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Studies and Monitoring

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park (NP), Washington, has its own unique environmental concerns based on its particular ecology. Air quality studies and monitoring programs at Mount Rainier NP focus on nitrogen deposition, ozone, toxic air contaminants, and visibility. Click on the tabs below to review air quality studies and key scientific references at Mount Rainier NP, as well as to access information on air quality monitoring in the park.

  • Studies & Projects
  • Monitoring & Data
  • Key References

Ongoing research in Mount Rainier NP, Washington:

Centralia: A Source of Nitrogen, Sulfur and Mercury Pollution at Mount Rainier NP

Located approximately 70 km from Mount Rainier NP in Centralia, WA, TransAlta’s Centralia Power Plant is one of the largest stationary sources of atmospheric nitrogen, sulfur, and mercury in the region. These pollutants are emitted through the coal-burning process used to generate electricity at the power plant. Retrofit technologies have been installed to better control sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, and noticeable reductions in sulfate at the park have followed. Control of mercury emissions is currently achieved via existing controls for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The National Park Service has recommended better nitrogen oxide emission controls and continues to pursue options for reducing emissions from the power plant.

Nitrogen & Sulfur Impacts

Nitrogen deposition exceeds the critical load for lichen community composition in some polluted areas of the Pacific Northwest. In the Columbia River Gorge and the Willamette Valley, for example, sensitive lichen species important to wildlife have declined and been replaced by pollution-tolerant species (Geiser and Neitlich 2007; Geiser et al. 2010). Surveyed lichen sites near the southern and southeastern border of the park are among the least polluted sites in the study region and do not exceed the critical load. These sites are strongly dominated by pollution-sensitive lichen species. However, levels of nitrogen deposition at Mount Rainier NP could affect the park’s sensitive high elevation vegetation and surface waters (Clow and Campbell 2008 [pdf, 2.1 MB]). Nitrogen emissions in the Pacific Northwest remain a concern for park managers (Fenn et al. 2003 [pdf, 895 KB]). Elevated levels of both nitrogen and sulfur in bulk precipitation measured at the park (Neiber et al. 2009) have resulted in episodic acidification of Eunice Lake, one of many park lakes sensitive to acidification (Samora and Clow 2002). Additionally, ammonium concentrations are increasing (NPS 2010 [pdf, 2.8 MB]). Collaborative studies at the park are ongoing and include long-term monitoring of high elevation lakes and precipitation chemistry, and an investigation of nitrogen critical loads for aquatic communities in high elevation lakes.

Airborne Toxic Contaminants Impacts

Air currents transport contaminants, such as pesticides, industrial pollutants, and heavy metals from their sources and deposit these toxics in rain, snow, and dryfall at Mount Rainier NP. The Western Airborne Contaminants Assessment Project found airborne contaminants in air, vegetation, fish, snow, and sediment samples from the park. Dieldrin and mercury concentrations in some park fish exceeded human and/or wildlife health thresholds (Ackerman et al. 2008; Landers et al. 2010; Landers et al. 2008; Schwindt et al. 2008). Additional research found changes in metabolic, endocrine, and immune-related genes in fish from contaminated lakes than those from uncontaminated lakes (Moran et al. 2007). The Pacific Northwest Contaminants Workshop addressed regional concerns regarding contaminant distribution and effects. Additional research is examining whether contaminants disrupt reproductive organs in park fish.

Ground-Level Ozone Impacts

The Puget Sound urban zone influences ozone concentrations at Mount Rainier NP (Brace and Peterson 1998; Barna et al. 2000); trans-Pacific episodes also transport ozone and ozone-forming pollutants to the west coast of North America (Jaffe et al. 2003). Air circulation patterns and valley winds can distribute ozone across the complex terrain of Mount Rainier NP, but ozone concentrations in the park are relatively low. Some species of plants in the park are known to be sensitive to ozone (Brace et al. 1999), but no injury has been documented. The park is monitoring ozone concentrations at high elevations, and working with the U.S. Forest Service to examine sensitive plants for ozone injury.

Visibility Impacts

The PREVENT (Pacific Northwest Regional Visibility Experiment Using Natural Tracers) study found that sulfur is the largest contributor to reduced visibility at Mount Rainier NP. Back trajectories indicate that sulfur dioxide emissions from the Centralia Power Plant are a significant contributor to sulfate levels at the park. Urban sources of sulfur are also significant. Nitrates, also contributing to visibility impairment, mostly result from nitrogen oxide emissions from pulp and paper mills, power plants, transportation, and fires (Malm et al. 1994). Better nitrogen oxide emission controls at the Centralia power plant would improve visibility at the park. In an effort to better understand in-park visibility-impairing emissions, the park continues with baseline monitoring of particulate matter associated with campfire smoke in park campgrounds.

