Air quality at Bandelier National Monument
Most visitors expect clean air and clear views in parks. Bandelier National Monument (NM), New Mexico, is home to rugged and beautiful canyon and mesa country as well as evidence of a human presence going back over 11,000 years. However, both local and distant air pollutant sources—including power plants, oil and gas development and production activities, and the Santa Fe and Albuquerque metropolitan areas—can degrade air quality at the park. Air pollutants blown into the park can harm natural and scenic resources such as soils, surface waters, plants, wildlife, and visibility. The National Park Service works to address air pollution effects at Bandelier NM, and in parks across the U.S., through science, policy and planning, and by doing our part.
Many visitors come to Bandelier NM to enjoy views of the Jemez Mountains, steep-walled canyons of the Rio Grande, and evidence of ancient cultures. Park vistas are sometimes obscured by haze, reducing how well and how far people can see. Visibility reducing haze is caused by tiny particles in the air, and these particles can also affect human health. Many of the same pollutants that ultimately fall out as nitrogen and sulfur deposition contribute to this haze. Organic compounds, soot, fires, and dust storms reduce visibility as well. Significant improvements in park visibility have been documented since the 1990’s. Still, visibility in the park needs improvement to meet the Clean Air Act goal of no human caused impairment.Visibility effects:
- Reduced visibility, at times, due to human-caused haze and fine particles of air pollution, including dust;
- Reduction of the average natural visual range from about 175 miles (without pollution) to about 120 miles because of pollution at the park;
- Reduction of the visual range to below 80 miles on high pollution days.
At ground level, ozone is harmful to human health and the environment. Ground-level ozone does not come directly from smokestacks or vehicles, but instead is formed when other pollutants, mainly nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, react in the presence of sunlight.
Over the course of a growing season, ozone can damage plant tissues making it harder for plants to produce and store food. It also weakens plants making them less resistant to disease and insect infestations. A risk assessment that considered ozone exposure, soil moisture, and sensitive plant species concluded that plants in Bandelier NM were at low risk of ozone injury (Kohut 2004). However, estimated ozone concentrations and cumulative doses at the park are high enough to damage the leaves of sensitive vegetation under certain conditions (NPS 2010; Binkley et al. 1997). North of Bandelier NM at Rocky Mountain National Park, scientists found that in moist areas along streams and seeps, plants may keep stomates on their leaves open more often, allowing ozone uptake and injury (Kohut et al. 2012). Some plants are more sensitive to ozone than others. Ozone sensitive plant species at the park include Apocynum androsaemifolium (Spreading dogbane), Rhus trilobata (skunkbush), and Rudbeckia laciniata (cut-leaf coneflower). Search for more ozone-sensitive plant species found at Bandelier NM.
Visit the NPS air quality conditions and trends website for park-specific ozone information.
Nitrogen and sulfur
Nitrogen and sulfur compounds deposited from the air may have harmful effects, including acidification, on soils, lakes, ponds, and streams. Ecosystem sensitivity to acidification at Bandelier NM relative to other national parks is high (Sullivan et al. 2011c; Sullivan et al. 2011d). Streams in the Jemez Mountain region are well-buffered from acidification. But, smaller streams with steep-sided canyon walls have limited ability to retain nutrients and water or buffer acidic run-off (Binkley et al. 1997). Also, some plants are sensitive to acidification, search for acid-sensitive plant species found at Bandelier NM.
In addition, excess nitrogen can lead to nutrient enrichment, a process that changes nutrient cycling and alters plant communities. Ecosystem sensitivity to nutrient enrichment at Bandelier NM relative to other national parks is high (Sullivan et al. 2011a; Sullivan et al. 2011b). Studies from nearby ecosystems show that increases in nitrogen promote the spread of fast-growing non-native annual grasses (e.g., cheatgrass) and forbs (e.g., Russian thistle) at the expense of native species (Brooks 2003; Schwinning et al. 2005; Allen et al. 2009). This can lead to increased fire risk (Rao et al. 2010). In addition, weed density increases in post-fire environments with higher soil nitrogen levels (Floyd-Hanna et al. 2004). While these impacts have not been studied at Bandelier NM, nitrogen deposition in the park is at levels known to affect diversity of plants and lichens (Pardo et al. 2011). The 2011 Las Conchas Fire at Bandelier NM burned over 75% of the Frijoles Canyon watershed, further impacting the park’s waterways and susceptibility to acidification and nutrient enrichment.
Healthy ecosystems can naturally buffer a certain amount of pollution, but as nitrogen and sulfur accumulate, a threshold is passed where the ecosystem is harmed. “Critical load” is a term used to describe the amount of pollution above which harmful changes in sensitive ecosystems occur (Porter 2005). Nitrogen deposition exceeds the critical load for one or more park ecosystems (NPS ARD 2018).
