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USGS Latest News

Burmese Python Habitat Use Patterns May Help Control Efforts

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 04/28/2015 - 09:00
Summary: The largest and longest Burmese Python tracking study of its kind -- here or in its native range -- is providing researchers and resource managers new information that may help target control efforts of this invasive snake, according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey Largest Tracking Study of its Kind Provides New Information on Pythons' Home Range, Use

Contact Information:

Kristen Hart ( Phone: 954-236-1067 ); Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-498-5019 );



EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Fla.— The largest and longest Burmese Python tracking study of its kind -- here or in its native range -- is providing researchers and resource managers new information that may help target control efforts of this invasive snake, according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Among the findings, scientists have identified the size of a Burmese python’s home range and discovered they share some “common areas” that multiple snakes use. 

“These high-use areas may be optimal locations for control efforts and further studies on the snakes’ potential impacts on native wildlife,” said Kristen Hart, a USGS research ecologist and lead author of the study. “Understanding habitat-use patterns of invasive species can aid resource managers in designing appropriately timed and scaled management strategies to help control their spread.”

Using radio and GPS tags to track 19 wild-caught pythons, researchers were able to learn how the Burmese python moved within its home range. The 5,119 days of tracking data led researchers to conclude that python home ranges are an average of 22 square kilometers, or roughly an area 3 miles wide-by-3 miles long, all currently within the park. 

The study found pythons were concentrated in slough and coastal habitats, with tree islands being the principal feature of common-use areas, even in areas where they were not the predominant habitat type. The longest movements of individual pythons occurred most often during dry conditions, but took place during “wet” and “dry” seasons.

Burmese pythons are long-lived, large-bodied constricting snakes native to Southeast Asia. Highly adaptable, these ambush predators can reach lengths greater than 19 feet and produce large clutches of eggs that can range from eight to 107 eggs. Burmese pythons were first observed in South Florida’s Everglades National Park in 1979. Since then, they have spread throughout the park. Although recent research indicates the snakes may be having a significant effect on some populations of mid-sized mammals, it has also shown there is little risk to people who visit Everglades National Park. 

Invasive species compete with native wildlife for food, and they threaten native biodiversity across the globe. With nearly 50 percent of the imperiled species in the US being threatened by exotic species, a major concern for land managers is the growing number of exotics that are successfully invading and establishing viable populations.

Florida is home to more exotic animals than any other state. Snakes in particular have been shown to pose a high risk of becoming invasive species. The establishment of Burmese pythons in South Florida poses a significant threat to both the sensitive Everglades ecosystem and native species of conservation concern. For example, in the park, wood storks, Florida panthers and Cape Sable seaside sparrows are all species of conservation concern that have home ranges near the common-use areas of the radio-tracked pythons.

The study, “Home Range, Habitat Use, and Movement Patterns of Non-Native Burmese Pythons in Everglades National Park, Florida, USA,” with authors from the USGS, University of Florida, National Park Service, and Davidson College, was published in the journal Animal Biotelemetry.

Map Shows Content and Origins of the Nation's Geologic Basement

USGS Newsroom Technical - Thu, 04/23/2015 - 14:42
Summary: A map showing the many different pieces of Earth’s crust that comprise the nation’s geologic basement is now available from the U.S. Geological Surve

Contact Information:

Diane Noserale ( Phone: 703-648-4333 );



A map showing the many different pieces of Earth’s crust that comprise the nation’s geologic basement is now available from the U.S. Geological Survey. This is the first map to portray these pieces, from the most ancient to recent, by the events that influenced their composition, starting with their origin. This product provides a picture of the basement for the U.S., including Alaska, that can help scientists  produce regional and national mineral resource assessments, starting with the original metal endowments in source rocks.

“Traditionally, scientists have assessed mineral resources using clues at or near the Earth’s surface to determine what lies below,” said USGS scientist Karen Lund, who led the project. “This map is based on the concept that the age and origins of basement rocks influenced the nature and location of mineral deposits. It offers a framework to examine mineral resources and other geologic aspects of the continent from its building blocks up,” said Lund.

More than 80 pieces of crust have been added to the nation’s basement since the Earth began preserving crust about 3.6 billion years ago. These basement domains had different ages and origins before they became basement rocks, and this map includes these as key factors that determined their compositions and the original metals that may be available for remobilization and concentration into ore deposits. The map further classifies the basement domains according to how and when they became basement, as these events also influence the specific metals and deposit types that might be found in a region.

