- Air quality at Grand Teton National Park
- Related references
Air quality at Grand Teton National Park
Most visitors expect clean air and clear views in parks. Grand Teton National Park (NP), Wyoming, is home to extraordinary wildlife, beautiful mountain lakes, and the dramatic alpine terrain of the Teton Range. The park has generally good air quality but is affected by air pollution from power plants, agricultural areas, industry, and oil and gas development. Pollutants emitted from these sources can harm the park’s natural and scenic resources such as surface waters, vegetation, fish, and visibility. The National Park Service works to address air pollution effects at Grand Teton NP, and in parks across the U.S., through science, policy and planning, and by doing our part.
Nitrogen and sulfur
Nitrogen and sulfur compounds deposited from the air may have harmful effects on soils, lakes, ponds, and streams. High elevation ecosystems in the park are sensitive to sulfur and nitrogen deposition. These systems receive more deposition than lower elevation areas. They also have short growing seasons and shallow soils that limit the capacity of soils and plants to buffer or absorb sulfur and nitrogen. In high elevation lakes, acidification can cause loss of sensitive macroinvertebrates and fish species. Some plants are more sensitive to acidification than others, search for acid-sensitive plant species found at Grand Teton NP.
Excess nitrogen can also lead to nutrient enrichment, a process that changes nutrient cycling and alters plant communities. Ecosystems in the park were rated as having very high sensitivity to nutrient-enrichment effects relative to other national parks (Sullivan et al. 2011c; Sullivan et al. 2011d). In alpine plant communities excess nitrogen may favor some species at the expense of others.
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).
Researchers measure concentrations of ammonium, a nitrogen compound from regional agricultural sources, in rain and snow (wet deposition). Concentrations in or near the park are elevated and show increasing trends (NPS 2010; Ingersoll et al. 2007; Clow et al. 2003). Interestingly, research also shows higher levels of atmospheric nitrogen north of the park and lower levels to the south—a gradient reflected in nitrogen concentrations in rain and snow, soils, and plants (Van Miegroet 2010).
Visit the NPS air quality conditions and trends website for park-specific nitrogen and sulfur deposition information.
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 tissue of organisms causing reduced reproductive success, impaired growth and development, and decreased survival.
Mercury and toxics effects:
- Elevated concentrations of current-use pesticides (chlorpyrifos, endosulfans, dacthal, and lindane) found in park air and vegetation samples (Landers et al. 2010; Landers et al. 2008);
- Mercury, pesticides, and other contaminants found in high altitude lakes at the park (Krabbenhoft et al. 2002; Keteles 2010);
- Increasing concentrations of mercury in snow in the park (Ingersoll et al. 2007);
- Concentrations of current-use pesticides in air and vegetation samples were elevated compared to other national parks (Landers et al. 2010; Ingersoll et al. 2007).
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. The low levels of ozone exposure at Grand Teton NP make the risk of foliar ozone injury to plants low (Kohut 2004). However, some plants are more sensitive to ozone than others. There are a few ozone-sensitive plants in Grand Teton NP including Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen), Apocynum androsaemifolium (spreading dogbane), and Salix scouleriana (Scouler’s willow). Search additional ozone-sensitive plant species found at Grand Teton NP.
Visit the NPS air quality conditions and trends website for park-specific ozone information. Grand Teton NP has been monitoring ozone since 2011. Check out the live ozone and meteorology data from Grand Teton NP and explore air monitoring »
Visitors come to Grand Teton NP to enjoy spectacular views of the windswept peaks of the Teton Range, mountain lakes, and the Jackson Hole valley floor. 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, and dust reduce visibility as well. Significant improvements in visibility on clearest days have been documented since the late 1980’s. However, no significant trends have occurred on haziest days and regional visibility still needs improvement to reach the Clean Air Act goal of no human caused impairment.
In the region, average natural visual range is reduced from about 180 miles (without the effects of pollution) to about 140 miles because of pollution. The visual range is reduced to below 75 miles on high pollution days.
Check out the live air quality webcam and visit the NPS air quality conditions and trends website for park-specific visibility information. The NPS has been monitoring visibility at Yellowstone NP, Wyoming since 1988, these data are considered representative of regional visibility conditions for Grand Teton NP.
Baron, J. S. 2006. Hindcasting nitrogen deposition to determine an ecological critical load. Ecological Applications 16: 433–439.
Bowman, W. D. 2009. Critical loads of atmospheric N deposition in alpine vegetation in Rocky Mountain and Glacier National Parks. NPS Final Completion Report.
