Park Air Profiles - Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve

Indian tunnel cave
Visitors come to Craters of the Moon NM & Pres to view volcanic landscapes, the Pioneer Mountains, and caves.

Air quality at Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve

Most visitors expect clean air and clear views in parks. Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve (NM & Pres), Idaho, is a volcanic landscape of lava fields and sagebrush steppe. Some nearby and regional sources of air pollution, including industrial facilities, agricultural activities, and mining operations can affect 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 Craters of the Moon NM & Pres, and in parks across the U.S., through science, policy and planning, and by doing our part.

Visibility

Sagebrush steppe and the Pioneer Mountains Clean, clear air is essential to appreciating the scenic vistas at Craters of the Moon NM & Pres.

Many visitors come to Craters of the Moon NM & Pres to view a volcanic landscape of cinder cones, lava flows, and vents. 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, dust, and wood smoke reduce visibility as well. Significant improvements in park visibility on the clearest days have been documented since the 2000’s. Still, visibility in the park is a long way from 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 160 miles (without pollution) to about 125 miles because of pollution at the park;
  • Reduction of the visual range to below 70 miles on high pollution days.

Visit the NPS air quality conditions and trends website for park-specific visibility information. Craters of the Moon NM & Pres has been monitoring visibility since 2001. Explore air monitoring »

Nitrogen and sulfur

Nitrogen and sulfur compounds deposited from the air may have harmful effects, including acidification on soils, lakes, ponds, and streams. Some plants are sensitive to acidification, search for acid-sensitive plant species found at Craters of the Moon NM & Pres.

Excess nitrogen can also lead to nutrient enrichment, a process that changes nutrient cycling and alters plant communities. Ecosystem sensitivity to nutrient nitrogen enrichment at Craters of the Moon NM & Pres relative to other national parks is moderate (Sullivan et al. 2011a; Sullivan et al. 2011b). Healthy ecosystems can naturally buffer a certain amount of pollution, but as nitrogen accumulates, 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).

Arid shrublands – covering about a third of the park – are particularly vulnerable to changes caused by nitrogen deposition. Fast-growing exotic annual grasses (e.g., cheatgrass) and forbs (e.g., Russian thistle) tend to thrive in areas with high nitrogen deposition at the expense of native plants adapted to low nitrogen conditions (Brooks 2003; Allen et al. 2009; Schwinning et al. 2005). A study of sagebrush steppe ecosystems in Craters of the Moon NM & Pres and nearby parks saw decreases of native plants in areas with high nitrogen deposition while the cover of invasive grasses increased (Allen 2013). Increased cover of non-native grasses can elevate fire risk (Rao et al. 2010). Cheatgrass is now found even in isolated and undisturbed areas of Craters of the Moon NM & Pres.

Visit the NPS air quality conditions and trends website for park-specific nitrogen and sulfur deposition information. Craters of the Moon NM & Pres has been monitoring atmospheric nitrogen and sulfur deposition since 2006. Explore air monitoring »

Ground-level ozone

Quaking Aspen trees Quaking Aspen is one of the ozone sensitive species found at Craters of the Moon NM & Pres.

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. Some plants are more sensitive to ozone than others. A risk assessment that considered ozone exposure, soil moisture, and sensitive plant species concluded that plants in Craters of the Moon NM & Pres were at low risk of damage to plant leaves (see network report: Kohut 2004). Generally, dry conditions in the park during peak ozone concentrations are likely to limit ozone uptake by plants. However along streams and seeps, where conditions are wetter, plants may have higher ozone uptake and injury (Kohut et al. 2012). Ozone sensitive plants at the park include Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon serviceberry), Apocynum androsaemifolium (spreading dogbane), and Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen). Search for more ozone-sensitive plant species found at Craters of the Moon NM & Pres.

Visit the NPS air quality conditions and trends website for park-specific ozone information. Craters of the Moon NM & Pres has been monitoring ozone since 1993. View live ozone and meteorology data, and explore air monitoring »

Mercury and toxics

Airborne mercury, and other toxic air contaminants, when deposited are known to harm birds, salamanders, fish and other wildlife, and cause human health concerns. These substances enter the food chain and accumulate in the tissues of organisms causing reduced reproductive success, impaired growth and development, and decreased survival.

