Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzley Bears in America's Own Backyard by Mary Kay Carson, photographs by Tom Uhlman

If you have ever visited one of America's national parks, you know how beautiful they truly are.  But did you know that they are also, as Mary Kay Carson writes, natural laboratories and living museums, places where you can find all sorts of interesting and unique animals, plants and other wonders of nature?

In her new book, Park Scientists, Mary Kay Carson introduces us to three very different national parks, and to the work that scientists and researcher carry on in them all year long to make sure they continue to be healthy places to visit.  Scientists study the ecosystem particular to each park, as well as measuring temperatures, tracking populations of animals and plants and devising ways to care for them, when they are sick or simply to keep them healthy.

First up is Yellowstone National Park, so large, it takes up land in three states - Montana, Wyoming and  Idaho.  Carson explains how Yellowstone's famous geysers happen, why they erupt to faithfully (hence the name of the most famous geyser in the park - Old Faithful) and why scientists study them and monitor their temperatures so closely.

Yellowstone is also home to the famous and scary grizzly bear.  Carson explains how bear scientists can now track bear populations using a special GPS collar.  Readers will also find out why it is important to sturdy these big bears so they don't disappear because of hunger and how their enemy, the grey wolf, can both hurt and help the grizzly.

Saguaro National Forest is the second park visited.  This desert park is located in the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona, near Tucson, and is my personal favorite.  Scientists here study the Saguaro cacti, measuring its growth and doing a census of these desert giants.  They are especially concerned with what might cause a Saguaro to die.  To date, they believe it is a serious of freezes, but they keep studying the problem.

Also found in the desert are Gila monsters.  These are the largest lizards in the US and they have been around since the age of the dinosaur.  Though not too large, they are very powerful, so watch out for them if you see one in the desert.  They are tracked like the grizzly, wearing a specially designed GPS, so they can be monitored.

From the desert, Carson takes us to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.  Here, scientists study salamanders and fireflies, trying to determine what effect climate change may have on them.  The salamander requires a moist climate, so the question is could it adapt to a warming climate.  Carson introduces us to an evolutionary researcher, who studies the adaptation of salamanders using their DNA.

Ever wonder how a firefly lights up the night?  Carson explains it all and then tells us about what firefly researchers do.  Fireflies are difficult to protect, but they are in decline.  Researcher want to find out why.  I remember when I was growing up in NYC, there were fireflies everywhere at night, then one summer they were gone.  Temperature change?  Maybe.

Carson's text is clear and concise, and is complimented with beautiful  colorful photographs by Tom Uhlman.  His close up shots provide informative pictorial detail enhancing our appreciation of the work of the scientists and researchers.  And his more panoramic views give us a bigger picture so that we can really marvel at the beauty and difference of each park.

I hope these few interesting facts from Park Scientists about what goes on in these national parks have whet your appetite for finding out more about what science does to help protect and prolong the natural wonders that are found in each.

Park Scientists is part of the Science in the Field series and is every bit a excellent and informative as all the other books in the series.  This is a welcome addition to the library of the curious reader or the budding scientist, not to mention in classrooms and for home schooling.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

There is an in-depth 7 page discussion guide perfect for teachers that can be downloaded for free from Scribd

This is book 5 of my 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Reading Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy


  1. Love the National Parks....all three of Little Miss HISTORY's nonfiction adventures so far have featured national park sites, Mount Rushmore, Statue of Liberty and Sequoia. Doesn't matter whether you are looking at history, geography or science, they are national treasures!

  2. Wow! This looks great. Thanks for sharing.

  3. This is a new book for me! I'll have to check it out.

  4. I've heard about Science in the Field series - I shall have to find more titles for my 12 year old girl to read this summer.


Imagination Designs