PHOTOS: Climate change studied in Yellowstone

Climate change studied in Yellowstone

Yellowstone's 2.2 million carefully managed acres are among the few places left in North America to retain a virtually intact ecosystem, in a landscape where the hand of man remains light. The park's strict federal protections have maintained a refugium, where the plants and animals are largely unmolested by localized industrial pollution. That makes Yellowstone an ideal place to study the effects of climate change.

Photography by Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

MIDWAY GEYSER BASIN: Steam rises from the Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The yellow, orange and brown colors encircling the spring and lining the runoff channels are caused by thermophiles -- heat-loving microorganisms. Park officials worry that receding groundwater levels that regulate the park's geysers could soon diminish the geysers' dramatic displays.

SUNSET: The sun sets in Yellowstone's Lower Geyser Basin. Scientists are looking into the effect of climate change on the ecosystem of the park.

SNOWPACK: At the current rate of climate change it is believed that in about 50 years there will be no snowpack in the park.

BEETLE INFESTATION: Lodgepole pines that have been infested with the mountain pine beetle are dying off in large numbers at Yellowstone. The beetles are kept in check by cold winters, but the warming climate is changing that. A 50% mortality rate among mature trees is destroying grizzly bears' most important food source.

UP CLOSE: Ranger Roy Renkin checks a pine infested with mountain pine beetles. The yellow pitch is the tree trying to defend itself from the invaders.

PIKA: Ranger Kerry Murphy listens for pika, a small rabbit-like mammal, in their rocky habitat in the park. On this day he finds signs that the pika were in the rocks last winter but no signs of them now.

TROUT CREEK: Trout Creek meanders through Yellowstone's Hayden Valley. Fish that swim up river to spawn have sometimes had trouble returning downstream because of drought.

TAKING FLIGHT: A bald eagle flies above the Madison River in Yellowstone.

ON THE PROWL: A 2-year-old female grizzly hunts for food in the Dunraven Pass. In September, a federal judge ordered the region's grizzlies back on the endangered species list.

GRAZING: Bison graze in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley.

BULL ELK: A bull elk eats in an open field in Yellowstone. "We are fortunate here to have a natural laboratory that is mostly in its original state," said Ranger Kerry Murphy, a Yellowstone wildlife biologist.

GEYSER: The sun sets as tourists visit the Spasm Geyser in Yellowstone's Lower Geyser Basin.

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