Users can identify domains potentially containing specific metals or deposit types. They can configure the companion database to show the construction of the U.S. through time.  The map also provides a template to correlate regional to national fault and earthquake patterns.  The map is also available on a separate site, where users can combine data and overlay known mineral sites or other features on the domains.

Basement rocks are crystalline rocks lying above the mantle and beneath all other rocks and sediments. They are sometimes exposed at the surface, but often they are buried under miles of rock and sediment and can only be mapped over large areas using remote geophysical surveys. This map was compiled using a variety of methods, including data from national-scale gravity and aeromagnetic surveys.

Crustal rocks are modified several times before they become basement, and these transitions alter their composition. Basement rocks are continental crust that has been modified by a wide variety of plate tectonic events involving deformation, metamorphism, deposition, partial melting and magmatism. Ultimately, continental crust forms from pre-existing oceanic crust and overlying sediments that have been thus modified.

It is not only the myriad processes that result in varying basement rock content but also the time when these processes occurred during the Earth’s history.  For example, because the Earth has evolved as a planet during its 4.5 billion year history, early deposit types formed when there was less oxygen in the atmosphere and the thin crust was hotter.  The ancient domains are now more stable and less likely to be altered by modern processes that could cause metals to migrate.  By contrast, basement rocks that formed out of crust that is less than one billion years old have origins that can be interpreted according to the present-day rates and scales of plate tectonic processes that reflect a more mature planet with a thicker crust.

By incorporating ancient to modern processes, this map offers a more complete and consistent portrait of the nation’s geologic basement than previous maps and presents a nationwide concept of basement for future broad-scale mineral resource assessments and other geologic studies.

Map showing basement domains according to generalized original crust types. (High resolution image)

New Insight on Ground Shaking from Man-Made Earthquakes

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 04/23/2015 - 09:00
Summary: Significant strides in science have been made to better understand potential ground shaking from induced earthquakes, which are earthquakes triggered by man-made practices

Contact Information:

Jessica Robertson ( Phone: 703-648-6624 ); Mark Petersen ( Phone: 303-273-8546 );



Significant strides in science have been made to better understand potential ground shaking from induced earthquakes, which are earthquakes triggered by man-made practices.

Earthquake activity has sharply increased since 2009 in the central and eastern United States. The increase has been linked to industrial operations that dispose of wastewater by injecting it into deep wells.

The U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a report today that outlines a preliminary set of models to forecast how hazardous ground shaking could be in the areas where sharp increases in seismicity have been recorded. The models ultimately aim to calculate how often earthquakes are expected to occur in the next year and how hard the ground will likely shake as a result. This report looked at the central and eastern United States; future research will incorporate data from the western states as well.

This report also identifies issues that must be resolved to develop a final hazard model, which is scheduled for release at the end of the year after the preliminary models are further examined. These preliminary models should be considered experimental in nature and should not be used for decision-making.

USGS scientists identified 17 areas within eight states with increased rates of induced seismicity. Since 2000, several of these areas have experienced high levels of seismicity, with substantial increases since 2009 that continue today. This is the first comprehensive assessment of the hazard levels associated with induced earthquakes in these areas. A detailed list of these areas is provided in the accompanying map, including the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Scientists developed the models by analyzing earthquakes in these zones and considering their rates, locations, maximum magnitude, and ground motions.

“This new report describes for the first time how injection-induced earthquakes can be incorporated into U.S. seismic hazard maps,” said Mark Petersen, Chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Modeling Project. “These earthquakes are occurring at a higher rate than ever before and pose a much greater risk to people living nearby. The USGS is developing methods that overcome the challenges in assessing seismic hazards in these regions in order to support decisions that help keep communities safe from ground shaking.”

In 2014, the USGS released updated National Seismic Hazard Maps, which describe hazard levels for natural earthquakes. Those maps are used in building codes, insurance rates, emergency preparedness plans, and other applications. The maps forecast the likelihood of earthquake shaking within a 50-year period, which is the average lifetime of a building. However, these new induced seismicity products display intensity of potential ground shaking from induced earthquakes in a one-year period. This shorter timeframe is appropriate because the induced activity can vary rapidly with time and is subject to commercial and policy decisions that could change at any point.

These new methods and products result in part from a workshop hosted by the USGS and the Oklahoma Geological Survey. The workshop, described in the new report, brought together a broad group of experts from government, industry and academic communities to discuss the hazards from induced earthquakes.

