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Air Quality at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

What’s in the Air?

Map of Great Smoky Mountains NP in North Carolina and Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains NP, North Carolina and Tennessee

Most visitors expect clean air and good visibility in parks. However, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (NP) in North Carolina and Tennessee, experiences some of the highest measured air pollution of any national park in the U.S. The park is downwind of many sources of air pollution, including power plants, factories, vehicles, and agriculture. Some of these sources are nearby, while others are regional—such as pollution stacks along the Ohio River and industrial cities of the Southeast and Midwest—or even global. Air pollutants carried into the park can harm natural and scenic resources including streams, soils, forests, fish and wildlife, and visibility.

How is air pollution affecting Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

  • Elevated levels of nitrogen and sulfur in the air deposit into park ecosystems causing acidification of high elevation streams and soils. This affects forest health and fish populations. more »
  • Ground-level ozone in the park often reaches levels known to injure sensitive plants and reduce tree productivity and growth. At times, ozone levels exceed human health standards. more »
  • Fine particles of air pollution cause haze in the park, impairing how well and how far visitors can see vistas and landmarks. Fine particle levels can also exceed human health standards in the park. more »

What is the National Park Service doing about air pollution at the park?

  • Monitoring nitrogen, sulfur, ozone, fine particles, haze, and mercury to assess status and trends. more »
  • Evaluating the impacts of air pollution on park ecosystems. more »
  • Working with state and local agencies, US Environmental Protection Agency, Tennessee Valley Authority, industry, and public interest groups to reduce air pollution, protect, and restore park resources (Shaver et al. 1994). The NPS also reviews plans for development that may increase air pollution in national parks. more »
  • Creating public awareness, using alternative energy sources and an environmentally friendly vehicle fleet for park staff, and participating in Climate Friendly Parks to reduce air pollutant emissions in the park. more »

Featured Content

Impacts icon

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

Studies and Monitoring icon

Studies and monitoring help the NPS understand the environmental impacts of air pollution. Access air quality data and see what is happening with Studies and Monitoring at Great Smoky Mountains NP.

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Last Updated: December 30, 2016