For the more information about the geologic resources of the National Park Service, please visit

Geologic Monitoring

Paleontological Resources

Photos of Geologic Monitoring in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Monitoring lake level fluctuations relative to the location of a dinosaur trackway in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. NPS Photo.

What are paleontological resources?

A paleontological resource, or fossil, is any evidence of ancient life preserved in a geologic context. Examples include:

  • leaves
  • bones
  • teeth
  • shells
  • footprints and trackways
  • an organism's burrow
  • feces

Why does the National Park Service monitor paleontological resources?

  • Fossils are non-renewable which means they are irreplaceable pieces of the past. Once a fossil is gone, it is gone forever.
  • Paleontological resources provide educational and scientific opportunities for visitors and paleontologists.

  • Monitoring Book
  • Resource Facts
  • Case Study

Geological Monitoring Book

Vital Signs Monitored

  1. Erosion (geologic factors)
  2. Erosion (climatic factors)
  3. Catastrophic geohazards
  4. Hydrology and bathymetry
  5. Human access and public use

Chapter 8
Monitoring In Situ Paleontological Resources (PDF - 789KB)

Paleontological resources have great scientific and educational value. Fossils connect us to the history of life, past climates, and ancient landscapes. The actual fossil remains are, of course, important to study but paleontologists also gather information from the surrounding geologic context (type of rock, specific layer, other plant and animal fossils nearby, etc.). The context provides the story to go along with the remains.

Visitors to national parks where fossils have been discovered have an opportunity to interpret a fossil's ecological context by observing fossils in the same place where those animals and plants lived millions of years ago. Fossils also provide clues about how organisms responded to ecosystem changes in the past-important information for today's changing world.

The National Park Service monitors paleontological resources and the associated geologic context to provide educational and scientific opportunities for visitors and paleontologists of this and future generations. The National Park Service does not collect every fossil that is discovered. Generally fossils are left in the ground and monitored unless they are rare, particularly well preserved, or of scientific or educational value.

NPS Paleontological Resource Facts

There are at least 231 units of the National Park System that preserve fossils either in the rocks of the park, in the park's museum collections, or in a cultural resource context.

14 NPS units were established wholly or in part to preserve fossils.

Monitoring Paleontological Resources in the National Park Service

Case Study Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

More information coming soon...

Photo of a dinosaur trackway at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, AZ and UT
Several factors are affecting the preservation of a dinosaur trackway in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. NPS Photo. (click to enlarge)

Related Links



Last Updated: January 03, 2017