News Release

National Park Service Celebrates 100 Years of Geology and Hydrology at Annual Conference

Conference attendees visit the NPS booth at the GSA conference in 2015
Conference attendees visit the NPS booth at the GSA conference in 2015.

NPS Photo

News Release Date: September 26, 2016

Contact: Jason Kenworthy

Contact: Bruce Heise

Contact: Ed Harvey

DENVER, Colo. --- Staff from the National Park Service (NPS) are on hand at the Geological Society of America’s (GSA) annual conference Sept. 25-28. More than 7,000 geoscientists will attend the conference. NPS scientists will facilitate two symposia at the conference: A Centennial Celebration of Geology and Hydrology in the National Parks: Research, Mapping, and Resource Management I & II, and they will also host a booth in the exhibit hall.

Members of the Geologic Resources Division (GRD) and the Water Resources Division (WRD) have participated in this conference for many years, but with 2016 marking the Centennial of the NPS, their presence at the conference this year is indeed special. The geologic features of some of the earliest parks (Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, etc.) helped inspire early visitors to set these lands aside for protection. And now, as the NPS enters its second century, GRD and WRD continue to work for the conservation of these precious resources.

The two NPS-facilitated sessions at the GSA conference provide attendees with a wide breadth of the geologic and hydrologic research in parks. Additionally, the GSA 2016 President’s Medal Award winner, Sarah Andrews, will deliver her presentation “An Essential State of Wonder: Interpreting Science in the Parks” during the morning session. The NPS places a high priority on science communication and this presentation highlights the value of interpretation in national parks by making the science accessible and relevant to all visitors.

Connecting with the next generation

Science is a great way to connect with and create the next generation of park advocates. The symposia at the conference demonstrate how staff from WRD and GRD have made those connections by partnering with many universities, including Colorado State University and University of Colorado Boulder, for example. These relationships have led to important geologic and hydrologic research in national parks as well as giving students irreplaceable real-world experience.

Since 1996, the Geoscientists-in-the-Parks internship program matches college students and recent graduates with paid internships in the NPS. Some of their work will be presented in a session at the conference called Find Your Park (and Other Public Lands) One Internship at a Time: Two Decades of Providing Career Development Opportunities in Public Lands for Students and Recent Graduates.

Parks for science

The science undertaken in parks has value and application throughout the world. NPS hydrologists and geologists (among others!) recognize the need for addressing the many ecological challenges facing the Earth’s ecosystems, including climate change. Researchers have used national park lands to study the changing world. These efforts give park managers valuable information for protecting park resources in a changing climate.

Several studies will be presented at the GSA conference, connecting geologic and hydrologic resources to climate change:

  • A USGS scientist presents his repeat photography survey in 3 parks in Alaska that offers insights into annual, decadal, and century-scale change of the landscapes.
  • Researchers from Rutgers University partnered with NPS staff to develop coastal monitoring protocols for using GPS technology to monitor the change of critical variables or “vital signs” along the coasts.
  • Staff from GRD and University of Colorado-Boulder present a report Coastal Adaptation Strategies: Case Studies outlining strategies undertaken by parks to address climate change threats.
  • Researchers from several universities collaborated on a presentation describing their preliminary findings on the causes and effects of one of the largest landslides ever recorded in North America. This event occurred in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in 2015. The Tyndall Glacier in the park had retreated significantly in the past 20 years, resulting in the steepened slopes that contributed to the magnitude of the landslide.

It’s important for park scientists and researchers to share their findings and methods in venues like the Geologic Society of America conference. Attendees learn from each other, NPS successes can be replicated in other areas, and NPS scientists build and strengthen relationships with other agencies, organizations, and learning institutions. To be successful in its second century, the NPS will need to continue to collaborate with other conservation groups, to inspire a new generation of park scientists, and to maintain a strong commitment to scientific inquiry.

Learn more about the Geological Society of America.

Last updated: September 26, 2016