Wastewater that is salty or polluted by chemicals needs to be disposed of in a manner that prevents contaminating freshwater sources. Large volumes of wastewater can result from a variety of processes, such as a byproduct from energy production. Wastewater injection increases the underground pore pressure, which may lubricate nearby faults thereby making earthquakes more likely to occur. Although the disposal process has the potential to trigger earthquakes, most wastewater disposal wells do not produce felt earthquakes.

Many questions have been raised about whether hydraulic fracturing—commonly referred to as “fracking”—is responsible for the recent increase of earthquakes. USGS’s studies suggest that the actual hydraulic fracturing process is only occasionally the direct cause of felt earthquakes.

Read the newly published USGS report, “Incorporating Induced Seismicity in the 2014 United States National Seismic Hazard Model—Results of 2014 Workshop and Sensitivity Studies.”

Cumulative number of earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or larger in the central and eastern United States, 1973-2014. The rate of earthquakes began to increase starting around 2009 and accelerated in 2013-2014. (high resolution image) Research has identified 17 areas in the central and eastern United States with increased rates of induced seismicity. Since 2000, several of these areas have experienced high levels of seismicity, with substantial increases since 2009 that continue today. (high resolution image)

USGS Issues Revised Framework for Hydrogeology of Floridan Aquifer

USGS Newsroom Technical - Tue, 04/21/2015 - 09:58
Summary: USGS scientists have updated the hydrogeologic framework for the Floridan aquifer system that underlies Florida and parts of Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Eve Kuniansky ( Phone: 678-924-6621 );



USGS scientists have updated the hydrogeologic framework for the Floridan aquifer system that underlies Florida and parts of Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. 

The Floridan aquifer system is the principal source of freshwater for agricultural irrigation, industrial, mining, commercial, and public supply in Florida and southeast Georgia. The extensive underground reservoir currently supplies drinking water to about 10 million people residing across the area as well as 50% of the water that is used for agricultural irrigation in the region.

By describing the hydrologic and geologic setting of an aquifer, a hydrogeologic framework enables appropriate authorities and resource managers to monitor an aquifer more accurately, improving their ability to protect these critical resources and determine the near- and long-term availability of groundwater.

As the first update of the framework for the aquifer in over 30 years, the revision incorporates new borehole data into a detailed conceptual model that describes the major and minor units and zones of the system. Its increased accuracy is made possible by data collected in the intervening years by the USGS; the Geological Surveys of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina; the South Florida, Southwest Florida, St Johns River, Suwannee River, and Northwest Florida Water Management Districts; and numerous other state and local agencies.

The USGS is releasing two reports as part of its current assessment of groundwater availability of the Floridan aquifer system.

The first report documents the revised framework.

Williams, L.J., and Kuniansky, E.L., 2015, Revised hydrogeologic framework of the Floridan aquifer system in Florida and parts of Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1807, 140 p., 23 pls.

The second report provides datasets that describe the surfaces and thicknesses of selected hydrogeologic units of the Floridan aquifer system. The data depict the top and base of the aquifer system, its major and minor hydrogeologic units and zones, geophysical marker horizons, and the altitude of the 10,000-milligram-per-liter total dissolved solids boundary that defines the approximate fresh and saline parts of the aquifer system.

Williams, L.J., and Dixon, J.F., 2015, Digital surfaces and thicknesses of selected hydrogeologic units of the Floridan aquifer system in Florida and parts of Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 926, 24 p.

The USGS is undertaking a series of regional groundwater availability studies to improve our understanding of groundwater availability in major aquifers across the Nation. Regional groundwater availability studies are currently underway to document the supply and demand of this important natural resource for the United States. To find out more about other related groundwater science activities, please visit the USGS Groundwater Resources Program website.

USGS Continues to Write History

USGS Newsroom Technical - Fri, 04/17/2015 - 13:59
Summary: The fourth volume of the comprehensive history of the U.S. Geological Survey, Minerals, Lands, and Geology for the Common Defence and General Welfare: Volume 4, 1939‒1961, has been issued as an electronic document. New Volume of Agency Annals Released

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



The fourth volume of the comprehensive history of the U.S. Geological Survey, Minerals, Lands, and Geology for the Common Defence and General Welfare: Volume 4, 1939‒1961, has been issued as an electronic document.

