Research and Collection of Resources

Two women and a man with waders and two blue backpacks on the flat shores of a shallow lake.
Researchers from around the global are interested in conducting scientific studies at White Sands.

NPS Photo

White Sands National Park invites research focused on advancing understanding of critical park resources and management needs as well as “pure” science that will enhance the fundamental understanding of the natural world or human history. Earth’s largest gypsum dune system, White Sands has a long history of fundamental research such as:

  • United States Geological Survey’s work by Edwin D. McKee who utilized White Sands as an early natural laboratory to produce A Study of Global Sand Seas
  • Research of lizards and moths endemic to the white gypsum sands has demonstrated extraordinary adaptation in a relatively young environment
  • White Sands is an analog for Mars where NASA and other researchers can study gypsum formation in ephemeral saline lakes and its redistribution by wind similar to the North Polar Region of the red planet
The continuance of this tradition of research informs management decisions and furthers the frontiers of human knowledge.

Desired Research Projects for White Sands National Park

Rapid Adaptations
Climate Change
Flora and Fauna
surface water white species soil moister dune movement invasive species
ground water endemic plants drought
chemical profile aquatic invertebrates
gypsophiles dust storms crystal production population dynamics
extremophiles weather patterns sedimentology

What to do Before Applying for Scientific Research and Collections Permit

A scientific research and collections permit is required to conduct research at White Sands National Park. It is strongly suggested that researchers contact the research permit coordinator before submitting a research permit.

The special conditions at White Sands, such as extensive remote locations and access through military installations, require significant preparation. The procedure for initiating research at the park is as follows:

  1. The researcher should have a project defined and initial review of background material completed. Before contacting park staff consider the following:

    • All research must be completed in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and federal administrative policies.

    • Research must not result in degradation of the values and purposes of the park or unreasonably disturb park visitors and resources.

    • Research should only be conducted in the park if it cannot be conducted outside the park.

    • Highest priority is given to research that is important to the stated scientific resource management goals of the park. The foundation document outlines these goals.

    • Any additional permits (state, local, etc.) and/or approval from applicable ethics committees and boards (e.g., Animal Care and Use Committees for the use of live vertebrate animals) at your home institution is required PRIOR to obtaining a scientific research and collections permit.

    • Research should not damage or otherwise harm rare natural or cultural resources within the park.

  2. The researcher should contact the Research Permit Coordinator to discuss desired research project at least 90 days in advance of submitting an application for a scientific research and collections permit.

How to Apply for a Scientific Research and Collections Permit

To apply for a scientific research and collection permit, you must use the electronic National Park Service Research Permit and Reporting System (RPRS) and submit the following:

1. An application (provided from within the system).

2. A full research proposal following the White Sands National Park Study Proposal Guidelines.

What Happens after a Proposal is Submitted?

1. The application packet is checked for completeness and reviewed for compliance issues and resource impacts by park staff.

2. If no compliance or resource impact issues are found the application is reviewed by the research review team and either approved or denied by the Superintendent. Review of a properly formatted and complete packet can take up to 60 days.

3. The research permit coordinator will contact you to discuss your permit application status and next step if your application is approved.


Researchers are required to report all results of their investigations to the park annually. Additionally, at the completion of a study, researchers are requested to submit to the park two paper (one unbound) and one electronic copy of all final reports, publications, and theses/dissertations produced as a result of the permitted project. Copies of all associated data (including field notes, maps, slides, photographs, charts/graphs, tabular and GIS data with associated metadata) are also requested to be submitted to the park. These materials will be permanently archived in the park's museum collection.

Researchers are requested to submit a research finding report.

Copies of final reports, papers, theses, or other publications relating to research findings in White Sands National Park should be sent to:

White Sands National Park
Attention Research Permit Coordinator
P.O. Box 1086
Holloman AFB
New Mexico, 88330

White Sands National Park
Attention Research Permit Coordinator
19955 Highway 70 West
Alamogordo, NM 88310

Contact the research permit coordinator at or your designated liaison for more specific formatting information regarding proper formats and metadata for data sets, geospatial data, photographs, analysis, video, audio tapes, reports, publications, thesis/dissertations, and other manuscripts.

Samples and Specimens

All specimens collected within the park are the property of the NPS. Regardless of where the collections are stored, they must be properly accessioned and cataloged into the National Park Service's cataloging system. Collecting of specimens not authorized on your permit or for private purposes is not allowed.

Staff, space, and funding are extremely limited at White Sands National Park. This limitation also limits the ability of the park to acquire large collections. Please consult with the research permit coordinator when designing a study to ensure that samples and specimens collected can be properly curated.

Some critical points on collections:

  • Collection of archeological materials without a valid Federal Archeology Permit is prohibited.

  • Collection of federally listed threatened or endangered species without a valid U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species permit is prohibited.

  • Collection methods shall not attract undue attention or cause unapproved damage, depletion, or disturbance to the environment and other park resources, such as historic sites.

  • New specimens must be reported to the National Park Service annually or more frequently if required by the park issuing the permit.

  • Minimum information for annual reporting includes specimen classification, number of specimens collected, location collected, specimen status (e.g., herbarium sheet, preserved in alcohol/formalin, tanned and mounted, dried and boxed, etc.), and current location.

  • Collected specimens that are not consumed in analysis or discarded after scientific analysis remain federal property. The National Park Service reserves the right to designate the repositories of all specimens removed from the park and to approve or restrict reassignment of specimens from one repository to another. Because specimens are Federal property, they shall not be destroyed or discarded without prior National Park Service authorization.

  • Each specimen (or groups of specimens labeled as a group) that is retained permanently must bear National Park Service labels and must be accessioned and cataloged in the National Park Service National Catalog. Unless exempted by additional park-specific stipulations.

  • Permittee will complete the labels and catalog records and will provide accession information. It is the Permittee’s responsibility to contact the park for cataloging instructions and specimen labels as well as instructions on repository designation for the specimens.

  • Collected specimens may be used for scientific or educational purposes only, and shall be dedicated to public benefit and be accessible to the public in accordance with National Park Service policies and procedures.

  • All objects will be catalogued according to National Park Service standards and clearly marked with White Sands National Park property numbers.

  • Copies of all catalogue records will be submitted to White Sands National Park museum collection upon completion of cataloguing.

If You Have Additional Questions...

Please contact the research permit coordinator.

Last updated: September 20, 2022

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 1086
Holloman AFB, NM 88330


575 479-6124

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