National Park Service

Rocky Mountain I&M Network

Alpine Lakes Ecological Integrity

High Alpine Lake
High alpine lake.

Importance/Issues

Alpine lake systems are an important component of alpine landscapes. The ecology of alpine lakes is closely linked to conditions in the watershed; therefore, the condition of alpine vegetation may be a covariate in analyses of alpine lake monitoring data. In addition, alpine lake systems provide critical habitat for facultative and obligate aquatic taxa, support many terrestrial taxa, and contribute to nutrient and hydrologic cycling. Alpine lakes are also very sensitive to perturbation, both at local and landscape scales. Accordingly, they were selected as ideal aquatic systems for long-term monitoring in the alpine zones of Rocky Mountain Network parks.

Alpine lakes will be assessed using sentinel sites in all three large Rocky Mountain Network parks. Models will be used to understand sentinel lake monitoring results in the context of other, non-sampled lakes in Rocky Mountain Network parks.

Preliminary Monitoring Objectives:

Monitor status and trend in annual physiochemical loadings of key water quality analytes (e.g., NPS–WRD core measures, any 303(d)-listed analyte, critical anions and cations, nutrients, and sediment) at sentinel alpine lake sites.

Optional monitoring objectives:

  • Monitor status and trend in plankton/periphyton assemblages and hydrologic dynamics at sentinel alpine lake sites.
  • Monitor for trends in phenological events (e.g., ice-out, melt-out, green-up, insect emergence, flowering dates, and lake-turnover dynamics at sentinel alpine lake sites).
  • Determine status and trends in selected aquatic invasive plants at sentinel alpine lakes.

Protocol Development and Status

Alpine lake systems are a critical component of the landscape in Rocky Mountain National Park, Glacier National Park, and Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. The development and implementation of the alpine lake protocol, however, will be dependent on the availability of funds in the future. Our initial strategy will be to employ annual sampling of water chemistry at one or a few sentinel lakes within each park.

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Last Updated: December 30, 2016 Contact Webmaster