What We Monitor

Park monitoring provides information about changes or trends in natural resources and is essential for managing parks "unimpaired for future generations." We track specific physical, chemical, and biological elements, or "vital signs," that represent the condition of park ecosystems or the effects of stressors to those ecosystems. This long-term monitoring involves following scientific protocols to take repeated measurements of natural resource vital signs over time.

The Vital Signs Monitoring Plan for the Chihuahuan Desert Network provides a detailed description of how we chose vital signs, and the strategy for implementing our monitoring program. Click on a vital sign below to learn more.

Vital Signs

  • Clear view across the desert valley from Guadalupe Mountains National Park

    Air Quality

    We monitor visibility and particulate matter, ozone, and atmospheric deposition.

  • Weather station at White Sands National Monument


    We monitor temperature, precipitation, and potential evapotranspiration.

  • Gypsum sand dunes

    Dune Dynamics

    We monitor dune formation, stability, and morphology (dune shape).

  • Scientists taking water measurements from a well.


    We monitor long-term changes in groundwater levels.

  • Scientist surveying for invasive exotic plants.

    Invasive Exotic Plants

    We monitor for new invasive, exotic plants and changes in existing exotic plant populations.

  • Broad-tailed hummingbird perched on a branch.


    We monitor bird species richness and community composition, as well as density and distribution of common birds.

  • Two canoes navigating the Rio Grande River channel.

    River Channel Characteristics

    We monitor the Rio Grande River channel area and shape and how these change over time.

  • Scientists taking water measurements at a spring.

    Seeps, Springs, and Tinajas

    We monitor seep, spring, and tinaja water quality and quantity, and riparian vegetation.

  • Scientists collecting plant data in the desert.

    Terrestrial Vegetation and Soils

    We monitor plant community composition, soil characteristics, and biological soil crusts.

Last updated: August 29, 2018