Grand Teton National Park

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on

Grand Teton National Park is currently using historic color and color-infrared aerial photography, QuickBird satellite imagery, and lidar imagery for several wide-ranging and critical projects that range from resource protection (natural and cultural) to decision support for infrastructure and emergency planning. The GIS specialists lead the acquisition and analysis of the remotely sensed images, and vegetation ecologists, wildlife specialists, and project manager experts inform the analysis methodology and evaluate the results.

Working with a cooperator from the University of Wyoming, the park used 2009 USDA NAIP color-infrared imagery  create a baseline habitat map in the summer of 2011   Using a combination of spectral and spatial metrics the aerial imagery was classified into habitat groups and canopy cover classes.  Field checks showed good agreement with ground conditions.  The baseline map is being evaluated for correlation with the park’s 2005 vegetation layer.  GIS and vegetation staff at the park will replicate the classification protocol using subsequent NAIP acquisitions, and develop change analysis protocols to measure habitat change.  The top priorities for this analysis will be mapping invasive species (such as cheatgrass) and monitoring changes in sagebrush steppe habitat and the alpine/subalpine interface in the Teton Range. 

Park facilities management and resource management staff are very interested in the wider use of lidar imagery for project planning and other park management decisions.  Specific future applications include characterizing the vertical structure of forested areas for fire fuels monitoring and sagebrush areas for their use by sage grouse and other wildlife species as well as identification and documentation of historic and archeological resources.   Current applications are varied and include:


  • Snake River Corridor lidar coverage flown by the USACE in 2007 is used to identify historic channels and other potential areas vulnerable to high water.  GIS staff in the park created high resolution surface and contour maps for emergency services and planning staff, which were used intensively in the extreme high runoff periods in 2011.

  • Flown as part of the UNAVCO Intermountain Seismic Belt lidar Project (2009) as a base for monitoring tectonic activity, the park has a 2 km by 15 km swath of multiple-return lidar imagery along the tectonically active Teton Fault.  Topographic surface models and 1-2 foot contour maps derived from this lidar imagery has been used by park planners and project managers to plan rehabilitation of the most popular hiking and horse trails in the Jenny Lake/Inspiration Point areas.  In addition, viewsheds created using the lidar elevation data have been used to evaluate impacts of new multiple-use pathway construction and trails improvements in the wilderness areas of the park. 


One to two foot contour intervals derived from lidar imagery over the Teton Fault.One to two foot contour intervals derived from lidar imagery over the Teton Fault.

One to two foot contour intervals derived from lidar imagery over the Teton Fault.

Vegetation post-fire updates using Landsat TM derived burn severity (dNBR) and other fire data:  Park GIS staff assisted the Bridger-Teton National Forest develop a process to update vegetation maps using Landsat TM based burn severity models in association with a vegetative change models.  This process is being adapted to update the Grand Tetons vegetation map.

Bridger-Teton National Forest vegetation maps using Landsat TM.Bridger-Teton National Forest vegetation maps using Landsat TM.

The Teton Range has 12 named glaciers and numerous, small ice and snow fields that are significant contributors to the water budget of the upper Snake River, as well as indicators of trends in temperature and precipitation.  Two recent studies by the University of Wyoming and Idaho State University used aerial imagery from 1945 to 2009 to measure changes in surface extent and mass balance.  Both studies showed significant loss in glacial ice over the period, along with sensitivity to short term fluctuations in seasonal temperature and precipitation regimes .  The park is in the process of creating a glacier monitoring program based on these studies and similar monitoring programs in the North Cascades and Olympic National Parks.   This monitoring program will combine onscreen air photo and QuickBird imagery interpretation, with a ground based monitoring system, with the goal to relate changes in the glacier and ice/snow fields with climatic data. 

Other applications of remotely sensed imagery include:

  • Trails mapping:  High accuracy GPS is used every season to monitor location, trail conditions, and user created trails (horse and human) in the park.  Condition assessments have been used as major information support for park decisions on trail use and maintenance, as well as resource impacts such as the spread of invasive species along trail corridors.

  • Utilities mapping:  GIS staff uses GPS mapping to document utility locations and all attributes, and has constructed a comprehensive database allowing the park to consistently and quickly update utilities data for park maintenance staff and planners.  Hardcopy and digital map books  are produced for use in the field and in project planning and management.

  • Facilities updates:  GPS is used to map and document roads, structures, and other facilities – especially important for the multiple funded construction projects the park is managing.

  • Cultural resource mapping:  GPS mapping of historic districts, cultural landscapes, archaeological surveys, and historic structures is ongoing throughout the park.

  • Natural resource mapping:  GPS is used comprehensively to inventory and monitor natural resources in the park.  This includes everything from the use of GPS collars to monitor the movements of wildlife, habitat mapping, documenting sampling sites for climate change and other research initiatives, location of wildlife/motor vehicle collisions, and many other applications.

  • Use of historic aerials:  Grand Teton National Park’s collection of historic aerial prints is being utilized by the park and by local and federal agency partners whose lands are within Teton County, Wyoming (see example/figure below).  The 1945 aerial photography (flown four years before the park was created) have been scanned, ortho-rectified, and mosaicked into a seamless map that is publicly accessible through a web map server on the Teton County website.  The map is widely used by park staff for historical/cultural reference, for land cover and land use change analysis, and as a historic reference point for park planning.  The park and its partners will provide additional historic aerial coverages as funding for scanning and ortho-rectification become available.  

Aerial photography comparison from 1945 to 2009 of the Colter Bay area.Aerial photography comparison from 1945 to 2009 of the Colter Bay area.