Florida reef

Dear Sara,

If we were going to go on vacation, which places will be most severely affected by climate change such that they may not be around in another 20 to 30 years? I suppose the obvious places would probably include Venice … maybe Amsterdam? Or are we looking at more natural things like “the rainforest” in general, or Everglades, etc.? It’s probably way too late for the Great Barrier Reef (tragic). We don’t do much international travel anyway. Any places in the U.S. that might be permanently changed by global warming?

– Christina in Michigan

Since you ask about places to see without traveling overseas, I suggest visiting these nine tourist attractions in the continental U.S. I’ve ranked them in order from “in a bit of trouble” to “extremely endangered.”

All of the spots on this list face threats from climate change, though for the most part, they’re unlikely to cease existing during the next 20 to 30 years. The glaciers may vanish from Glacier National Park, but it will remain a spectacular destination.

The most difficult challenge in developing this list was to keep it short. Charleston (#5) is already experiencing the consequences of rising seas, but so is Miami (not listed). Jamestown Island, Virginia (#7), made the list, but other historical sites, such as the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, also face threats. Take this list not as the last word on endangered vacation destinations, but as a guide to the types of problems that climate change is creating for beloved places across the U.S.

If you grieve for these transforming and vanishing places, do what you can to tread lightly on them. And when you return from your visit, channel that sorrow into action.

– Sara

9. The Magic Kingdom near Orlando, Florida

Magic Kingdom

More than 20 million people visited the Magic Kingdom last year, making the land of Mickey and Minnie the most popular theme park in the world.

Behind the scenes, Disney officials worry that increased heat waves are making its amusement parks around the world too uncomfortable for visitors. By one estimate, daily highs in Orlando could rise above 95°F on 50 days each year by 2050 – eight times the average today. “If measures are not taken to ensure low cost alternatives for cooling and managing extreme temperatures, this will not only negatively impact our customers experience, it will also impact our ability to attract and retain visitor numbers,” the company wrote in a disclosure to CDP, a nonprofit headquartered in the U.K.

8. Wine country in California

Vineyard

California’s Mediterranean climate makes it perfect for wine production, for now. Large swathes of the state will become less suitable for growing wine grapes by 2050, according to a 2013 study. Ray of hope: Wine production won’t shut down altogether, the study’s authors wrote. The industry could adapt, for example by using more water to irrigate and cool crops – though that strategy could strain water resources in the drought-prone state.

7. Jamestown Island, Virginia

Jamestown Church
Photo: Tony Fischer

The first permanent English settlement in the New World is in danger of slipping into the sea. Sea-level rise and land subsidence could swallow archaeological sites and artifacts of Native American and early colonial life, an era popularly known for the relationship between Pocahontas and Captain John Smith. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, sea levels in the area have risen more than six inches during the past 50 years – and the rate of the rise is increasing. An additional 1.5 feet of sea-level rise would submerge more than half of Jamestown Island. Ray of hope: Experts are studying how rising waters are affecting the island, with an eye toward preserving the most vulnerable artifacts.

6. Low-elevation winter resorts in the Midwest and the Appalachians

Skier

For winter enthusiasts, skiing and snowmobiling are a way to celebrate the season and enjoy beautiful scenery. But winters are growing shorter in many regions, making it more difficult for resorts to stay financially afloat. By 2050, many winter recreation areas could face a 50 percent decline in season length, which could put them out of business. Low-elevation resorts in the Midwest and the Appalachians are likely to be hard-hit, while recreation areas in the high-altitude Rockies and Sierras will fare better, at least during the next few decades. Ray of hope: Some resorts are experimenting with warm-weather attractions, such as disc golf and zip lines, to earn money year-round.

5. Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston

This coastal Southern city is known for its architecture and Lowcountry cuisine. But street flooding is now routine in its low-lying Old and Historic District, in part the result of sea-level rise. By 2045, tidal flooding events are expected to occur 180 times each year. Ray of hope: City officials are preparing for more water by elevating roads, improving drainage, retrofitting public housing, and more.

4. Pike Place Market in Seattle

Pike Place Market

If you visit this open-air market today, you’ll see one of its most famous attractions: employees tossing fish across the counter to one another. But seafood could become less plentiful in the future. Already under pressure from overfishing and other threats, fish yields are falling as a result of ocean heating, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Science. Ocean acidification, caused as oceans absorb an increasing amount of carbon dioxide, is also a danger to shellfish. The Pacific Northwest is a U.S. hotspot for the problem. Ray of hope: Better fishery management could help sustain fish populations.

3. The Outer Banks in North Carolina

Cape Hatteras
(Photo: Outer Banks Visitors Bureau)

The Tar Heel state’s 200-mile island chain offers sandy beaches, wild horses, and iconic lighthouses. But development and sea-level rise are contributing to severe erosion that could erase some islands from the map. Some beaches just north of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse are eroding at a rate of more than 10 feet a year, according to the N.C. Division of Coastal Management. “These beaches are doomed,” Orrin Pilkey, a Duke University professor emeritus of geology, told The News & Observer in Raleigh. He urges island property owners to retreat to the mainland.

2. Glacier National Park in Montana

Grinnell Glacier
Left: The park’s Grinnell glacier in 1910 (photo: Morton Elrod). Right: The glacier in 2017 (photo: Lisa McKeon)

When it was established in 1910, this breathtaking park was home to more than 100 glaciers. By 2015, only 26 were left. All of the remaining glaciers are melting, and they’re expected to vanish sometime between 2030 and 2080. Other beloved national parks, including Yellowstone and the Everglades, are also undergoing massive transformations as the climate changes.

1. The Florida Reef, South Florida

Florida reef
(Photo: Brett Seymour, National Park Service, Submerged Resources Center)

The world’s third-largest barrier reef ecosystem is a haven for snorkelers. But overfishing and pollution have damaged the corals, leaving them ill-prepared for warming water temperatures and ocean acidification. If the world warms by 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial temperatures, some 70-90 percent of the world’s coral reefs are likely to vanish. Assuming current warming rates continue, the Earth is expected to cross that temperature threshold between 2030 and 2052. Ray of hope: Researchers have identified a way to farm corals, quickly. Those corals could be used as a stop-gap to keep reefs alive as the world brings carbon pollution under control.


Wondering how climate change could affect you or your loved ones? Send your questions to sara@yaleclimateconnections.org. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

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