American National Parks are a popular tourist destination, often said to be an breath of fresh air, and home to unspoiled ecosystems. But is the air so fresh after all?

Researchers at Iowa State and Cornell University found that the air in these American National Parks is not so fresh. A study published in Science Advances on the air quality of these national parks  found that ozone levels at 33 of America‘s parks were almost the same as the levels in the country’s 20 biggest metropolitan cities.

Maroon Bells lake in Aspen, Colorado American National Parks
Maroon Bells lake in Aspen, Colorado

While these parks are often seen as a retreat from the air pollution and smog of the cities, they may not actually be much better. They could also be a threat to public health. The study shows that some of the most famous and popular parks rank poorly when compared with the ozone levels of big metropolitan cities.

Ozone Levels at American National Parks are almost the same as in Big Cities

According to David Keiser, Assistant Professor of Economics at Iowa State, “The U.S. has spent billions of dollars over the last three decades to improve air quality. Given the popularity of national parks, as well as the fact that people go to parks to be outside, we believed it was worth better understanding air quality trends in these areas and whether people, through their actions, respond to changes in air quality in parks”.

Mirror Lake Yosemite National Park California
Mirror Lake in Yosemite National Park, California

However, as mentioned in the Scientific American, ozone is a complicated gas. It is only harmful when its occurs below the ozone layer in the Earth’s atmosphere. Here, it is extremely beneficial, blocking out cancer-causing ultraviolet rays. However, at ground level it is a respiratory hazard, caused by vehicle exhaust and industrial waste.

Researchers agree the best way to solve this issue in the American National Parks is to address its source in the cities that contribute to its pollution.

While the air quality has improved since the 1990s due to the Clean Air Act (CAA), this has largely only affected urban areas. even more recent acts, such as the 1999 Regional Haze Act targeted at wild areas have not had lasting impact. And, with the current political climate, who knows whether it will be rectified before it’s too late?

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