CULLOWHEE – The U.S. Department of the Interior has awarded a $118,000 grant to a Western Carolina University geologist to develop a systematic process to guide the monitoring of the vast variety of geological resources found in the nation’s parks, from Acadia National Park in Maine to Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.
The grant will enable Rob Young, associate professor of geology at Western, to enlist students in Western’s department of geosciences and natural resources management to team with scientists from across the country to develop methods for tracking changes in geological assets within the National Park System.
Young and his students also will be summarizing the “vital signs” and scientific protocols that researchers use when monitoring geological features. It is an effort to provide resource managers in the National Park Service with a baseline to help detect subtle environmental changes that may impact the health of the parks, he said.
“This will be a great project,” Young said. “I’ll be dragging students to national parks all over the country, but it won’t be just to see the sights. They’ll actually be contributing valuable scientific information that can be used to track changes in the state of the ecosystems within our country’s national parks.”
The work will begin this summer as a team of experts familiar with the wide variety of geological attributes within the National Park System meet in Cullowhee. The project could be completed by the summer of 2006, including a comprehensive geologic monitoring manual in print and electronic format. The digital version, available online, would be created by Western students.
The project is an outgrowth of ongoing partnerships between the National Park Service and Western’s department of geosciences and natural resources management. Young spent much of the fall semester studying the impact of the nation’s largest dam removal project on water quality in Olympic National Park in Washington.
Over the past few years, Young has led students to Cape Lookout National Seashore to investigate coastal changes caused by hurricanes, and has worked with students on trying to solve the mystery of the origin of heath balds – peculiar treeless areas located high in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He has taken students to Channel Islands National Park in California to work on wetland restoration, and has guided students in a project along the Blue Ridge Parkway to establish an environmental management plan for rare mountain wetlands.
Professors and students from the department of biology also have been involved in the All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, an effort to document the wide variety of living species that call Great Smoky Mountains National Park home.
“We are very pleased to have Western Carolina University and Rob Young on board to prepare the geologic resources monitoring manual for the National Park Service,” said Lisa Norby of the NPS geologic resources division. “Rob Young has done quite a bit of work in the past with the NPS and is well respected for his work. His affiliation with the Geological Society of America was also a plus because it will help us to identify the geologic experts we need on the expanded project team. Rob is gaining an excellent reputation with the NPS and we hope he will continue to assist us with meeting our geologic challenges in the Park Service.”
For more information about Western’s programs in geosciences and natural resources management, call (828) 227-7367.