Clow, D. W., Sickman, J. O., Striegl, R. G., Krabbenhoft, D. P., Elliott, J. G., Dornblaser, M., Roth, D.A., and Campbell, D. H. 2003. Changes in the chemistry of lakes and precipitation in high-elevation national parks in the western United States, 1985–1999. Water Resour. Res. 39(6): 1171.
Ingersoll, G. P., Mast, M. A., Nanus, L., Handran, H. H., Manthorne, D. J., and Hultstrand, D. M. 2007. Rocky Mountain snowpack chemistry at selected sites, 2004: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2007-1045, 15 p. Available at https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2007/1045/
Keteles, K. 2010. I’m from the Government and I’m Here to Help: EPA’s Commitment to Address Contaminants of Emerging Concern. NPS Water Resource Professionals Meeting 2010. Fort Collins, CO.
Kohut, R. 2004. Assessing the Risk of Foliar Injury from Ozone on Vegetation in Parks in the Greater Yellowstone Network. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2181291.
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
Krabbenhoft, D. P., Olson, M. L., Dewild, J. F., Clow, D. W., Striegl, R. G., Dornblaser, M. M., and VanMetre, P. 2002. Mercury loading and methylmercury production and cycling in high-altitude lakes from the western United States. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, Focus 2: 233–249.
Landers, D. H., Simonich, S. M., Jaffe, D., Geiser, L., Campbell, D. H.,
Schwindt, A., Schreck, C., Kent, M., Hafner, W., Taylor, H. E., Hageman, K., Usenko, S., Ackerman, L., Schrlau, J., Rose, N., Blett, T., Erway, M. M. 2010. The Western Airborne Contaminant Assessment Project (WACAP): An Interdisciplinary Evaluation of the Impacts of Airborne Contaminants in Western U.S. National Parks. Environmental Science and Technology 44: 855–859.
Landers, D. H., S. L. Simonich, D. A. Jaffe, L. H. Geiser, D. H. Campbell, A. R. Schwindt, C. B. Schreck, M. L. Kent, W. D. Hafner, H. E. Taylor, K. J. Hageman, S. Usenko, L. K. Ackerman, J. E. Schrlau, N. L. Rose, T. F. Blett, and M. M. Erway. 2008. The Fate, Transport, and Ecological Impacts of Airborne Contaminants in Western National Parks (USA). EPA/600/R—07/138. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, NHEERL, Western Ecology Division, Corvallis, Oregon. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/660829.
Nanus, L., Williams, M. W., Campbell, D. H., Tonnessen, K. A., Blett, T., and Clow, D. W. 2009. Assessment of lake sensitivity to acidic deposition in national parks of the Rocky Mountains. Ecological Applications 19(4): 961–973.
[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/2166247.
Peterson, D. L., Sullivan, T. J., Eilers, J. M., Brace, S., Horner, D., Savig, K., and Morse, D. 1998. Assessment of air quality and air pollutant impacts in national parks of the Rocky Mountains and Northern Great Plains. Report NPS/CCSOUW/NRTR—98/19. National Park Service, Air Resources Division, Denver, CO. Chapter 4: Grand Teton National Park. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/11733
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
Porter, E. and Johnson, S. 2007. Translating science into policy: Using ecosystem thresholds to protect resources in Rocky Mountain National Park. Environmental Pollution 149: 268–280.
Saros, J. E., Clow, D. W., Blett, T., Wolfe, A. P. 2010. Critical nitrogen deposition loads in high-elevation lakes of the western U.S. inferred from paleolimnological records. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution 216(1–4): 193–202.
Schwindt, A. R., Kent, M. L., Ackerman, L. K., Massey Simonich, S. L., Landers, D. H., Blett, T., Schreck, C. B. 2009.Reproductive Abnormalities in Trout from Western U.S. National Parks. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 138: 522–531.
Spaulding, S. A., Baron, J. S., Wolfe, A. P., O’Ney, S., Blett, T. 2009. Atmospheric deposition of inorganic nitrogen in Grand Teton NP: determining biological effects on algal communities in alpine lakes. NPS Final Implementation Plan.
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., T. C. McDonnell, G. T. McPherson, S. D. Mackey, and D. Moore. 2011b. Evaluation of the sensitivity of inventory and monitoring national parks to nutrient enrichment effects from atmospheric nitrogen deposition: Greater Yellowstone Network (GRYN). Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR—2011/308. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2168632
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: Greater Yellowstone Network (GRYN). Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR—2011/349. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2170584.
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
Van Miegroet, H. 2010. Assessment of nitrogen deposition and its possible effects on alpine vegetation in Grand Teton National Park. NPS Final Report.
Last updated: July 24, 2018