What would compel a geologist to give up a well-earned
university sabbatical or dust off a rock hammer and come out of
retirement to spend three months alone mapping the geology of some
of America's most remote and rugged national parks and national
Add to that, working as a volunteer, bunking in at
local ranger stations and leaving friends and families behind?
With financial support from a growing number of non-profit
geological associations, a group of highly-skilled and dedicated
geologists is winning rave reviews and becoming great role models
as volunteers in the Geoscientist-in-the-Park program run by the
National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Forest Service (USDA Forest Service).
A love of geology, a desire to share their knowledge
of earth sciences with the general public and a sense of duty to
give something back to society have prompted these geologists to
volunteer their skills and time.
Equally important, these geologists are making significant
contributions to the resource management of the national parks and
national forests through the integration of geological processes.
The United States' 387 national parks have a resource
management staff comprising about 900 biologists and 68 geologists.
Of these 68 geologists, fewer than a third actually work as field
geologists or interpreters.
And funding is always an issue, according to Judy
Geniac , environmental protection specialist with the
NPS' Geologic Resources Division and manager of the Geoscientist-in-the-Park
"There's simply not enough geologists to go around,"
Geniac said. "We need all the expertise we can get."
What started out as a "grass roots" effort seven
years ago has grown to a program that will see several hundred applicants
compete this year for 85 GIP positions in the NPS and 15 positions
in the USDA Forest Service. The NPS and the USDA Forest Service
provide sponsorship by supplying room and board for the GIPs.
GIP volunteers come from all walks of life — students,
high school geology teachers, academics, and working and retired
"We have just been overwhelmed by the top-notch GIP
candidates and by their professionalism," Geniac said, adding that,
in some cases, the three-month GIP projects have led to full-time
or seasonal positions with the NPS.
Making a Difference
Geoscientists working with and for the country's
parks operations is not without precedent.
The Geological Society of America, through its GeoCorps
America™ Program, seeks to increase the number of geoscientists
working on public lands, enhance the knowledge and management of
natural resources, mitigate geological hazards and raise the public's
awareness of geological resources on public lands.
GeoCorps America last year expanded its sponsorship
to include USDA Forest Service. Managing 192 million acres of land,
the USDA Forest Service employs 130 geologists nationwide.
The project also funded stipends for 20 geologists
last year to participate in the NPS-run GIP program, and an additional
15 stipends for geologists in the USDA Forest Service. This year
it will fund stipends for 20 of the 85 GIP positions run by the
NPS, and another 15 positions in the USDA Forest Service.
"It's our top outreach program," said Julie Sexton,
GeoCorps America's program officer. "We don't have any other program
that comes close to the numbers and levels of outreach."
According to Sexton, the USDA Forest Service was
so impressed by one of the 2001 GeoCorps America participants that
they are paying for her college tuition, and have guaranteed her
a job upon graduation.
Recently convocated with a B.S. in geology from Ohio
State University, AAPG student member Linda Centeno spent last summer
as a participant in the Inyo National Forest in the eastern Sierra
Mountains of California.
"I wanted to do something fun and exciting," Centeno
said. "What I actually did is learn some geology. I got to use geology
in everyday, real life situations."
Her project consisted of preparing an inventory of
the more than 300 abandoned mines, then documenting their potential
hazards to the environment and to visitors.
While at Inyo, Centeno bunked in the Forest Service
barracks with the fire fighters, trail crews and wilderness rangers.
How does she feel about that?
"My internship at the Inyo National Forest," she
said, "has been the best experience of my life."
Apparently, she's not alone:
AAPG member Bob Spoelhof is a
retired geologist who also is making a difference.
According to Spoelhof, his 30-year career in petroleum
geology prepared him for his GIP work at Grand Canyon National Park
(North and South Rims), eventually leading to a paying position
as a Park Ranger (Interpretation).
