SCIENCE IN OUR NATIONAL PARKS: 5 PLACES WHERE, AND WHY, SCIENTISTS WORK

Part 4 of 5: Katmai National Park

Looking at a map of Alaska, you will notice a long peninsula extending in a south-westerly direction into the north Pacific. Alaska’s “arm”, also known as the Katmai Peninsula, mirrors the iconic basis of most people’s mental picture of Alaska: tall and majestic snow-covered peaks adjacent to a deep-blue field of ocean speckled with sea ice.  This portion of Alaska is the product of powerful geologic processes. Katmai National Park & Preserve is located atop a highly volcanic zone known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. The Pacific Ring of Fire is a highly active subductive zone that is the result of ongoing geologic activity in the Pacific Ocean, which literally gives rise (altitude) to the distinct geography of the southern Alaskan-Pacific Coastline.

View from Dumpling Mountain Trail, Katmai National Park

In Katmai National Park & Preserve, volcanologists, geologists, and ecologists in addition to numerous other academic fields, study the effects of the 1913 Novarupta-Katmai eruption on natural and cultural resources. The eruption created a distinct feature called the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes when volcanic ash and magma were channeled by the Ukak River valley. The valley earned its namesake from pockets of moisture trapped under the surface which led to supercharged vents of steam escaping from the surface for decades to come.  The pyroclastic flow from the eruption literally vaporized and sublimated almost everything in its path. To date, the landscape is still considered to be volcanically active. Research in Katmai National Park contributes to the growing science of volcanology, which is still a hotly debated subject.

View from Brooks Camp, Katmai National Park

The National Park Service engages in many types of research in addition to geology and volcanology. Biologists working with the park service study how the effects of marine and aquatic pollution work their way up the food chain and cause deleterious effects in brown bears and other species that subsist off of coastal fisheries. NPS researchers in Katmai NP are also studying topics such as the Sea Star Wasting Disease, coastal ecology and oceanography, as well as social sciences and archaeology. Katmai National Park and Preserve is a fascinating site of cultural heritage and researchers often study interactions between ancient human settlements and the landscape. To learn more about Katmai National Park and Preserve, click here.

 

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