the manufacturing process. Energy sources for manufacturing may be changing, too.

Solar panels collect energy for electric vehicle recharging stations at the
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, a USGS facility in Maryland.



President Biden’s plan to reduce greenhouse gasses that add to a warming climate envisions autoworkers building modern, efficient, electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure to support them. It envisions engineers and construction workers expanding carbon capture and green hydrogen to forge cleaner steel and cement; and farmers using cutting-edge tools to make American soil the next frontier of carbon innovation. The goal is to secure U.S. leadership on clean energy technologies while reducing greenhouse gasses.

As the nation and the world transition to lower carbon energy sources, we all have a role in protecting the environment for humans, plant, and animal life, including the little Shenandoah salamander. Many members of Energy Central are already involved in renewable energy; here are some actions mentioned in this Green America article that other people can take to fight climate change. 

Photos by Marjorie Weisskohl © All Seasons PR

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 3, 2021

It's scary to think  how the rapidly changing climate is making these real and felt changes in our backyards already-- but perhaps the silver lining is that nature lovers who previously thought climate change was too difficult or expensive to tackle will suddenly feel the impact close to home and become more likely to advocate their leaders for swift action.

Thanks for sharing your experiences, Marjorie!

Marjorie Weisskohl's picture
Marjorie Weisskohl on May 3, 2021

Great observation, Matt. Climate change is not an abstraction or something limited to the polar ends of the Earth. Its impacts can be seen in our own back yards. For folks who follow this issue, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is working on its 6th report, due to be published in 2022. More info at https://www.ipcc.ch/assessment-report/ar6/.

Per the IPCC website, "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC prepares comprehensive Assessment Reports about the state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for reducing the rate at which climate change is taking place."

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on May 5, 2021

Thanks very much for this "dose" of the real world significance of climate change.  We tend to concentrate too much on the "abstraction" and fail to notice what is right outside our window.

Great shot of the Blue Ridge Mountains too! And I hope your wrist is fully recovered.

Marjorie Weisskohl's picture
Marjorie Weisskohl on May 5, 2021

Thanks very much for your feedback, Mark. I'm a new member of EnergyCentral, invited by Matt Chester. Looking forward to being an active member of this group. And thanks for the compliment on the photo. I was really surprised how nicely it turned out, no photoshop work needed! Finally, wrist healing well. -- Margy

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