Under the umbrella of the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee, superintendents and supervisors from the eight regional forests and national parks, as well as leaders from local communities, got acquainted with the resources available at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. As part of their quarterly meeting April 7 and 8, they spent two days touring the national lab in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and at the site in the Idaho desert.
The visit allowed participants of the GYCC to become familiar with the medley of expertise that INEEL has available. It also cultivated a cooperative relationship between the local government agencies that have to deal with similar issues such as regional transportation, infrastructure such as buildings, sewers, roads and electricity generation, and natural resource management.
"One of the functions of the GYCC is to coordinate decisions and manage data between agencies," said Henry Shovic, a soil scientist with Gallatin National Forest, Montana, who is assisting communications between the INEEL and the GYCC. "The GYCC supports projects across park boundaries, and now it's pulling in the INEEL."
For two days, INEEL scientists introduced the visitors to a variety of research projects. Some of the projects would be immediately useful to the parks and forests, such as work with bacterial resources that can be applied to microbial populations found in the park system, INEEL's fleet of alternate fuel buses and trucks and their management, or computerized information systems that can handle large amounts of data.
Shovic and the many other participants were exposed to quite a bit of INEEL research. He said, "We were very impressed with the quality and quantity of the science and technology being done there. Most of us did not know the scope of work INEEL engaged in."
Every national park and forest has a myriad of natural resources to take care of, including species of bacteria and other microbes that may be useful to basic science researchers and drug companies. Because of this potential, INEEL researchers are developing a Microbial Mapping and Data Management System to catalog and map the microbes and the geologic characteristics of Yellowstone National Park's many hot springs.
"The project generated quite a bit of interest from the forest service people," said INEEL program manager John Beller. "Not only did it give them an idea of what associated problems they may have in the future from use of their resources, but right now they're concerned with just understanding what they have."
INEEL data management expertise could be applied to the handling of data acquired in the daily maintenance of the natural reserves. The regional parks and forests receive many visitors a year, creating massive amounts of paperwork from camping permits to parking tickets that need to be managed. INEEL is working with the National Park Service to develop a research permitting system that might improve the efficiency with which the data on that paperwork is stored and retrieved.
That same information systems expertise will be helpful in compiling landscape information, according to Shovic, who is currently trying to bring together different digital methods of landscape data storage. "It's data knitting," he said. "Data from a number of different sources, such as soil survey information, landforms, vegetation, and digital elevation models, are automated to put them in the same format. We are working on ways to represent the landscape with digital means."
INEEL's expertise in subsurface technology can also benefit GYCC members. INEEL researchers are exploring pollution's interactions with the subsurface environment by developing underground environmental monitoring techniques and investigating fundamental subsurface processes. Interdisciplinary groups of scientists are working together towards a complete understanding of subsurface ecology and the impact of subterranean pollution on it.
This knowledge can aid in pollution control in a region such as the national forests around Yellowstone that harbor mines. Shovic is involved with reclaiming a district that has been closed down to further mining, and looked to INEEL's talents for aid. He said, "INEEL can possibly provide geologic support, and we can learn about underground modeling from them. We can learn new methods of reducing pollution, about protection of our resources from underground waste sources, and about waste movement through strata underground."
Scientists also presented INEEL projects that don't appear to be applicable now, but may be in the future. These included work with various chemical separation techniques such as novel filter membranes and technologies under development that can sample the air or ground for chemicals. Such environmental monitoring technology will be useful to preserve the health of the natural parks and forests.
On the second day of the GYCC conference, INEEL researchers transported the participants to the INEEL site in the desert. There, the parks and forests managers toured INEEL's fleet maintenance and hazardous materials management areas.
"The parks and forests all have big fleets and waste issues to deal with," said Beller. "We discussed issues like worker safety, environment, waste minimization, maintenance shops and fleets, alternative solvents, and snowplows, trucks and busses. Mike Finley, the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, also discussed bringing down the Yellowstone maintenance group to see how INEEL does this first hand."
The GYCC meets every six months. This is the first time they toured the national lab, learning first-hand about the issues and concerns INEEL addresses in their role as DOE's environmental laboratory.
INEEL celebrates its 50-year anniversary in 1999. The national laboratory is operated for the U.S. Department of Energy by Lockheed Martin Idaho Technologies Company.