Article

Parks as Proving Grounds: Research Tools and Techniques

Jeff Rasic, National Park Service
Guest Editor

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A man high on an antennae on top of a snowy mountain.
Denali ranger servicing a high-altitude (14,200’) weather station at Kahiltna Glacier on Denali. This is the highest-elevation weather station in Alaska and is maintained year-round as a collaborative project of the Central Alaska Inventory & Monitoring Network and the Denali mountain rescue team.

NPS/Michael Loso

Alaska’s national parks are laboratories for scientific research and monitoring, but they present special challenges to scientists. Alaska’s parklands are typically large, remote, and little-studied compared to conservation lands in more populated and developed regions. Just getting to a base camp from which to mount a scientific study in most Alaskan parks can be a costly endeavor requiring travel in boats and small aircraft, followed by lengthy stays in remote camps, and requiring an ability to work detached from the power and data grid.

This, of course, represents not only a challenge, but also rewarding opportunities. Swapping an office cubicle and a constant stream of email for a quiet camp in a mountain meadow or coastal bay no doubt makes for an incredible workplace. More importantly, the exceptional natural and cultural resources in parklands represent special opportunities for novel research and an encouraging mandate to conduct the work in practical, effective, and impactful ways. This places an especially high premium on the use of the right tools and best methods for research and monitoring. Sometimes this means new, cutting-edge technologies that minimize impacts to resources or visitor experience. Other times it means, simple, tried-and-true methods that are guaranteed to deliver results when a follow-up visit to a study site is impractical.

This volume of Alaska Park Science highlights a wide range of high and low tech, of novel and well-tested methods, and in all cases demonstrates the unparalleled collection of data about the natural and cultural resources preserved in Alaska’s national parks, preserves, and historical parks.

Last updated: June 1, 2021