2017 Challenge Problem: From Sea to Shining Sea: Looking ahead with the National Park Service

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Don't forget to tune in for the live text-chat with Problem Author Dr. Neil Nicholson in the "Comments" section below!

The National Park System of the United States comprises 417 official units covering more than 84 million acres. The 100-year old U.S. National Park Service (NPS) is the federal bureau within the Department of the Interior responsible for managing, protecting, and maintaining all units within the National Park system, including national parks, monuments, seashores, and other historical sites.

Global change factors such as climate are likely to affect both park resources and visitor experience [1] and, as a result, the NPS’s mission to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” Your team can provide insight and help strategize with the NPS as it starts its second century of stewardship of our nation’s park system.
  1. TIDES OF CHANGE —Build a mathematical model to determine a sea level change risk rating of high, medium, or low for each of the five parks below for the next 10, 20, and 50 years.

    Acadia National Park, Maine
    Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
    Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
    Olympic National Park, Washington
    Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

    You may use provided data on sea level to build the model. Explain your interpretation of high, medium, and low. Could your model realistically predict those levels for the next 100 years?

  2. THE COAST IS CLEAR?—In addition to the phenomena listed above, the NPS is investigating the effects of all climate-related events on coastal park units. Develop a mathematical model that is capable of assigning a single climate vulnerability score to any NPS coastal unit. Your model should take into account both the likelihood and severity of climate-related events occurring in the park within the next 50 years. Some or all of the provided data may be used to assign scores to the five national park units identified in Question 1.

  3. LET NATURE TAKE ITS COURSE?—NPS works to achieve its mission with limited financial resources that may vary from year to year. In the event that costs—such as those caused by climate-related events—exceed revenues and funding, NPS must prioritize where to spend monies.

    Consider incorporating visitor statistics and your vulnerability scores (and possibly other variables that may be considered priorities) to create a new model that predicts long-term changes in visitors for each park. Use this output to advise NPS where future financial resources should go.

DATA - This year, teams were given data to assist in their tackling of the problem. Check the data out here.

[1] National Park Service (NPS). National Park Service Climate Change Response Strategy. Fort Collins, CO: National Park Service Climate Change Response Program; 2010.

Problem author: Dr. Neil Nicholson, North Central College​