Featuring more than 200 illustrations, the 704-page Volume 4 focuses on the United States and the USGS in war and peace from the beginning of World War II in Europe to the end of the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. During this period, the USGS developed and adapted new instruments and methods that included airborne magnetometers and radiometers, advanced seismometers, stereoscopic plotters for topographic mapping, geophysical logging (detailed records of geologic formations penetrated by a borehole), and geological sampling from deep wells. 

The late Mary C. Rabbitt (1915‒2002), a geophysicist who served with the USGS (1949‒1978), wrote the first three volumes in the series: Volume 1, Before 1879 (1979), Volume 2, 1879‒1904 (1980), and Volume 3, 1904‒1939 (1986). Volume 4 was begun by Rabbitt and completed by coauthor Clifford M. Nelson, a geologist with the USGS since 1976. 

Like the earlier books in the series, Volume 4 places USGS operations in mapping and the earth sciences within the wider contexts of national and international history. For instance, USGS development of the airborne magnetometer — an instrument that traces the Earth’s magnetic field, enabling an effective method of exploring for subsurface minerals — followed from a wartime device that U.S. forces used to hunt enemy submarines in World War II. 

In the foreword to Volume 4, Mark D. Myers, the 14th USGS Director (2006‒2009), wrote that the volume records USGS support of the Nation’s efforts during "a pivotal interval of transformation for the United States and the agency, …a time of great national sacrifice, rapid expansion of industrial capacity, spectacular scientific and technological advancement, and international leadership." 

Model Offers More Ease, Precision for Managing Invasive Asian Carp

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 04/16/2015 - 15:30
Summary: The likelihood of Asian carp eggs being kept in suspension and hatching in the St. Joseph River in Michigan has been further evaluated using a model that examines a range of multiple flow and water temperature scenarios

Contact Information:

Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 ); Elizabeth Murphy ( Phone: 217-328-9726 );



The likelihood of Asian carp eggs being kept in suspension and hatching in the St. Joseph River in Michigan has been further evaluated using a model that examines a range of multiple flow and water temperature scenarios. Results illustrate the highest percentage of Asian carp eggs at risk of hatching occurs when the streamflow is low and when the water temperature is high. This new study by the University of Illinois and the U.S. Geological Survey is published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

“In this study, the Fluvial Egg Drift Simulator (FluEgg) model allowed us to examine the complex dependencies between flow, temperature and egg development,” said USGS hydrologist Ryan Jackson. “This information provides resource managers with a range of conditions under which the St. Joseph River is vulnerable to Asian carp reproduction."

The FluEgg model was used to evaluate egg movement and the likelihood of successful Asian carp reproduction under different streamflow and temperature conditions representative of historical spawning seasons in the St. Joseph River, a tributary to Lake Michigan. Results show that eggs develop faster at warmer water temperatures, therefore requiring less time to drift in the river until hatching. Low streamflows can also be conducive to reproduction when the streamflow is just fast enough to keep most of the eggs in suspension while allowing for the greatest amount of drift time before reaching the lake, thus increasing the likelihood of hatching.

The FluEgg model, developed by University of Illinois researchers in collaboration with the USGS, was first introduced in 2013. The latest version of the model is available online, and includes a user-friendly interface and improved predictions of egg transport in rivers.

Invasive Asian carp consume plankton from the base of the food web and reproduce prolifically which could pose substantial environmental risks and economic impacts to the Great Lakes if they become established. 

"This work focuses on the early life stages of Asian carp," said USGS research fish biologist Duane Chapman. "Targeting early life stages can include disrupting spawning activities or egg development in rivers where Asian carp spawn."

Several factors affect the viability of the eggs. The temperature of the water affects how long the eggs need to hatch, and the velocity of the river affects the movement of the eggs and whether the eggs remain in suspension or sink to the bottom. Eggs that settle on the riverbed will likely die, and eggs that are transported down the river and into a lake may not have enough time to develop to the hatching stage before settling to the lakebed.

The reproduction assessment of Asian carp eggs in the St. Joseph River demonstrated the complexity of the problem where the length of the river, velocity and water temperatures cannot be assessed individually. Rather, a holistic analysis is required, where egg development, water-quality characteristics and the hydrodynamics of the river are interconnected and analyzed together. 

“Successful reproduction requires a fine balance between the rate of egg development and the variable flow conditions present in a river required to maintain the eggs in suspension,” said Tatiana Garcia, USGS research hydrologist and lead author of the paper.

The paper, “Application of the FluEgg model to predict transport of Asian carp eggs in the St. Joseph River (Great Lakes tributary)” by Tatiana Garcia, Elizabeth A. Murphy, Patrick R. Jackson and Marcelo H. Garcia, is available online. 

