Environmental Factors

Environmental factors include everything that changes the local environment. This includes natural forces like weather and human effects like non-biodegradable litter.

The environment around us is constantly changing.

Some environmental changes are visible, such as a landslide caused by heavy rains. Other changes are not as easy to see. For example, some geologic change, like sediments becoming sedimentary rock, is too slow for the eye to see. Occasionally, only the effects of environmental change are visible and we have to search to find the cause, as in the receding of glaciers caused by climate change.

Find out how National Park Service researchers are studying air quality at Olympic and other national parks.

2006 Flooding
Sol Duc River flooding, 2006

NPS Photo

Natural Factors:

These are just a few examples of the many natural forces that shape the land and influence ecosystems:


Rivers and glaciers carve out canyons and valleys. Ocean waves grind away cliff sides and create beaches of small rocks and shells. Water freezing in crevices splits cliffs into boulders and boulders into smaller rocks. Rain fosters the moss-laden rainforests of the Hoh and Quinault.


Geological processes like earthquakes and tectonic forces shape mountains.


Windstorms blow down trees and give seedlings the sun and space they need to grow.


Lightning-caused fires burn off undergrowth and give new seedlings room to grow.

Roosevelt elk
Roosevelt elk help some plants get sunlight by keeping others from growing too high or dense.

NPS Photo

Plants and Animals

Insects eat plant material. Beavers dam streams. Roosevelt elk graze on shrubs and low-growing plants. Fungi and bacteria also play important roles, especially in the decomposition of plants or animals.

Quinault windstorm
Windfalls from 2007 windstorm, Quinault

NPS Photo

Beach trash
NPS staff and volunteers with coastal trash

NPS Photo

Human Effects:

Humans influence their environment simply by being in a place. These are a few examples of how we influence Olympic National Park:

Highly visible impacts

Roads, trails, walking over plants, and leaving trash behind all influence the natural environment.

Influences on animal life

Feeding human food to animals can make them dependent and less able to forage on their own. Once accustomed to humans, larger animals like deer or bears can become dangerous in their search for food. Scaring wildlife with loud noises or altering their habitat can affect where and how they live.

Global impacts

Automobiles and industry putting tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere eventually causes worldwide temperatures to rise and glaciers to melt.

Impacts to Air Quality

More information on air quality impacts and monitoring in Olympic National Park.

Impacts to Water Quality

Chemical runoff, sedimentation, and accumulation of nitrogen in mountain lakes influence water quality in Olympic National Park. More information on NPS studies on water quality can be found here.

Ecosystem impacts

The introduction and spreading of Nonnative Species and Invasive Plants can have many negative effects on the natural environment.

To reduce your personal impacts see:

Help Stop the Spread of Invasive Species


Last updated: February 28, 2015

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