Science Center Objects

Snow and ice are major sources of water for plants and animals in the parks and forests of the Puget Sound Basin, including Olympic, North Cascades, and Mt. Rainier National Parks, and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie and Olympic National Forests. In the North Cascades National Park alone, there are more than 300 small glaciers that feed 245 mountain lakes and a myriad of streams, wetlands, and aquifers. The waters from these snowfields and glaciers can also become a trap for airborne contaminants such as pesticides, herbicides,and heavy metals. A study of the Canadian Rockies has already found the contaminants in some fish.

To help the USDA Forest Service and the National Park Service know where and to what levels the contaminants are present, the USGS is studying aquatic organisms in glacier- and nonglacier-fed lakes for the presence and concentration of contaminants.

Persistent Organic Pollution and Heavy Metals in Glacial Fed Lakes and Aquatic Biota in National Parks and Forests of the Puget Sound Basin - Completed FY2004

Problem - Snow and ice are critical resources at North Cascades NPS Complex (NOCA), Mount Rainier National Park (MORA), Olympic National Park (OLYM), and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie and Olympic National Forests. In NOCA alone, there are more than 300 small glaciers and numerous perennial snowfields that feed 245 mountain lakes and a myriad of streams, wetlands, and aquifers. The waters from these glaciers and snowfields function as the lifeblood of plant and animal communities found in all of these parks and forests. Pesticides, herbicides, and heavy metals enter the atmosphere as volatile contaminants, are transported across the landscape by wind currents, and are scrubbed from the air by heavy snowfall and deposited along the mountain ridgeline in glaciers and snowfields as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Subsequent snowmelt washes these pollutants into the mountain lakes and streams to be absorbed and accumulated in the food chain (water, sediment, plankton, macroinvertebrates, amphibians, and fish). Contaminant levels of PCB, DDT, and toxaphene in fish tissues in the Canadian Rockies are well above the Canadian tissue residue guidelines for wildlife consumers, such as mink, otter, bald eagles, and osprey. These contaminants are public and ecological health problems. The USDA Forest Service and National Park Service wish to know where and at what concentrations these pollutants exist in the environs that they and the public regard as pristine. This intensive study will begin the assessment of these federal lands and provide a resource baseline in support of future long-term ecological monitoring.

Objectives - There are two objectives for this study. The first is to determine the relation of watershed area, elevation, and snow and ice drainage to the accumulation of organochlorine pesticides and other persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals in fish and/or amphibians and compare the relative levels of these pollutants in the tissue of aquatic organisms between glacial-fed and non glacial-fed lakes. The second objective is to derive a relationship between contaminant burden in fish and/or amphibian tissues and those of organisms at lower trophic levels and lake bottom sediment, relate contaminant concentrations found in the top predators at each lake to other physiographic/biologic factors of the recipient watershed, and evaluate the immune system efficiency of top predator fish.

Relevance and Benefits - This study will address the second major mission goal of the USGS 2000-2005 Strategic Plan of better understanding the Nation's environment and natural resources. This effort will focus on natural resources within the national parks of the Puget Sound area and help identify the level of anthropogenic contamination in glacial and non-glacial fed lake sediment and aquatic biota traditionally believed to be contaminant free. If contamination is found, innovative methodologies will be employed to determine the potential health effects of the contaminants on the aquatic biota. The refinement of these methodologies and results of this work could be utilized in other aquatic systems throughout the United States. The proposed study will also address a number of the major science issues identified in the USGS Washington Water Science Center Science Plan. First, the study will address the source and transport of contaminants in surface waters. Second, it will help assess the vulnerability of specific types of surface water. Finally, it will address the relationship between anthropogenic contaminants and fish health in an area with a number of federally endangered aquatic species. The proposed study is also extremely relevant and important to the national parks within the study area. Knowing if contaminants are present in the environment would play a significant role in the parks' management of the resources as well as the visitors.

Approach - To address the first objective, approximately 14 high elevation lakes will be selected and sampled for contaminants in the upper trophic levels of the aquatic food chain using amphibians or predatory fish. Existing GIS data and biological information will be used to select sites and interpret the results. The second objective will sample lake surficial sediments and invertebrate and fish tissue to evaluate trophic impact and potential bioaccumulation. To evaluate the immune system of fish, fish hormones will be extracted and compared to those levels observed in know pristine systems. The final year of the project will involve the analysis and publication of the data in the peer reviewed literature.