What We Monitor

Water, plant communities, landbirds, and soils—these are some of the park "vital signs" chosen by park and partner scientists for us to monitor. Vital signs are particular species, habitats, landscapes, and abiotic factors (e.g., water, air, soil) that help indicate the overall health or condition of park ecosystems. These key elements, and their associated processes, are part of what park managers are charged with conserving "unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." Knowing if and how key resources are changing can help park managers develop effective approaches to management, restoration, and mitigation.

To monitor park vital signs, the Northern Colorado Plateau Network uses the protocols shown below.

Monitoring Protocols

  • Clear view of Navajo Mountain from Bryce Canyon National Park
    Air Quality

    Six NCPN parks are Class I areas, receiving the highest protection under the Clean Air Act

  • Four inflatable boats below a towering rock wall
    Big Rivers

    Big rivers and their associated riparian zones are crucial to both recreation and ecosystem health

  • Sun-cracked mud
    Climate Change

    Climate is a key physical driver of ecosystem structure and function

  • Bright pink flower against blue sky
    Invasive Exotic Plants

    Invasive exotic plants are one of the most significant threats to natural resources in the national parks today

  • Satellite with Earth in background
    Land Surface Phenology

    Satellite imagery is used to measure vegetation greenness and snow-cover extent

  • Mountain bluebird sits at top of pine tree

    Landbirds are sensitive to habitat change, making them good indicators of ecosystem integrity

  • Satellite image of Arches National Park, Colorado River clearly visible
    Landscape Dynamics

    Landcover types are fundamentally important to the natural diversity of ecosystems

  • NPS employee crouches near spring with sampling bottle
    Springs, Seeps, and Hanging Gardens

    These water sources are important oases in desert landscapes

  • Man in hat takes a transect measurement in grassland, red rock wall in background
    Upland Vegetation and Soils

    Upland vegetation and soils provide energy and habitat for species diversity

  • Two people stand in a stream near transect tape
    Wadeable Streams

    Riparian ecosystems are potentially sensitive indicators of landscape-level change

  • River with verdant riparian area flows through towering canyon landscape
    Water Quality

    Information on water quality and quantity helps park managers to ensure visitor safety and manage potential impacts

Last updated: April 13, 2023