Do You Like to Map? Take the Mapping Challenge!

USGS Newsroom Technical - Wed, 04/15/2015 - 09:30
Summary: Volunteer citizen-mappers continue to make significant contributions to the USGS ability to provide accurate mapping information to the public The USGS crowd-sourcing project volunteers have updated all law enforcement points in Tennessee

Contact Information:

Elizabeth McCartney ( Phone: 573-308-3696 ); Mark Newell ( Phone: 573-308-3850 ); Erin Korris ( Phone: 303-202-4503 );



Volunteer citizen-mappers continue to make significant contributions to the USGS ability to provide accurate mapping information to the public. Recently, volunteers were asked to update all of the law enforcement structure points in Tennessee. The volunteers answered the call and added, verified, edited, or deleted an amazing 440 points!

In addition, all of the points were quality checked by either a peer reviewer or an advanced editor, so the data was ready to go into The National Map at the conclusion of the challenge.

The volunteer additions and edits will be symbolized on US Topo maps during the next production cycle for Tennessee, slated for next year.

An exciting addition to the mapping project is Mapping Challenges. The Challenges asks volunteers to concentrate on specific areas and structure types that need updating. In addition, Challenges encourage volunteers to remain engaged, and incentivizes participation. Once a need is determined, a call to action goes out to the volunteer corps with information on the geographic location and the type of structures that needs updating. Volunteers who participate can earn a series of virtual recognition badges and are recognized on social media and TNMCorps project site.

Using crowd-sourcing techniques, the USGS Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) project, known as The National Map Corps (TNMCorps), encourages volunteers to collect manmade structures data in an effort to provide accurate and authoritative spatial map data for the National Geospatial Program’s web-based The National Map. Structures being updated include schools, hospitals, post offices, police stations and other important public buildings.  

Special thanks to the volunteers who participated in this challenge: fconley, HGeisler, Cartograsaurus, TheJ, BCook2, rjerrard, Vindalou, Jwo_rocks, wesward, and alherna4.

"At times, locating structures seems similar to solving puzzles or detective work,” commented fconely, a Challenge veteran and one of the project’s more active participants.

Tools on TNMCorps project site explain how a volunteer can edit any area, regardless of their familiarity with the selected structures, and becoming a volunteer for TNMCorps is easy; register by going to The National Map Corps Editor. If you have access to the Internet and are willing to dedicate some time to editing map data, we hope you will consider participating.

Screen-shot of the Tennessee Law Enforcement Facility Mapping Challenge showing the more than 440 edited points (green dots). At this scale, many dots contain more than one edited or verified structure. (high resolution image) The most recent status graphic showing the number and density of The National Map Corp submitted edits or verification for the past three years. (high resolution image)

Coal-Tar-Sealant Runoff Causes Toxicity and DNA Damage

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 04/13/2015 - 08:00
Summary: Runoff from pavement with coal-tar-based sealant is toxic to aquatic life, damages DNA, and impairs DNA repair, according to two studies by the U.S. Geological Survey published in the journals Environmental Science and Technology and Science of the Total Environment

Contact Information:

Barbara Mahler ( Phone: 512-927-3566 ); Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 );



Runoff from pavement with coal-tar-based sealant is toxic to aquatic life, damages DNA, and impairs DNA repair, according to two studies by the U.S. Geological Survey published in the journals Environmental Science and Technology and Science of the Total Environment.

Pavement sealant is a black liquid sprayed or painted on the asphalt pavement of parking lots, driveways and playgrounds to improve appearance and protect the underlying asphalt. Pavement sealants that contain coal tar have extremely high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  Coal tar is a known human carcinogen; several PAHs are probable human carcinogens and some are toxic to fish and other aquatic life.

Rainwater runoff collected as long as three months after coal-tar-sealcoat application caused 100% mortality to minnows and water fleas, which are part of the base of the food chain, when the test organisms were exposed to ultra-violet radiation to simulate sunlight. The full study, reported in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology, is available online.

Exposure of fish cells to coal-tar sealant runoff damaged their DNA and impaired the ability of the cells to repair DNA damage. “The simultaneous occurrence of DNA damage and impairment of DNA repair has important implications for cell health,” said Sylvie Bony, who led the study at the Ecole Nationale des Travaux Publics de l’Etat (ENTPE), a French research agency in Lyon, France. The study is reported in the scientific journal Science of the Total Environment.

