The unique value of national parks as scientific assets and natural laboratories is the core theme of National Park Service (NPS) presentations this month at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The NPS, which marks its centennial this year, will have a robust presence at the Feb. 11-16 meeting, including a topical lecture, a park-science symposium, poster presentations, and public exhibits and kids' programs at the popular (and free) Family Science Days weekend.
The annual meeting of the AAAS, the world's largest general scientific society, will be in Washington at the Marriott Wardman Park and Omni Shoreham Hotel.
"Science in national parks matters– and not just for park management. Science conducted in the parks has far-reaching benefits for the scientific community and for society in general," said Gary E. Machlis, science advisor to NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis and University Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Clemson University. "For example, national parks have become important research sites for the study of climate change, air pollution, and a host of other science topics."
Machlis will deliver an AAAS topical lecture on Friday, Feb. 12, about the "near-horizon" future of science in the parks. He also has organized a Feb. 12 symposium on the national park system as a scientific asset.
"Science has been critical to the National Park Service mission for the past 100 years, and it will be even more so in our second century," said Jarvis, the first NPS chief to appoint a science advisor. "The 2016 AAAS meeting is a singular moment for us to reaffirm our deep connection with science. Whether the topic is climate change, protection of park resources, or outreach to the next generation of national park stewards, our need for science underpins almost everything we do."
Founded more than 160 years ago, AAAS promotes scientific cooperation, education and outreach and publishes the weekly scientific journal Science. Its annual meetings are major interdisciplinary science events attended by several thousand scientists and others. For this year's gathering, NPS has worked closely with the association to present the service's centennial year science vision:
- Machlis's lecture, The Near-Horizon Future of Science in the National Parks (Feb. 12, noon-1 p.m. EST), will survey disciplines and fields, methods, tools and data. Topics range from the "de-extinction" of long-gone creatures in real-life "Jurassic Park" scenarios to the promise of maturing social media and formalized citizen science. AAAS Treasurer David Shaw, who will introduce Machlis, also serves on the board of the National Park Foundation. Immediately after his lecture, Machlis will be available for follow-up with science journalists.
- A symposium, The National Park System: A National Scientific Asset (Feb. 12, 3-4:30 p.m. EST), focuses on new research in the parks and its importance, challenges and opportunities. Panelists include principal NPS climate change scientist Patrick Gonzalez; Healy Hamilton, chief scientist for NatureServe, a biodiversity network of conservation professionals, and "godfather of biodiversity" Thomas Lovejoy of George Mason University.
- The weekend Family Science Days event (Feb. 13-14) features an NPS booth (11 a.m.-4 p.m. EST both days) with interactive exhibits and presentations, Junior Ranger books and items, a "Meet the NPS Scientists" slide show, "Every Kid in a Park" information, a park-occupation photo booth, NPS brochures and more. A "Layers in Time" park ranger demonstration (Feb. 13, 3:30 p.m. EST) takes a virtual river float trip down Grand Canyon through its ancient geological strata, and an interactive talk for kids, "Science to Protect National Parks From Climate Change," with NPS scientist Patrick Gonzalez (Feb. 14, 2 p.m. EST), engages young people in science solutions.
- Three posters represent some of the research undertaken by the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of NPS: A Synthesis of the Effects of Noise on Wildlife (Megan F. McKenna), which documents the effects of human-caused noise on a variety of wild species, especially songbirds and marine mammals; An Assessment of Night Sky Visual Quality in U.S. National Parks (Dan Duriscoe), which focuses on sky luminance and light pollution at 170 field locations throughout the U.S., and Noise Exposure in U.S. Protected Areas (Rachel Buxton), which models sound levels to gauge noise exposure patterns in national parks and other conservation lands. (All sessions Feb. 14, 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. EST).
Except for the free Family Science Days programs, attendance at the NPS lecture, symposium and poster sessions requires paid registration, available at the AAAS website. Free registration at the same site for Family Science Days also is recommended to streamline entry and avoid lines.
NPS scientists in parks, program offices, research centers and other facilities conduct a wide variety of scientific inquiry daily with support of the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate (NRSS). The directorate's 11 divisions, programs and offices provide scientific, technical and administrative assistance to national parks for management of natural resources. More information about NRSS and its work is available at http://www.nature.nps.gov, http://www.facebook.com, http://www.twitter.com/NatureNPS, and http://www.instagram.com/NatureNPS.
About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America's 409 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Visit us at http://www.nps.gov, on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/nationalparkservice, Twitter http://www.twitter.com/natlparkservice, and YouTube http://www.youtube.com/nationalparkservice.