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greatly among regions in the Rocky Mountains, data indicate that lakes where acid neutralizing capacity is small are found throughout the Rocky Mountains. Because of differences in bedrock geology, soil development, and hydrology, those lakes having the smallest acid neutralizing capacity tend to be in specific mountain ranges such as the Bitterroot Range (Montana), the Wind River Range (Wyoming), the Uinta Mountains (Utah), and the Colorado Front Range and the northern Park Range (Colorado).

One area having a large concentration of sulfate, nitrate, and acidity in wetfall and snowpack overlaps with another area having a very small acid neutralizing capacity in lakes in northern Colorado downwind of the Yampa River Valley. At present levels of emissions from all sources, this area, which includes the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, likely contains hydrologic systems that are the most affected in the Rocky Mountains. No lakes are acidic during the summer when all sampling has been done. However, the initial stages of acidification would be greatest during early snowmelt, when the greatest concentrations of acidity are preferentially released. Such episodic acidification most likely would first affect small, ephemeral snowmelt pools favored by amphibians for breeding. Other studies indicate that the tiger salamander, which is endemic to the area, is sensitive at pH values commonly observed in the snowpack and wetfall in and near the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. Thus, a combination of chemistry in wetfall, snowpack, and lakes might be predicted to result in biological effects in and near the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, which is a Class 1 area (those given the greatest level of protection) under the Clean Air Act. Farther downwind is Rocky Mountain National Park, another Class 1 area.

The likelihood that this area is the most affected in the Rocky Mountains offers some opportunities to protect Rocky Mountain Wilderness Areas in general. Little information exists to tell us what aspects of the hydrologic and biologic systems of Rocky Mountain watersheds are most responsive to acidification. Further, although some damage might occur at present levels of emission, it is possible that hydrologic and other processes might protect these systems in ways not observed elsewhere. Thus, a well-planned evaluation of effects on lakes and aquatic organisms would

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Clean air is critical to maintain spectacular vistas, such as that of Big Agnes Mountain (A). Clean air also is critical to the health of wilderness streams and lakes, such as Seven Lakes (B). Both photographs are from the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area of Colorado, which has the most acidic snow in the Rocky Mountains.

be useful in predicting the effects of energy development and associated emissions everywhere in the Rocky Mountains.

For more information on aquatic resources in Rocky Mountain Wilderness Areas, contact John Turk at:

Telephone: (303) 236–4882, ext. 300
Fax: (303) 236-4912

John Turk has conducted research on the aquatic resources of

Rocky Mountain Wilderness Areas since 1980.

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Providing the public with timely, objective, high-quality technical information that is relevant to public issues and useful to policymakers is at the foundation of the USGS mission. In addition to conducting scientific investigations to gather vital data on the Earth, its processes, and its resources, the USGS is charged with promoting information sharing and providing consistent information management. A focused effort in information management enables the USGS to be more productive and more responsive to the public's need for information, as the articles in the following section show. Through the use of innovative technologies, educational programs, and integrated policies for communicating and sharing information, the USGS fulfills its mandate of providing “Earth Science in the Public Service."

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global land-cover characteristics

database has been developed for use in global change, sustainable development, and environmental assessment applications. This activity is an extension of the USGS research on conterminous U.S. land-cover characterization.

Regional Database

regional land-cover characteristics

Federal environmental programs. Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) data are the primary source of the land-cover characteristics data. This activity is a partnership between the USGS and the agencies leading the NAWQA, GAP, EMAP, and C-CAP programs.

Multi-Resolution Monitoring System


The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has a a

tradition of leadership in land characterization research and development. The agency was instrumental in the establishment of a comprehensive earth observation program and also developed both a landmark strategy for land-use and land-cover classification and a national 1:250,000-scale land-use and land-cover mapping program. In addition, the USGS met the need for a catalog of Alaska's vegetation resources through a mammoth effort to use Landsat images and digital image classification to inventory more than 75 percent of Alaska's vegetation.

The USGS continues to pioneer efforts in land characterization by developing and using a prototype land-cover database using satellite data. Environmental research and management demand current data on land cover, but there is no consensus on the format, scale, contents, and frequency of the required databases. The common ground between organizations is that land characteristics data must reflect multiple scales, sources, and times to satisfy a broad range of applications and be able to serve as a baseline for monitoring changes in land surface.

The USGS began a multi-resolution land characteristics monitoring system using a baseline of multiscale environmental characteristics and mechanisms for monitoring environmental changes. The system is based on the needs of such Federal environmental analysis programs as the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA), the National Biological Survey's Gap Analysis Project (GAP), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (USEPA) Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Change Analysis Program (C-CAP). It also contributes to the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The multi-resolution land characteristics monitoring system has three objectives: building a global database, building a regional database, and developing a multi-resolution monitoring system.

multi-resolution monitoring system for

targeting areas of potential change and assessing the types, extent, and causes of land-cover change has been constructed. The system will use high-frequency, advanced very high resolution radiometer (AVHRR) data from NOAA and will verify and quantify local land changes by using Landsat data.

The initial emphasis is on the first two objectives to establish baseline conditions from which changes can be monitored.

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