The studies were done to address the concern that rainfall runoff occurring within hours or days of coal-tar-based sealant application might be toxic to fish and other organisms in streams. The two studies collected and tested simulated runoff at various times beginning just hours after coal-tar-sealant application. 

"The USGS has been studying coal-tar-sealcoat as a source of PAHs for 10 years, and findings from these two studies are consistent with what is known about toxicity and genotoxicity of these chemicals," said USGS scientist Barbara Mahler.

A previous publication detailed the chemical concentrations in runoff from coal-tar-sealed pavement at a range of times following sealant application. The results, reported in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution, are available online.

Coal-tar sealants have significantly higher levels of PAHs and related compounds compared to asphalt-based pavement sealants and other urban sources, including vehicle emissions, used motor oil, and tire particles. Previous studies have concluded that coal-tar sealants are a major source of PAHs to lake sediments in commercial and residential settings, and that people living near pavement sealed with coal-tar sealant have an elevated risk of cancer.

To learn more, visit the USGS website on PAHs and sealcoat.

Researchers Test Smartphones for Earthquake Warning

USGS Newsroom - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 14:15
Summary: Smartphones and other personal electronic devices could, in regions where they are in widespread use, function as early warning systems for large earthquakes according to newly reported research Crowdsourcing Smartphone Data Could Provide Valuable Advance Notice for People in Quake Zones

Contact Information:

Susan  Garcia, USGS ( Phone: 650-346-0998 ); Deborah Williams-Hedges, Caltech ( Phone: 626-395-3227 ); Jeannie  Kever, UH ( Phone: 713-743-0778 );



Additional contacts:  Alan Buis, JPL 818-354-0474, alan.d.buis@jpl.nasa.gov and Donna Sturgess, CMU-SI 412-551-7436, sturgessd@gmail.com

Note to Editors: This news release is available in Spanish and Chinese.

MENLO PARK, Calif.— Smartphones and other personal electronic devices could, in regions where they are in widespread use, function as early warning systems for large earthquakes according to newly reported research. This technology could serve regions of the world that cannot afford higher quality, but more expensive, conventional earthquake early warning systems, or could contribute to those systems.

The study, led by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey and published April 10 in the inaugural volume of the new AAAS journal Science Advances, found that the sensors in smartphones and similar devices could be used to build earthquake warning systems.  Despite being less accurate than scientific-grade equipment, the GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers in a smartphone can detect the permanent ground movement (displacement) caused by fault motion in a large earthquake.

Using crowdsourced observations from participating users’ smartphones, earthquakes could be detected and analyzed, and customized earthquake warnings could be transmitted back to users. “Crowdsourced alerting means that the community will benefit by data generated from the community,” said Sarah Minson, USGS geophysicist and lead author of the study. Minson was a post-doctoral researcher at Caltech while working on this study.

Earthquake early warning systems detect the start of an earthquake and rapidly transmit warnings to people and automated systems before they experience shaking at their location.  While much of the world’s population is susceptible to damaging earthquakes, EEW systems are currently operating in only a few regions around the globe, including Japan and Mexico. “Most of the world does not receive earthquake warnings mainly due to the cost of building the necessary scientific monitoring networks,” said USGS geophysicist and project lead Benjamin Brooks.

Researchers tested the feasibility of crowdsourced EEW with a simulation of a hypothetical magnitude 7 earthquake, and with real data from the 2011 magnitude 9 Tohoku-oki, Japan earthquake. The results show that crowdsourced EEW could be achieved with only a tiny percentage of people in a given area contributing information from their smartphones. For example, if phones from fewer than 5000 people in a large metropolitan area responded, the earthquake could be detected and analyzed fast enough to issue a warning to areas farther away before the onset of strong shaking. “The speed of an electronic warning travels faster than the earthquake shaking does,” explained Craig Glennie, a report author and professor at the University of Houston.

The authors found that the sensors in smartphones and similar devices could be used to issue earthquake warnings for earthquakes of approximately magnitude 7 or larger, but not for smaller, yet potentially damaging earthquakes.  Comprehensive EEW requires a dense network of scientific instruments.  Scientific-grade EEW, such as the U.S. Geological Survey’s ShakeAlert system that is currently being implemented on the west coast of the United States, will be able to help minimize the impact of earthquakes over a wide range of magnitudes.  However, in many parts of the world where there are insufficient resources to build and maintain scientific networks, but consumer electronics are increasingly common, crowdsourced EEW has significant potential.

