The Appalachian Trail is a megatransect across the mountains from Georgia to Maine.
Megatransect stretches across the Smokies
What’s a megatransect? A transect is a line through space—be it a forest, ocean, or mountain range—along which scientists take samples and observations. A megatransect is a very, very long line. In this case, Smokies fisheries biologists Steve Moore and Matt Kulp, air quality specialist Jim Renfro, and the park service’s Northeast Water Resources Division are teaming up to monitor high elevation water quality and pollutant deposition levels using an already established long-distance transect: the Appalachian Trail. This trail traverses 2178 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine: the backbone of the Appalachian Mountains. Along the way, it reaches unique ecosystems, from the highest peaks of the Smoky Mountains, long ridges of North Carolina and Virginia, dense woodlands of western Massachusetts, and windy mountains of Maine. Comparing water quality and pollution problems along it will be the first study of its kind, and will reveal current and potential problems facing protected area managers.
Training volunteers for water quality
On February 20, fisheries managers held their annual training session/refresher for water quality sampling volunteers. This crew of water enthusiasts, who started in 1993 as a group of Trout Unlimited volunteers, take samples every other month of Smokies stream water for chemical testing. Their work throughout the park helps us understand how much acid deposition our streams and waterways receive, data trends and identify streams park flora and fauna may be harmed. Acid deposition is a severe problem in the Great Smoky Mountains; burning fossil fuels and automobiles produce sulfates and nitrates that fall as precipitation, settle in dry particles, and hang in highly acidic fog over the mountains.
NPS Water Resources Division Meeting
Fisheries managers also took part in a service-wide meeting involving hydrologists, aquatic ecologists, and other fisheries biologists from the U.S. Geological Survey and NPS. The scientists discussed water quality and quantity issues for protected areas, emerging contaminants, and aquatic nuisance species that might threaten aquatic life.
Spreading the word about water and fish
Fisheries biologists Steve Moore and Matt Kulp have visited local agencies, civic groups and schools to update them on fisheries monitoring and research going on in the park. Within the last two months, they have spoken to groups at the Tennessee Valley Authority, American Fisheries Society, Trout Unlimited and local colleges.
Ongoing project promises cleaner water
Research and modeling to figure out critical pollution loads continue. Park fisheries biologists, air quality specialist Jim Renfro and Division Chief Nancy Finley are collaborating with Charlie Driscoll at Syracuse University to figure out how much air pollution is too much when it comes to keeping Smokies’ streams clean. While some burning of fossil fuels is necessary to power the factories, cars, and other tools we have today, too much pushes local waterways over the limit from clean, good habitat to “impaired,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The research will help determine "critical loads" or the maximum amounts of pollution that can be deposited into the park without impacting park species.
Remotely sensing the missing link
This isn’t as cryptic as it sounds. Fisheries biologist Steve Moore is working with park contractors to monitor construction on a section of the Foothills Parkway near Walland, TN. Using remote sensing, Moore can tell how much sediment the construction is depositing in local waterways; the park is required to keep an eye on this for the health of streams and to follow state standards for water quality. This section of the Parkway is called the missing link because it is the last piece of a long scenic strip to be completed; when construction is done in the future, drivers and bikers will be able to travel on a park service roadway from Hwy 129, near Maryville, all the way to I-40 near Cosby.
NIMBioS in Knoxville
NIMBioS (you can pronounce it “NYM-bee-ohss”) is a newly launched national science and mathematics collaborative project. Based locally in Knoxville (and with offices around the country), it stands for National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis. Its scientists are considering taking part in monitoring the effects of acid deposition on fish and invertebrates in the Smokies. The project aims to collect long-term monitoring data, as well as conduct comprehensive analysis on existing monitoring data from park efforts. Over time, it will help us better understand links between human systems outside the park and the biotic systems within.
What is NIMBioS, nationwide? In the words of Director Louis Gross, “We intend to build at NIMBioS the infrastructure needed to develop and evaluate the "scientific stories" we tell to better understand nature and project the implications of our actions affecting biological systems at all scales. Along the way, we are certain to find that new mathematical and computational methods are needed and NIMBioS offers, particularly through access to some of the most powerful high performance computational facilities anywhere, opportunities for mathematical and computational scientists to build new cooperative endeavors with biologists.”
Click here to go to the NIMBioS home page.
Return to Resource Roundup: January-March, 2010.