Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center
National parks are areas largely set aside to protect exceptional natural environments, including their wildlife. Baseline geochemistry in national parks provides information about the existing environment that can be integrated into planning and management of the parks. Unusual concentrations of elements, including some that are potentially toxic, can have a negative impact on flora and fauna in the parks. These concentrations may be natural or anthropogenic. Identifying and delineating the sources of such concentrations will thus assist Park scientists in addressing environmental problems and wildlife health issues.
Two national parks with distinctly different environments were studied. In Yellowstone National Park, a cool weather, high-elevation, forested region, the regional chemistry of rocks, stream sediments, and large-animal scat were examined to identify correlations between potentially toxic elements such as As, F, Hg, and Mo, which are related to hydrothermal features, and animal health. In Joshua Tree National Park, a hot-weather, low-desert region, the regional chemistry of rocks, stream sediment, and mine waste products were studied to identify and delineate those elements associated with past mining in the park, such as As, Cd, Cu, Hg, Pb, and U. Some of these elements may be toxic to wildlife, including the desert tortoise, a threatened species that has prime habitat in the Park.