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Symposium Highlights Array Of New Discoveries

White Sands National Monument

National Park News

A two day science symposium was held in early June to showcase the scientific research occurring at White Sands National Monument.

Researchers from across the country came together to share their knowledge of this unique ecosystem and provide information on cutting edge research that is being conducted in diverse fields of science, including biology, archeology, geology, paleontology, climatology and hydrology.

The goals of the symposium were to encourage new collaborations among White Sands researchers, highlight recent discoveries, and synthesize recent findings into a "state of the science report" that can be used by the park for staff training and interpretive programming for the general public. The symposium included lectures, a poster session, and panel discussions.

Presentations included:

  • Exploring aeolian sand dune dynamics with the use of airborne and ground based LiDAR to construct dunefield patterns and migration processes at White Sands NM.
  • Explaining dune field evolution through sand sourcing and transport across the dune field (linking wind, sediment transport, vegetation, and groundwater together).
  • Using space observations and thermal resources framework to study water dynamics, soil moisture, dust emission, and the effects of climate change.
  • Preliminary results from a hydrological investigation that highlighted the importance of a high water table in sustaining the dune system.
  • Discoveries at the microscopic scale on the geomicrobiology of the sand and lake environments.
  • Geochemical and hydrological processes that control gypsum deposition at White Sands.
  • Recent discovery of over a thousand Pleistocene megafauna fossilized prints (mammoth, camel, saber-toothed tiger, and dyer wolf) with embedded seeds that had a radio carbon date of 18,000 years before present.
  • Biomineralization and carbon sequestration by microorganism, and calcium partitioning and sequestration in foliage from plants.
  • The use of the monument as an analog for dunes on Mars.
  • A middle school pilot study comparing White Sands to Mars.

Poster presentations focused on the remarkable endemism and diversity among insects and other species; the potential speciation and the ecomorphology among animals; the distribution of mesocarnivores; the microbial diversity and nutrient cycling within the gypsum soils; and the history of oryx removal from the monument.

As evident by discussions during the symposium, new discoveries are happening at an extraordinary rate and are redefining long-held assumptions about the monument. With so many new findings, it is exciting to think of what discoveries will occur next year.


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