Park Air Profiles - Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Tent in Cottonwood Campground
Visitors come to Theodore Roosevelt NP to enjoy scenic views of badlands geology, wildlife watching, and camping.

Air quality at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Most visitors expect clean air and clear views in parks. Theodore Roosevelt National Park (NP), North Dakota, a memorial to the 26th president for his enduring contributions to the safekeeping and protection of U.S. natural resources, is a land of open skies and dramatic badlands geology. Located in the the rural Northern Great Plains the park is distant from many traditional sources of air pollution. Still, nearby and regional sources of air pollution including oil and gas production, power plants, agriculture, and vehicles affect park air quality. 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 Theodore Roosevelt NP, and in parks across the U.S., through science, policy and planning, and by doing our part.

Visibility

Riverbend Overlook Clean, clear air is essential to appreciating the scenic vistas at Theodore Roosevelt NP.

Many visitors come to Theodore Roosevelt NP to enjoy views of the rugged badlands terrain, wildlife, and other idyllic landscape scenes that charmed Theodore Roosevelt in the 1880s. 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 have been documented since the 2000’s. Overall, visibility in the park still needs improvement to reach the Clean Air Act goal of no human caused impairment.

Visibility effects:
  • Reduced visibility on some days due to human-caused haze and fine particles of air pollution;
  • Reduction of the average natural visual range from about 145 miles (without the effects of pollution) to about 95 miles because of pollution at the park;
  • Reduction of the visual range to below 50 miles on high pollution days.

Visit the NPS air quality conditions and trends website for park-specific visibility information. Theodore Roosevelt NP has been monitoring visibility since 2000. View a live air quality webcam, and 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. Soils and surface waters are susceptible to acidification from nitrogen and sulfur deposition. But, the high buffering capacity of soils and high concentrations of base cations and acid neutralizing capacity in surface waters at the park indicate these ecosystems are not likely to be acidified by atmospheric deposition (Peterson et al. 1998). Elevated sulfur levels in lichens as compared to soil have been documented at the park (Bennett and Wetmore 2001); some plants are sensitive to acidification, search for acid-sensitive plant species found at Theodore Roosevelt NP.

Excess nitrogen can also lead to nutrient enrichment, a process that changes nutrient cycling and alters plant communities. 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). Concentrations of ammonium in nitrogen deposition are relatively high to total nitrogen deposition (NPS 2018). This is often an indicator of nearby agricultural sources.

Large power plants in Montana and North Dakota, nearby oil and gas well fields, and agriculture are significant sources of airborne nitrogen and sulfur to the park. While sulfur emissions from regional sources are projected to decrease because of requirements under the Clean Air Act, nitrogen emissions, particularly from oil and gas production, are projected to increase over time (WRAP 2005). Air quality monitoring in the park is important for assessing these impacts.

Visit the NPS air quality conditions and trends website for park-specific nitrogen and sulfur deposition information. Theodore Roosevelt NP has been monitoring nitrogen and sulfur since 2001. Explore air monitoring »

Ground-level ozone

Serviceberry plant Saskatoon serviceberry is one of the ozone sensitive species found at Theodore Roosevelt NP.

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. Ozone-sensitive plants in Theodore Roosevelt NP include Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen), Prunus virginiana (chokecherry), and Amelanchier alnifolia (saskatoon serviceberry). Assessments have not documented ozone injury to any sensitive vegetation in the park (Peterson et al. 1998). Search for more ozone-sensitive plant species found at Theodore Roosevelt NP.

Visit the NPS air quality conditions and trends website for park-specific ozone information. Theodore Roosevelt NP has been monitoring ozone since 1999. 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 tissue of organisms causing reduced reproductive success, impaired growth and development, and decreased survival.

Mercury levels are elevated in lichens at Theodore Roosevelt NP compared to levels in soil at the park, suggesting that the atmosphere is a contributing source. The heavy metal cadmium and other elements have also been detected in lichens, indicators of human caused air pollution (Bennett and Wetmore 2001; Gough et al. 1985). Lichens are a group of plants that accumulate mercury and other contaminants. They are sensitive to airborne pollutants and can be used as indicators of urban pollution and point-source emissions like oil and gas wells.

Bennett, J.P. and Wetmore, C.M. 2001. 16-year trends in elements of lichens at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota. Science of the Total Environment 263: 231–241.

Fenn, M.E., Haeuber, G.S., Tonnesen, J.S., Baron, J.S., Grossman-Clarke, S., Hope, D., Jaffe, D.A., Copeland, S., Geiser, L., Rueth, H.M., and Sickman, J.O. 2003. Nitrogen emissions, deposition and monitoring in the western United States. Bioscience 53: 391–403.

Gough, L.P., Peard, J.L., Severson, R.C., Jackson, L.L., Arbogast, B.F., Motooka, J.M., Snow, S., Engleman, E.E., and Bennett, J.P. 1985. Baseline elemental-composition of selected plants and soils, and assessment of airborne element contamination, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota. US Department of the Interior, Geological Survey, Reston, VA. Open-File Report 85–251.

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

Pardo, L.H., Geiser, L.J. Goodale, C.L., Driscoll, C.T., Fenn, M., Allen, E. Baron, J., Bobbink, R., Bowman, B., Clark, C., Emmett, B., Gilliam, F., Greaver, T., Hall, S.J., Lilleskov, E.A., Liu, L., Lynch, J., Nadelhoffer, K, Perakis, S., Stoddard, J., Weathers, K. In press. Assessment of N deposition effects and empirical critical loads of N for ecoregions of the United States. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report.

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. Chapter 7. Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Report NPS/CCSOUW/NRTR-98/19. National Park Service, Air Resources Division, Denver, CO. 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

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: Northern Great Plains Network (NGPN). Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR—2011/313. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2168724.

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: Northern Great Plains Network (NGPN). Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR—2011/349. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2170597.

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

Last updated: October 1, 2018