Climate Change in White Sands National Park, New Mexico

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

White Sands National Park was originally a National Monument in 1933 and was re-designated as a National Park only in 2019. White Sands lays at the heart of the Tularosa Basin and wave-like dunes of gypsum sand have engulfed 275 square miles of desert, creating the world’s largest gypsum dunefield.

How did White Sands National Park form?

Watch this 4-minute video by the National Park Services:
Video: Geology Ranger Minute
Ranger Eugene talks about how the dunefield formed at White Sands National Monument. Learn how the conditions in the Tularosa Basin are perfectly unique for the creation of gypsum sand.

The role of water at White Sands National Park

Water plays a pivotal role in forming White Sands. Without water and wind there wouldn’t be a White Sands National Park. Even today new sand is formed by rain and snow-melt flowing down from the surrounding mountains and fill Lake Lucero with water containing dissolved gypsum. When the water evaporates, small selenite crystals form on the surface of the Lake Lucero and Alkali Flat.
Watch this 3-minute video from the National Park Services about the role of water at White Sands:
Video: Science in Parks: White Sands National Monument
Discover the role of water in the existence of the dunefield.

How does Climate Change affect White Sands National Park?

As we just discovered, water plays an important role in the ecosystem of White Sands National Park, water is what keeps the dunes in place. Wet sediment is just below the surface of the dunes and groundwater only a few feet below.
With the expected continued increase in temperature due to climate change, we may see higher water evaporation and lower water table under the dunes. This will reduce soil moisture that stabilizes the dunes and will allow for easier movements of the dunes with wind across large areas. Flooding may also be reduced, which is essential for gypsum growth, so we may see less gypsum sand in the future.
More information about climate change in White Sands National Park from the National Park Service.

What can we do to reduce effects of climate change?

As stewards of our nature, we should always follow the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace when we visit our national parks. Use refillable water bottles and pack your lunch in reusable containers to eliminate waste.
Volunteer with a national park, state park, or other nature preserves in the area where you live. Not only will you learn about your local ecosystem, but you will most likely make new friends. To volunteer with White Sands National Park, please visit White Sands National Park Volunteer Opportunities.
For broader national impact on climate change, get involved in civic action. Write to your local representatives to demand action on climate change and vote for politicians who make climate change a priority.
Enjoy our nature & help protect it.