Earthwatch Expedition: Protecting Nature in Acadia National Park

Climate Change

Climate Change: Sea to Trees at Acadia National Park

How is a national treasure being reshaped by the changing climate? Help scientists search for clues in Acadia National Park.

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The facts

Why the research is important

Why the research is important

Help researchers add to over 120 years of data, revealing how our reliance on fossils fuels is affecting one of America’s most beautiful places.

Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is contributing to warming temperatures and ocean acidification. It is also beginning to change the timing of when various species depend on each other’s resources or services.

Get a detailed look at environmental change in Acadia National Park. You’ll examine the impacts of three phenomena—warming temperatures, mercury pollution, and ocean acidification—on plants and wildlife, on land, in ponds, and within the intertidal zone.


A team member collects a soil sample.

Changes in temperature and precipitation are now known to cause shifts in when flowers bloom, and subsequent changes in when those flowers become fruit. Those shifts, in turn, may lead to a flower blooming before its main pollinator arrives on the scene, or make it harder for birds to find the fruits when they need them. These are called “ecological mismatches”, and scientists are just now trying to decipher what this means for natural communities.

The burning of coal also deposits mercury in ponds, and it works its way up the food chain. Though by definition, dragonfly larvae are an immature stage of the fast-flying aerial predators that we see as adults, these “youngsters” are also near the top of some aquatic foods chains. As dragonflies spend most of their life as larvae, toxins accumulate in their bodies. You will assist scientists in collecting these larvae for analysis of mercury content.

Lastly, as carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, the ocean does what it has always done and absorbs much of that gas. Without this service, CO2 levels would be much higher, and temperatures would be much hotter. However, CO2 in the water leads to higher levels of acidity. For many shell-bearing creatures in the intertidal zone (and beyond), this means shell structure may be compromised, leading to lower survival rates for these organisms. The increased acidification can also cause changes in important behaviors, such as an organism’s ability to detect predators. All of this combined is likely to lead to changes in the structure of marine communities.

These changes are important both ecologically and economically, as the Acadia region relies on natural resources and tourism for much of its economy. Help scientists and Schoodic Institute reveal how all these connections are being influenced by a changing climate.

About the research area

Acadia National Park, Maine, United States, North America & Arctic

Daily life in the field


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The Scientists


Director of Programs, Schoodic Institute

ABOUT Erika Rowland

Dr. Erika Rowland is a climate change ecologist and conservation scientist, who most recently served in the North America Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). She is a skilled facilitator and communicator who has helped to shape responses to climate change in landscapes across the continent, through diverse activities that include science support for the Climate Adaptation Fund administered by WCS and funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. She has also worked as a senior research specialist at the University of Arizona and as the conservation lands manager for Blue Hill Heritage Trust.


Accommodations and Food

Accommodations and Food


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