Air quality monitoring information and data access:

Air Pollutant/Impact

Monitoring Program

Sites and Data Access

Nitrogen & Suflur Wet deposition NADP/NTN
Dry deposition CASTNet
Toxics & Mercury WACAP
Ozone NPS-GPMP
Visibility IMPROVE

Abbreviations in the above table:

    CASTNet: EPA Clean Air Status and Trends Network
    GPMP: Gaseous Pollutant Monitoring Program
    IMPROVE: Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments
    NADP: National Atmospheric Deposition Program
    NPS: National Park Service
    NTN: National Trends Network
    VIEWS: Visibility Information Exchange Web System
    WACAP: Western Airborne Contaminants Assessment Project

For more information regarding monitoring and data assessments conducted by the National Park Service, link to the NPS Air Quality Monitoring Program or to the NPS Air Quality Monitoring History Database for a history of active and inactive monitoring sites at Mount Rainier NP.

Key air quality related references from Mount Rainier NP, Washington:

Ackerman, L. K., Schwindt, A. R., Massey Simonich S. L., Koch, D. C., Blett, T. F., Schreck, C. B., Kent, M. L., Landers, D. H. 2008. Atmospherically Deposited PBDEs, Pesticides, PCBs, and PAHs in Western U.S. National Park Fish: Concentrations and Consumption Guidelines. Environmental Science & Technology 42: 2334–2341.

Barna, M., Lamb, B., O’Neill, S., Westberg, H., Figueroa-Kaminsky, C. Otterson, S., Bowman, C., and DeMay, J. 2000. Modeling Ozone Formation and Transport in the Cascadia Region of the Pacific Northwest. Journal of Applied Meteorology 39: 349–366.

Basabe, F. A., Edmonds, R. L., Chang, W. L., and Larson, T. V. 1989a. Fog and cloudwater chemistry in Western Washington. In: Olson, R. K. and Lefohn, A. S. (eds.) Symposium on the effects of air pollution on western forests. June 1989. Anaheim, CA. Air and Waste Management Association. pp. 33–49.

Brace, S. and Peterson, D. L. 1998. Spatial Patterns of Tropospheric Ozone in the Mount Rainier Region of the Cascade Mountains, U.S.A. Atmospheric Environment 32 (21): 3629–3637.

Brace, S., Peterson, D. L., and Bowers, D. 1999. A guide to ozone injury in vascular plants of the Pacific Northwest. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR—446. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 63 pp.

Clow, D. W. and Campbell, D. H. 2008. Atmospheric deposition and surface-water chemistry in Mount Rainier and North Cascades National Parks, U.S.A., water years 2000 and 2005–2006: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2008–5152, 37 pp. Available at http://nature.nps.gov/air/Permits/ARIS/docs/MORA_NOCAdep_waterchem_USGS_2008.pdf (pdf, 2.1 MB).

Eilers, J. M., Rose, C. L., Sullivan, T. J. 1994. Status of Air Quality and Effects of Atmospheric Pollutants on Ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest Region of the National Park Service. NPS Final Report. 255 pp. Available at http://www.nature.nps.gov/air/Pubs/pdf/reviews/pnw/PNWfinalreport1.pdf (pdf, 520 KB).

Fenn, M., Geiser, L., Peterson, J., Waddell, E., and Porter, E. 2003. Why Federal Land Managers in the Northwest are Concerned about Nitrogen Emissions. National Park Service. 18 pp. Available at http://www.nature.nps.gov/air/Pubs/pdf/NOxPaper2004.pdf (pdf, 895 KB).

Frenzel, R. W., Witmer, G. W. and Starkey, E. E. 1990. Heavy metal concentrations in a lichen of Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Parks, Washington, USA. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 44 (1): 158–164.

Geiser, L. H., Jovan, S. E., Glavich, D. A., Porter, M. K. 2010. Lichen-based critical loads for atmospheric nitrogen deposition in Western Oregon and Washington Forests, USA. Environmental Pollution 158: 2412–2421.

Geiser, L. and Neitlich, P. 2007. Air pollution and climate gradients in western Oregon and Washington indicated by epiphytic macrolichens. Environmental Pollution 145: 203–218.

Hageman, K. J., Simonich, S. L., Campbell, D. H., Wilson, G. R., Landers, D. H. 2006. Atmospheric deposition of current-use and historic-use pesticides in snow at national parks in the Western United States. Environmental Science & Technology 40: 3174–3180.