Visit the NPS air quality conditions and trends website for park-specific nitrogen and sulfur deposition information. Bandelier NM has been monitoring nitrogen and sulfur since 1983. Explore air monitoring »
Allen, E. B., L. E. Rao, R. J. Steers, A. Bytnerowicz, and M. E. Fenn. 2009. Impacts of atmospheric nitrogen deposition on vegetation and soils in Joshua Tree National Park. Pages 78-100 in R. H. Webb, L. F. Fenstermaker, J. S. Heaton, D. L. Hughson, E. V. McDonald, and D. M. Miller, editors. The Mojave Desert: ecosystem processes and sustainability. University of Nevada Press, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.
Binkley, D., C. Giardina, I. Dockersmith, D. Morse, M. Scruggs, K. Tonnessen. 1997. Status of Air Quality and Related Values in Class I National Parks and Monuments of the Colorado Plateau. National Park Service, Air Resources Division, Denver, Colorado. Chapter 4: Bandelier National Monument. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/585485.
Brooks, M. L. 2003. Effects of increased soil nitrogen on the dominance of alien annual plants in the Mojave Desert. Journal of Applied Ecology. 40:344-353.
Floyd-Hanna, L., Hanna, D., Romme, W. H., Crews, T. 2004. Non-native invasions following fire in Southwestern Colorado: Long-term effectiveness of mitigation treatments and future predictions. Joint Fire Science Program, product number 1496–BLM2–454.
Kohut, B. 2004. Assessing the Risk of Foliar Injury from Ozone on Vegetation in Parks in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2181544.
Kohut R.J. 2007. Ozone Risk Assessment for Vital Signs Monitoring Networks, Appalachian National Scenic Trail, and Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail. NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRTR—2007/001. National Park Service. Fort Collins, Colorado. Available at https://www.nps.gov/articles/ozone-risk-assessment.htm.
Kohut, B., C. Flanagan, E. Porter, J. Cheatham. 2012. Foliar Ozone Injury on Cutleaf Coneflower at Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Western North American Naturalist 72(1): 32-42.
[NPS] National Park Service. 2010. Air Quality in National Parks: 2009 Annual Performance and Progress Report. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR–2010/266. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/662783.
Pardo, L. H., M. J. Robin-Abbott, C. T. Driscoll, eds. 2011. Assessment of Nitrogen deposition effects and empirical critical loads of Nitrogen for ecoregions of the United States. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS–80. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 291 p. Available at: http://nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/38109.
Porter, E., Blett, T., Potter, D.U., Huber, C. 2005. Protecting resources on federal lands: Implications of critical loads for atmospheric deposition of nitrogen and sulfur. BioScience 55(7): 603–612. https://doi.org/10.1641/0006-3568(2005)055[0603:PROFLI]2.0.CO;2
Rao, L. E., E. B. Allen, and T. Meixner. 2010. Risk-based determination of critical nitrogen deposition loads for fire spread in southern California deserts. Ecological Applications 20: 1320-1335.
Schwinning, S., B. I. Starr, N. J. Wojcik, M. E. Miller, J. E. Ehleringer, R. L. Sanford. 2005. Effects of nitrogen deposition on an arid grassland in the Colorado plateau cold desert. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 58: 565-574.
Sullivan, T. J., McDonnell, T. C., McPherson, G. T., Mackey, S. D., Moore, D. 2011a. Evaluation of the sensitivity of inventory and monitoring national parks to nutrient enrichment effects from atmospheric nitrogen deposition: main report. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR—2011/313. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at https://www.nps.gov/articles/nitrogen-risk-assessment.htm
Sullivan, T. J., McDonnell, T. C., McPherson, G. T., Mackey, S. D., Moore, D. 2011b. Evaluation of the sensitivity of inventory and monitoring national parks to nutrient enrichment effects from atmospheric nitrogen deposition: Southern Colorado Plateau Network (SCPN). Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR—2011/330. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2168742.
Sullivan, T. J., McPherson, G. T., McDonnell, T. C., Mackey, S. D., Moore, D. 2011c. Evaluation of the sensitivity of inventory and monitoring national parks to acidification effects from atmospheric sulfur and nitrogen deposition: main report. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR—2011/349. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at https://www.nps.gov/articles/acidification-risk-assessment.htm
Sullivan, T. J., McPherson, G. T., McDonnell, T. C., Mackey, S. D., Moore, D. 2011d. Evaluation of the sensitivity of inventory and monitoring national parks to acidification effects from atmospheric sulfur and nitrogen deposition: Southern Colorado Plateau Network (SCPN). Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR—2011/372. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2170600.
Sullivan T.J. 2016. Air quality related values (AQRVs) in national parks: Effects from ozone; visibility reducing particles; and atmospheric deposition of acids, nutrients and toxics. Natural Resource Report. NPS/NRSS/ARD/NRR—2016/1196. National Park Service. Fort Collins, Colorado. Available at https://www.nps.gov/articles/aqrv-assessment.htm.