Air Quality in American National Parks and Big Cities Is Roughly the Same

iStock
iStock

National parks usually have more vegetation, wildlife, and open spaces than urban areas, but the two don't look much different when it comes to air quality. As City Lab reports, a new study published in Science Advances found that U.S. national parks and the nation's largest cities have comparable ozone levels.

For their research, scientists from Iowa State University and Cornell University looked at air pollution data collected over 24 years from 33 national parks and the 20 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Their results show that average ozone concentrations were "statistically indistinguishable" between the two groups from 1990 to 2014.

On their own, the statistics look grim for America's protected areas, but they're actually a sign that environmental protection measures are working. Prior to the 1990s, major cities had higher ozone concentrations than national parks. At the start of the decade, the federal government passed the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments in an effort to fight urban air pollution, and ozone levels have been declining ever since.

The average ozone in national parks did increase in the 1990s, but then in 1999 the EPA enacted the Regional Haze Rule, which specifically aims to improve air quality and visibility in national parks. Ozone levels in national parks are now back to the levels they were at in 1990.

Ground-level ozone doesn't just make America's national parks harder to see: It can also damage plants and make it difficult for human visitors to breathe. Vehicles, especially gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs, are some of the biggest producers of the pollutant.

[h/t City Lab]

These Nature Posters Show the Most Endangered Animal in Each State

NetCredit
NetCredit

The U.S. has more than 1300 endangered or threatened species, from South Dakota's black-footed ferret to Colorado's Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly to the blue whales that live off the coast of Alaska. These wild animals could disappear if prompt wildlife conservation measures aren't taken, and people are largely to blame. Globally, human activities are the direct cause of 99 percent of threatened animal classifications, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Some of these animals may even be in your backyard. A research team commissioned by NetCredit used data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to highlight the most endangered animal in each state. For this project, "most endangered" refers to the animals that face the greatest risk of extinction. An art director and designer then teamed up to create gorgeous illustrations of each animal.

Since some regions are home to many of the same creatures, a different animal was selected from the shortlist of endangered species in cases where there were duplicates from one state to the next. The goal was to cast light on as many threatened species as possible, including the ones that rarely make headlines.

"We hope this will start a conversation around the fact that it's not just the iconic species we see on nature documentaries that we're at risk of losing forever," the research team said in a statement.

Take the black-footed ferret, for instance. It's the only ferret that's native to North America, but its ranks have dwindled as its main food source—prairie dogs—becomes harder to find. Prairie dog eradication programs and loss of the ferret's habitat (due to farming) are some of the factors to blame. A ferret breeding colony was established in the past, but only 200 to 300 of the animals still remain, rendering them critically endangered.

To learn more about some of America's most at-risk species, check out the posters below and visit NetCredit's website for the full report.

California's Point Arena mountain beaver
NetCredit

Alaska's blue whale
NetCredit

South Carolina's frosted flatwoods salamander
NetCredit

Minnesota's rusty patched bumble bee
NetCredit

New York's Eastern massasauga snake
NetCredit

West Virginia's Virginia big-eared bat
NetCredit

Florida's red wolf
NetCredit

The poster of endangered wildlife in all 50 states
NetCredit

The West Coast Is Preparing for Another Super Bloom

iStock.com/Ron_Thomas
iStock.com/Ron_Thomas

In spring of 2017, people flocked to Southern California's deserts to see fields of wildflowers brightening the normally sparse terrain. That level of vegetation, also known as a super bloom, is an event that only occurs after winters of heavier-than-average precipitation. Now just two years later, the rare sight is about to return to California's Anza-Borrego desert, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The 2018/2019 winter season was an unusually wet one for California. Between October 1 and the beginning of February, Downtown Los Angeles saw 12.91 inches of rain, which is approximately 167 percent more than the seasonal average. All that precipitation will produce an explosion of color when spring arrives in Anza-Borrego desert three hours southeast of Los Angeles. Experts predict the 2019 super bloom could start as early as late February and last through March.

If the last super bloom is any indication, this year's event will attract crowds of sight-seers. Anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 people visited the desert to look at and snap pictures of the flowers in 2017. Many local communities were overwhelmed by the influx of tourists, but this time around they know what to expect. Portable toilets will be set up around popular sites, and thousands of maps of showing where the flower fields, gas stations, and toilets are located are ready to be passed out to drivers.

Visitors also have a few things to learn from the past super bloom. Two years ago, foot traffic in places like the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve was so heavy that trails had to be closed down to protect delicate flowers from selfie-taking tourists.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

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