"I was always a generalist," Spoelhof said. "I spent
a good bit of my time exploring for oil and gas in the Rockies.
I came to the parks understanding the stratigraphy and structural
history of the Rocky Mountains."
Spoelhof will spend this summer in Yellowstone National
Park working with Lori, his wife and fellow Park Ranger (Interpretation).
Spoelhof said that many park visitors ask him about
drilling for oil and gas in the national parks and national monuments
— and he gives them his perspective, based upon his career in the
"The national parks are rich repositories for not
only minerals or oil and gas," he said, "but for trees and medicinal
AAPG member Bob Rose , another
retired petroleum geologist and former GIP participant, hopes that
more retired geologists will volunteer for the program.
"Retirees have the experience," said Rose, a 35-year
industry veteran who spent two seasons as a GIP interpreter and
stratigrapher at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, located on the
south shore of Lake Superior, Michigan.
Rose's third GIP season involved mapping the geology
at the 40-acre Pipe Spring National Monument and the adjacent Kaibab
Paiute Indian Reservation, situated in northwest Arizona.
Rose's task at Pipe Spring National Monument — an
area steeped in American Indian and Mormon pioneer history — was
to determine why the water was there. During his project, he worked
collaboratively with a hydrologist from the U.S. Geological Survey,
and created a geological cross-section through the spring that illustrated
the relationship between it and the surrounding geology.
Rose also noted — and corrected — some geological
errors in the standing displays at the monument.
"I might have been the first person to have ever
given a geological interpretation of that particular 40 acres,"
Annabelle Foos is a geology professor
at the University of Akron in Ohio, specializing in geochemistry
and clay mineralogy with applications to environmental geology,
petroleum geology, soil science and economic geology. In May she
completed her volunteer work as an AWG-sponsored GIP in Zion National
Park, where she spent her three month-sabbatical mapping the relic
terraces of the Holocene age Hop Valley Lake and collecting sediment
samples for paleomagnetic age dating.
Petroglyphs by ancestral Pueblo Indians abound in
the park, and many of them are covered by lake deposits of unknown
Foos discovered that what the NPS had previously
described as ancient lake deposits were in fact alluvial sediments.
Further, Foos reclassified the Pueblo drawings from petroglyphs
to "picture graphs" (in other words, images painted on and not carved
into, the rocks like petroglyphs).
Foos's excitement is contagious when she describes
seeing "Virgin Anasazi" picture graphs some 600 years old.
"I felt like a geology ambassador," Foos said of
her three-month GIP project. "The role of the geologist is to help
protect the biological and archaeological resources in the parks.
"We want to demonstrate to the resource managers
that geology is an important part of the ecosystem."
Zion National Park will benefit in numerous ways
from her involvement — the data that she collected will be analyzed
at the University of Akron, becoming part of the university's research
into the terrestrial record of environmental change.
Combining the disciplines of geology and botany, Catherine
Crumpton worked as an AWG-sponsored GIP in Big Bend National
Park from September to December 2001, studying the distribution
of a rare desert cactus. Echinocereus chisoensis, commonly known
as the Chisos hedgehog cactus, has been listed as a threatened species
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The cactus is indigenous
only to Big Bend National Park. Bordering Mexico on the Rio Grande,
the park encompasses 800,000 acres of diverse Chihuahuan desert
landscape that includes mountains, desert grasslands, badlands and
deep river-cut canyons.
a geo-ecologist, Crumpton mapped the geologic "parent" materials
of the soils, which have a direct correlation on the distribution
and abundance of many rare plants in Big Bend. During the project,
Crumpton collaborated with soil scientists from the National Resource
Crumpton honed her mapping skills in using aerial
photos and geological maps, and increased her knowledge of soil
science and sedimentology. Working independently in the field, she
used a hand-held Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) instrument to
record key data including geological strata, soil types, bedrock,
plant cover and micro-topography. She entered the field data into
a GIS (Geographic Information System), integrating it with geologic
and soil type maps for the park.