“The U.S. earthquake early warning system is being built on our high-quality scientific earthquake networks, but crowdsourced approaches can augment our system and have real potential to make warnings possible in places that don’t have high-quality networks,” said Douglas Given, USGS coordinator of the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System. The U.S. Agency for International Development has already agreed to fund a pilot project, in collaboration with the Chilean Centro Sismológico Nacional, to test a pilot hybrid earthquake warning system comprising stand-alone smartphone sensors and scientific-grade sensors along the Chilean coast.

“The use of mobile phone fleets as a distributed sensor network — and the statistical insight that many imprecise instruments can contribute to the creation of more precise measurements — has broad applicability including great potential to benefit communities where there isn’t an existing network of scientific instruments,” said Bob Iannucci of Carnegie Mellon University, Silicon Valley.

“Thirty years ago it took months to assemble a crude picture of the deformations from an earthquake. This new technology promises to provide a near-instantaneous picture with much greater resolution,” said Thomas Heaton, a coauthor of the study and professor of Engineering Seismology at Caltech.

“Crowdsourced data are less precise, but for larger earthquakes that cause large shifts in the ground surface, they contain enough information to detect that an earthquake has occurred, information necessary for early warning,” said study co-author Susan Owen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

This research was a collaboration among scientists from the USGS, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the University of Houston, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Carnegie Mellon University-Silicon Valley, and included support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. 

Caltech is a world-renowned research and education institution focused on science and engineering, where faculty and students pursue new knowledge about our world and search for the kinds of bold and innovative advances that will transform our future.

The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation's best colleges for undergraduate education.

Carnegie Mellon University is a private, internationally ranked university with a top-tier engineering program that is known for our intentional focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration in research.

Managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has active programs in Earth science, space-based astronomy and technology development, and manages NASA’s worldwide Deep Space Network.

Crowdsourced Earthquake Warnings. Cell phones can detect ground motion and warn others before strong shaking arrives. Base map originally created by NASA. Artwork credit: Emiliano Rodriguez Nuesch with Pacifico. (High resolution image)

Científicos ponen a prueba los teléfonos móviles inteligentes para la advertencia de terremotos

USGS Newsroom - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 14:00
Summary: Los teléfonos móviles y otros dispositivos electrónicos personales podrían ayudar en las regiones donde se encuentran en uso generalizado, y pueden funcionar como sistemas de alerta para terremotos mayor según la nueva investigación científica recien publicada Crowdsourcing los teléfonos móviles podrían proporcionar datos valiosos y notificación avanzadas para habitantes viviendo en zonas de terremotos

Contact Information:

Susan Garcia, USGS ( Phone: 650-346-0998 ); Deborah Williams-Hedges, Caltech ( Phone: 626-395-3227 ); Jeannie  Kever, UH ( Phone: 713-743-0778 );



Contactos adicionales:  Alan Buis, JPL 818-354-0474 alan.d.buis@jpl.nasa.gov, Donna Sturgess, CMU-SI 412-551-7436 sturgessd@gmail.com

MENLO PARK, California — Los teléfonos móviles y otros dispositivos electrónicos personales podrían ayudar en las regiones donde se encuentran en uso generalizado, y pueden funcionar como sistemas de alerta para terremotos mayor según la nueva investigación científica recien publicada. Esta tecnología podría se utíl en regiones del mundo que no tienen los recursos económicos necesarios para sostener un sistema de calidad alta de alerta temprana, que es mas costosas, y mas convencional y que tambien podría contribuir a otras sistemas.

El estudio, dirigido por científicos del Servicio Geológico de Los Estados Unidos (USGS) y publicado el 10 de abril en el volumen inaugural de la nueva revista AAAS Science Advances, encontró que los sensores en los teléfonos móviles y dispositivos similares se podrían utilizar para construir sistemas de EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System). A pesar de ser menos precisos que los instrumentos científicos, los receptores GPS (Global Positioning System; sistema de posicionamiento global) en un teléfono móvil puede detectar el movimiento de la tierra (desplazamiento) causado por el movimiento de la falla en un terremoto mayor.

Utilizando crowdsourcing observaciones que usan teléfonos móviles los terremotos podrían ser detectados y analizados, y las alertas de terremotos programadas se podrían transmitir de nuevo a los participantes que lo usan. “Crowdsourcing alertas significa que la comunidad se beneficiará por los datos generados por la comunidad", dijo Sarah Minson, geofísica del USGS y autora principal del estudio. Minson fue una investigadora antes de recibir su doctorado en Caltech mientras que trabajo en este estudio.

