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Geoindicators for Ecosystem Monitoring in Parks and Protected Areas
Report on an international workshop held at the Discovery Centre, Gros Morne National Park, Western Newfoundland, September 10-14, 2001

David Liverman - St. John's, Newfoundland

Some 25 scientists and others interested in monitoring the effects of rapid geological change (<100 years) on ecosystems in protected areas met recently in Gros Morne (GMNP), one of Canada's most spectacular national parks. The purpose was to discuss ways in which geoindicators can be applied in a wide range of natural settings, and to provide guidelines for the establishment of new monitoring efforts, including field and laboratory protocols and procedures.

The meeting, chaired by Tony Berger and Dave Liverman, was organized by the International Union of Geological Sciences and held in the Discovery Centre in Woody Point, an ideal venue with a comfortable auditorium, state of the art audio-visual equipment, and a superb view of Bonne Bay. It attracted a small but highly qualified group of scientists and others interested in the issue. The US National Park Service was well represented by Bob Higgins, Chief of the Science and Technical Assistance Branch of the Geologic Resources Division, along with Bruce Heise, Vicki Ozaki, and Jim Wood, all closely involved with the application of geoindicators in the US system. Participants from the US Geological Survey were Waite Osterkamp, a member of the original geoindicators working group that met in western Newfoundland in 1994, and Randall Schumann. David Welch and Jean Poitevin represented the Parks Canada headquarters, supplemented by Bruce Kitchen (Trent Waterways) and a strong contingent from Gros Morne, including Tom Knight, Christian Fraser, Anne Marceau, Mike Burzynski, Hugh McCormack, Stephen Flemming and Jennifer Hoffman. Don Forbes and John Shaw from the Geological Survey of Canada, Brian Craig from EMAN (the Canadian Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network), Bruce Roberts from the Atlantic Forestry Centre and Dave Liverman from the Newfoundland Geological Survey represented other areas of government in Canada. Don Pittman of Memorial University and Dan McCarthy of Brock University represented academic research and monitoring in the Parks system. Jonas Satkunas, Deputy Director of the Geological Survey of Lithuania, and Co-Director with Tony Berger of the IUGS Geoindicators Initiative, represented the European community's interest in geoindicators. Finally, two of the major supporters of the geoindicators project were represented by Karlon Blythe from the Geological Society of America, and Katie KellerLynn from the Newkirk, Engler and May Foundation.

The workshop opened with brief welcomes from Chip Bird (GMNP), Bob Higgins, Jonas Satkunas, and Bill Iams (Sir Wilfred Grenfell College of Memorial University) representing the major sponsors, together with the Science and Management of Protected Areas Association, the Geological Association of Canada's St. John's >88 Trust Fund, and the GMNP Cooperating Association. David Welch opened the technical sessions with an overview of Canada's National Parks, and the new concepts defining their management. Tony Berger then outlined the history, philosophy and progress of the IUGS geoindicator initiative, illustrating various indicators on the check list with a superb series of visual images. Waite Osterkamp delivered a fascinating talk on climate change predictions for the southwestern US, and their implications for National Parks in the region - an excellent example of how the predictions of large-scale climate models can be tested by indicator monitoring in a protected area.

The afternoon session opened with presentations from the US National Park Service, with Bob Higgins, Bruce Heise, and Jim Wood combining to give us a comprehensive overview of the scientific structure of the US National Parks, the difficulty of obtaining recognition for the importance of geology, and the manner in which geoindicators are now being adopted in parallel with the Parks vital signs program. The importance of geology in the US Parks system - and the lack of geological awareness - was exemplified by the story from Yosemite where the response of Park planners to floods on the valley floor was to suggest that all buildings be moved off the flood plain to the base of the unstable rock walls.

Karlon Blythe then gave an overview of the impressive GSA-funded GeoCorps America program, which places students and geologists of all ages into protected areas across the US. This provides superb practical experience for many students, and gives many parks the benefit of geological expertise. The focus then returned to Canada with a review by Brian Craig of EMAN activities. The innovative use of volunteer observers in its "Frogwatch" and "Wormwatch" programs showed how the public can effectively contribute to monitoring efforts, once interest is aroused. David Welch gave a thoughtful and thought-provoking paper on how the geoindicators concept might be adapted to use in the Canadian Parks system. He proposed some new indicators, including two that provoked considerable discussion (the built environment, and extreme events), and demonstrated the application of carefully defined criteria to the selection of the most "useful" indicators for the Parks system. An overview of GMNP was presented by Stephen Flemming, who described the stresses affecting it, the efforts of the Park's own ecosystem science team, and where geoindicators might come into play. A splendid reception and dinner was enjoyed by all in the pleasant water-front setting of the Old Loft restaurant.