Crumpton developed a habitat suitability model that
she used to predict 37 additional sites — based upon key criteria
— where populations of the Chisos Hedgehog cactus might be found.
The model passed with flying colors in the field.
"I was flabbergasted," Crumpton said. "Using the
model, I could actually go out and find new populations of cactus."
Her model now will also be used south of the border
in Mexico to map potential habitat for this rare cactus.
Geniac is excited by Crumpton's findings.
"We can use geology as a tool to help manage ecosystem
resources, including threatened and endangered species," she said.
"The NPS could not believe how much Crumpton had accomplished in
just three months."
Joe Sirotnak, botanist with Big Bend National Park,
is equally enthusiastic about Crumpton's findings.
"No one had looked at the distribution of this cactus
from the substrate point of view," Sirotnak said. "Having the expertise
of a trained geoscientist allowed us to look at it from the ground
"The Chisos Hedgehog cactus is threatened," Crumpton
explained, "because its flower is so beautiful that private collectors
and cactus pirates enter the park to steal the plant." Standing
20 to 30 centimeters high, this small, barrel-type cactus doesn't
bloom and bear fruit until it is four to six years old.
"All this for a flower that lasts only two days."
A desire to work outside in the desert environment
of western Texas led Crumpton to abandon her office job as a bookkeeper
eight years ago and pursue a B.S. in environmental sciences. At
49, Crumpton describes herself as a "non-traditional student."
After graduating this spring with a M.S. in geology,
she'll return to Big Bend to commence a paid position in a hydrology
project focusing on grassland restoration.
Brittina Argow is an assistant
professor at Westchester Community College, New York, where she
teaches earth sciences, oceanography and physical geography. In
2000, during her summer teaching break, she worked as an AWG-sponsored
GIP with the Cape Cod National Seashore Park, studying the ecology
and geology of the Herring River estuary that has been negatively
impacted by the construction of a dike in 1908-09 and by subsequent
Argrow waded into an emotionally-charged controversy
surrounding the status of the dike — whether to remove it or maintain
the status quo. Her teaching and communication skills proved invaluable
to the success of the GIP project. Equipped with scientific data
on the ecosystem, geology, geography and sedimentology of the area,
she presented her findings to a divided audience at public meetings.
Working collaboratively with the Massachusetts State
Coastal Zone Management and the town of Wellfleet (population 2,493),
Argrow tried to find the delicate balance between meeting the needs
of the environment and the needs of diverse stakeholders, including
landowners, shellfishermen, boaters, local residents and businessmen.
The park provided Argow with housing, the town with
office space and the AWG with funding for the project.
"It was very important to my credibility with the
general public of Wellfleet that I had third party funding," she
"Green equals healthy" was the first misconception
that Argow had to dispel amongst the general public of Wellfleet.
Disturbed land, according to Argow, is frequently colonized by invasive
plant species. During her research, Argow documented the presence
of invasive woody shrubs living at elevations below mean high tide
that were not salt tolerant.
"My primary focus," she said, "was to explain this
scientific data in clear English so that everyone could understand.
As an outsider, I made it clear that this estuary ecosystem was
a period of 90 years, the dike prevented the natural process of
saltwater exchange or tidal flushing in the Herring River. Without
the pressure of tidal waters, the local aquifer increased its discharge
into the marsh, causing the water table to drop from mean high tide
level to mean sea level. Large areas of the salt water marsh became
completely drained. Dried out salt marsh peat contains a strong
concentration source of pyrite: aerial exposure caused oxidation
of the pyrite, releasing sulfur into the water. The water acidified,
with pH values measuring as low as 3.5. Summer fish kills were common.
What lessons did Argow take away from this GIP project?
"In some sense, I got a really good appreciation
of how difficult it is to be an idealist, and how important it is
to be a scientist," Argow said. "I have got to teach my students
how to separate facts from interpretation."