Studies indicate that mercury levels are elevated in snowpack sampled in Southeastern Idaho and the surrounding region (Susong et al. 2003, Ingersoll et al. 2011). A mercury risk assessment based on water chemistry and physical parameters rated the potential for methylmercury production in the park as moderate relative to other NPS units (Krabbenhoft, In Review).

Air Resource Specialists. 2003. Addendum to the status of air quality and effects of atmospheric pollutants on ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest Region of the National Park Service. Report to the National Park Service, Air Resources Division, Denver, CO. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/App/Reference/Profile/555389.

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.

Allen, E. B. and L. H. Geiser. 2011. North American Deserts. In L.H. Pardo, M.J. Robin-Abbott and C.T. Driscoll (Eds.). Assessment of Nitrogen Deposition Effects and Empirical Critical Loads of Nitrogen for Ecoregions of the United States. General Technical Report NRS-80. U.S. Forest Service, Newtown Square, PA. pp. 133-142. Available at: http://nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/38109.

Allen, E. B. 2013. Alien Invasion: Effects of Atmospheric Nitrogen Deposition on Sagebrush Steppe Vegetation Dynamics at Upper Columbia Basin Network Parks. NPS Annual Report: 2012, PMIS #144709.

Bowman, W. D., J. S. Baron, L. H. Geiser, M. E. Fenn, E. A. Lilleskov. 2011. Northwestern Forested Mountains. In L.H. Pardo, M.J. Robin-Abbott and C.T. Driscoll (Eds.). Assessment of Nitrogen Deposition Effects and Empirical Critical Loads of Nitrogen for Ecoregions of the United States. General Technical Report NRS-80. U.S. Forest Service, Newtown Square, PA. pp. 133-142. Available at: http://nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/38109.

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.

Cummings, T., T. Blett, E. Porter, L. Geiser, R. Graw, J. McMurray, S. Perakis and R. Rochefort. 2014. Thresholds for protecting Pacific Northwest ecosystems from atmospheric deposition of nitrogen: State of knowledge report. Natural Resource Report NPS/PWRO/NRR—2014/823. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/App/Reference/Profile/2211363.

Eilers, J.M., C.L. Rose, and T.J. Sullivan. 1994. Status of air quality and effects of atmospheric pollutants on ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest Region of the National Park Service. Technical Report NPS/NRAQD/NRTR-94/160. National Park Service, Air Resources Division, Denver, CO. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/118233.

Geiser, L.H., A.R. Ingersoll, A. Bytnerowicz and S.A. Copeland. 2008. Evidence of enhanced atmospheric ammoniacal nitrogen in Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area: implications for natural and cultural resources. Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association 58: 1223-1234.

Geiser, L.H., S.E. Jovan, D.A. Glavich, M.K. Porter. 2010. Lichen-based critical loads for atmospheric nitrogen deposition in Western Oregon and Washington Forests, USA. Environmental Pollution 158(7): 2412-21.

Inouye, R. S. 2006. Effects of shrub removal and nitrogen addition on soil moisture in sagebrush steppe. Journal of Arid Environments. 65: 604–618.

Ingersoll, G. P., M. A. Mast, J. M. Swank, C. D. Campbell. 2011. Rocky Mountain snowpack physical and chemical data for selected sites, 2010: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 570, 12 p. Available at https://pubs.usgs.gov/ds/570/.

Kohut, B. 2004. Assessing the Risk of Foliar Injury from Ozone on Vegetation in Parks in the Upper Columbia Basin Network. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2181576.

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.

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: Upper Columbia Basin Network (UCBN). Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR—2011/330. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2168787.

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: Upper Columbia Basin Network (UCBN). Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR—2011/349. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2170612.

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.

Susong, D. D., M. L. Abbott, D. P. Krabbenhoft. 2003. Mercury accumulation in snow on the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory and surrounding region, southeast Idaho, USA. Environmental Geology 43: 357–363.

Last updated: October 1, 2018