Four-Year NAU Project Will Study National Park Boundaries from Space

Oct 18, 2016

A four-year project led by Northern Arizona University will examine how political boundaries can create ecological differences. Researchers will look at the edges between national parks and nearby land … from space.

A 1994 NASA image shows a clear dividing line between the Grand Canyon National Park and the Kaibab National Forest, due to different land management practices.
Credit NASA STS-60 Shuttle Mission

The team will study satellite images of five national parks in the western U.S.  They’ll look for divisions caused by different land management choices, such as logging and grazing.

Clare Aslan of NAU’s Landscape Conservation Initiative leads the project. "A real piece of evidence that led us to this question was the fact that you can see the line between Grand Canyon National Park and Kaibab National Forest from space," Aslan says. "Seeing that so clearly really made us wonder, well, is this always the case?"

Aslan will sample vegetation and interview land managers at each park. She want to see how their decisions shape the landscape, and if they collaborate, do those differences go away?

"I think that’s where the new horizon really is in science, is trying to take those social and natural sides and consider them in one lens," Aslan says. 

The National Science Foundation awarded the project 1.3 million dollars. Data collection will begin at all five national parks next year.