[IMPROVE] Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments. 2010. Improve Summary Data. Available at http://vista.cira.colostate.edu/improve/Data/IMPROVE/summary_data.htm.

Jaffe, D., McKendry, I., Anderson, T., Price, H. 2003. Six ‘new’ episodes of trans-Pacific transport of air pollutants. Atmos. Envir. 37: 391-404.

Landers, D. H., Simonich, S. M., Jaffe, D., Geiser, L., Campbell, D. H., Schwindt, A., Schreck, C., Kent, M., Hafner, W., Taylor, H. E., Hageman, K., Usenko, S., Ackerman, L., Schrlau, J., Rose, N., Blett, T., Erway, M. M. 2010. The Western Airborne Contaminant Assessment Project (WACAP): An Interdisciplinary Evaluation of the Impacts of Airborne Contaminants in Western U.S. National Parks. Environmental Science and Technology 44: 855–859.

Landers, D. H., S. L. Simonich, D. A. Jaffe, L. H. Geiser, D. H. Campbell, A. R. Schwindt, C. B. Schreck, M. L. Kent, W. D. Hafner, H. E. Taylor, K. J. Hageman, S. Usenko, L. K. Ackerman, J. E. Schrlau, N. L. Rose, T. F. Blett, and M. M. Erway. 2008. The Fate, Transport, and Ecological Impacts of Airborne Contaminants in Western National Parks (USA). EPA/600/R—07/138. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, NHEERL, Western Ecology Division, Corvallis, Oregon. Available at http://www.nature.nps.gov/air/studies/air_toxics/WACAPreport.cfm.

Malm, W. C., Gebhart, K. A., Molenar, J., Eldred, R., Harrison, H. 1994. Pacific Northwest Regional Visibility Experiment Using Natural Tracers—PREVENT. National Park Service Final Report. Available at http://vista.cira.colostate.edu/improve/Studies/PREVENT/Reports/FinalReport/preventreport.htm.

Moran P. W., Aluru, N., Black, R. W., Vijayan, M. M. 2007. Tissue contaminants and associated transcriptional response in trout liver from high elevation lakes of Washington. Environ Sci Technol. 41(18): 6591–6597.

Neiber, A., Rybka, S. and Johansen, A. M. 2009. Precipitation Chemistry at Mount Rainier (Paradise Ranger Station) Collection Site. Final Report for Data Collected between June 4, 2008 and June 10, 2009. Cooperative Agreement between NPS and Central Washington University, H9453020047, Chemistry Department, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, WA. 98926–7539.

[NPS] National Park Service. 2010. Air Quality in National Parks: 2009 Annual Performance and Progress Report. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR—2010/266. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at http://www.nature.nps.gov/air/Pubs/pdf/gpra/AQ_Trends_In_Parks_2009_Final_Web.pdf (pdf, 2.8 MB).

Samora, B. A. and Clow, D. 2002. Episodic Acidification at Eunice Lake, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington. Internal Mount Rainier National Park Technical Report. Mount Rainier National Park. Ashford, Washington.

Schwindt, A. R., Fournie, J. W., Landers, D. H., Schreck, C. B., Kent, M. 2008. Mercury Concentrations in Salmonids from Western U.S. National Parks and Relationships with Age and Macrophage Aggregates. Environmental Science & Technology 42 (4): 1365–1370.

Sullivan, T. J., McDonnell, T. C., McPherson, G. T., Mackey, S. D., Moore, D. 2011a. Evaluation of the sensitivity of inventory and monitoring national parks to nutrient enrichment effects from atmospheric nitrogen deposition: main report. Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR—2011/313. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at www.nature.nps.gov/air/permits/aris/networks/n-sensitivity.cfm.

Sullivan, T. J., McDonnell, T. C., McPherson, G. T., Mackey, S. D., Moore, D. 2011b. Evaluation of the sensitivity of inventory and monitoring national parks to nutrient enrichment effects from atmospheric nitrogen deposition: North Coast and Cascades Network (NCCN). Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/ARD/NRR—2011/330. National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Available at http://www.nature.nps.gov/air/Pubs/pdf/n-sensitivity/nccn_n_sensitivity_2011-02.pdf (pdf, 7.4 MB).


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Pollutants including nitrogen, mercury, ozone, and fine particles affect resources such as streams, soils, and scenic vistas. Find out how on our Mount Rainier NP Air Pollution Impacts web page.

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Last Updated: June 14, 2011