The second day opened with a brief overview by Tony Berger of the geology of GMNP, and Bruce Roberts described his monitoring of hyper-alkaline seeps in the upper mantle section of the Bay of Islands Ophiolite Complex in the Tablelands area. The group then headed for the field to see these seeps and the many other dynamic features of the Tablelands. This is an ideal setting for discussing geoindicators, with active slope movement, periglacial features, a clear relationship between bedrock and flora, and much more. The weather deteriorated and as we took shelter and ate lunch near Trout River Pond, the news came through of the appalling events in New York and Washington D.C. Few of us will ever forget the experience of listening to the radio descriptions of the horrific events of that morning as we stared out in stark contrast at the rain and wind-swept landscape. In the circumstances, the group returned to Woody Point, but over dinner that night determined that the rest of the meeting should proceed as planned.

Wednesday saw a full day in the field, on a fine, warm and windy day. Highlights included inspection at a distance of a massive rock sag above Bonne Bay, and examination of the intertidal platform and bedrock exposures at Green Point, now the site for the global stratotype for the Cambro-Ordovician boundary. Don Forbes introduced the group to the methods of coastal monitoring being used by the GSC in Gros Morne, followed by a hike over the coastal wetlands to the mouth of Western Brook Pond, a visit to the coastal dunes at Western Brook, and a late afternoon walk to see the famous Cow Head conglomerate.

Dan McCarthy started the Thursday sessions back in the Discovery Centre with a fine example of cooperation between academia and Glacier/Mount Revelstoke National Parks in B.C. His use of historical photographs gave spectacular evidence of glacier retreat, and he made a strong case for the adaptation of geoindicators to include high resolution proxy records of environmental change. His close experience of working in a park allowed him to raise some interesting questions and problems for later discussion. Don Forbes then gave an impressive overview of his work on the north shore of Prince Edward Island, using a variety of methods to document change in the coastal zone, and to interpret its significance for planners. The coastal theme was continued as Don Pittman outlined his observations of the coastal dune fields of western Newfoundland, particularly those seen the previous day at Western Brook. Jonas Satkunas then took us to Lithuania, and a fascinating look at how monitoring of groundwater can show changes in agricultural land use, and other aspects of the environment. Lastly we returned to the US Park System, where Vicki Ozaki and Bob Higgins showed how two-day scoping exercises, which have been held to date in four parks, in conjunction with local parks staff, mangers and geologists (mainly from the USGS), identified the highest priority for geoindicators work at each site.

The meeting then split into two discussion groups, chaired by Jean Poitevin and Katie KellerLynn. It was clear from the outset that there was much to talk about, and indeed it proved hard to cover all topics. A suggestion arose from one group that to focus discussion and activity, the meeting could look at the geoindicators checklist in relation to Gros Morne, and make some suggestions to the park for geological monitoring. On Friday morning, a short check list was distributed and indicators prioritized by each participant. The results were collated by Dave Liverman and presented for further discussion. Arising from this, a short proposal was prepared for GMNP to consider on priorities and methods of proceeding with implementing geoindicators in the Park.

In brief, this identified the need to track changes in coastal dunes, wetlands, surface water quality, and shoreline position. Although most of the participants lacked the detailed local knowledge that could refine monitoring priorities, it was felt that GMNP should move forward by convening a scoping meeting to determine which indicators to monitor, and by what means. This should involve the coastal monitoring group from the GSC, representatives of water quality monitoring and stream flow measurement from Environment Canada and the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Environment and Lands, and those who have been informally monitoring dunes, snow patches, and other landscape elements. Researchers with expertise in monitoring wetlands should also be invited. To be effective, the meeting needs to involve Park management, and staff who might be involved in providing support to monitoring efforts.

A series of specific recommendations emerged from the break-out discussions as follows:

Participants also commended the US NPS approach as a good model to be used for implementing geoindicators. It should be recognized that one of the spinoffs from geological monitoring could be information for park interpretation programs. Determination should be made as to which monitoring programs can be automated, which need expert presence, and which can be performed by non-experts. The importance of monitoring around extreme events was stressed, including the need to check immediately afterwards for significant change. Time limits should also be set for monitoring efforts, and data repositories were an obvious requirement. Overlaps between existing ecosystem monitoring and geoindicators needs to be resolved, and linkages between them should be demonstrated, both to increase accessibility for non-geologists, and to meet the needs of park managers whose main concern is the maintenance of ecological integrity. Indicators should be flexible to accommodate changing priorities and local interests, but there should be a ranking from local to national to global priorities, with national bodies providing funding to track indicators of wider concern. Indicators should combine baseline monitoring to understand natural change as well as identification of human induced change, recognizing that geological methods of investigating change over past 100 - 1000 years allow natural change and variability to be established.

In the end, there was general agreement that the workshop had been useful and that it provided fairly clear direction as to how to progress further. IUGS now has some useful proposals to consider for modifications to the geoindicator check list, development of protocols and future directions for working groups. The US and Canadian Park service discovered much common ground, and the suggestion of a future cross-border meeting was well received. Gros Morne National Park can benefit from suggestions regarding development of a local geological monitoring program. The workshop presentations are now being compiled for publication.

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