Snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park has increased substantially in the past three decades. In areas of greatest snowmobile use, elevated levels of by-products of gasoline combustion such as ammonium and benzene have been detected in snowpack samples. Annual snowpacks and snow-covered roadways trap deposition from local and regional atmospheric emissions.
Snowpack samples representing most of the winter precipitation were collected at about the time of maximum annual snow accumulation at a variety of locations in the park to observe effects of a range of snowmobile traffic levels. Concentrations of organic and inorganic compounds in snow samples from pairs of sites located directly in and off snow-packed roadways used by snowmobiles were compared to concentrations in samples collected at nearby off-road sites. Concentrations of ammonium were 2 to 5 times higher for the in-road snow compared to off-road snow for each pair of sites. Thus, concentrations decreased rapidly with distance from roadways. In addition, concentrations of ammonium, nitrate, sulfate, benzene, and toluene in snow were positively correlated with snowmobile use.