Sistemas de EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) detectan el comienzo de un terremoto y emiten rápidamente advertencias a las comunidades y a los sistemas automáticos antes de que se siente el sacudimiento de la tierra donde se ubican.  Aunque gran parte de la población mundial es susceptible a terremotos dañinos, EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) están operando actualmente en sólo unas pocas regiones del mundo, incluyendo a Japón y México. "La mayoría del mundo no recibe las alertas de terremotos debido principalmente al costo de la construcción de las redes operativas científicas necesarias", dijo el geofísico del USGS y líder del proyecto Benjamin Brooks.

Los investigadores probaron la viabilidad de crowdsourcing del EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) con una simulación de un terremoto hipotético de magnitud 7,0 y con datos reales del terremoto de magnitud 9 en 2011 Tohoku-oki, Japón. Los resultados muestran que crowdsourcing del sistema EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) podría lograrse solamente con un pequeño porcentaje de personas en un área determinada que contribuye información de sus teléfonos móviles. Por ejemplo, si los teléfonos móviles de menos de 5.000 personas en una área grande metropolitana respondieran, el terremoto podría ser detectado y analizado suficientemente rápido como para emitir una advertencia a las áreas más lejanas antes del fuerte sacudimiento de la tierra. "La velocidad de una alerta electrónica viaja más rápido que el sacudimiento de un terremoto", explicó Craig Glennie, autor y profesor de la Universidad de Houston, Tejas.

Los autores encontraron que los sensores en los teléfonos móviles y dispositivos similares se podrían utilizar para emitir alertas de terremotos para los temblores de magnitud aproximadamente 7 o más grande, pero no para terremotos de menos intensidad, sin embargo para terremotos potencialmente dañinos. Un sistema integral de EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) requiere una densa red de instrumentos científicos. Un sistema EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) científica de alto grado, como el sistema ShakeAlert del Servicio Geológico de los Estados Unidos (USGS) que se está aplicando actualmente en la costa oeste de los Estados Unidos, será capaz de ayudar a disminuir el impacto de los terremotos en un amplio rango de magnitudes. Sin embargo, en muchas partes del mundo donde no hay recursos suficientes para construir y mantener redes científicas, pero el consumo electronicos son cada vez más comunes, crowdsourcing sistema EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) tiene un significado potencial.

"El sistema EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) de los EE.UU. se está construyendo en nuestras redes de alta calidad científica, pero enfoques de crowdsourcing pueden aumentar nuestro sistema y tienen un potencial real para hacer advertencias posibles en lugares que no cuentan con redes de alta calidad", dijo Douglas Given, coordinador de USGS de ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System, el sistema EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System). La Agencia de los Estados Unidos para el Desarrollo Internacional ya ha acordado financiar un proyecto piloto, en colaboración con el Chilean Centro Sismológico Nacional, para poner a prueba una sistema híbrido de EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) piloto que consiste de sensores de teléfonos móviles autónomos y sensores de grado científico a lo largo de la costa chilena.

"El uso de los teléfonos móviles como una red de sensores distribuidos - y la visión estadística de que muchos instrumentos imprecisos pueden contribuir a la creación de medidas más precisas - tienen una amplia aplicación incluyendo una potencia grande para beneficiar a las comunidades donde no existe una red de instrumentos científico", dijo Bob Iannucci de la Universidad Carnegie Mellon, Silicon Valley en California.

"Hace treinta años tomó meses para montar una imagen crudo de las deformaciones de un terremoto. Esta nueva tecnología promete ofrecer una imagen casi instantánea con una resolución mucho mayor," dijo Thomas Heaton, coautor del estudio y profesor de Ingeniería de Sismología en Caltech.

"Los datos de crowdsourcing son menos precisos, pero para los terremotos mayores que causan grandes cambios en la superficie del suelo, contienen suficiente información para detectar que se ha producido un terremoto, la información necesaria para la sistema alerta temprana de terremotos", dijo el coautor del estudio Susan Owen de la NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Esta investigación fue una colaboración entre científicos del USGS, Instituto de Tecnología de California (Caltech), la Universidad de Houston, Laboratorio de la NASA’s Jet Propulsion, y la Universidad Carnegie Mellon-Silicon Valley, y se incluye el apoyo de la Fundación Gordon y Betty Moore. 

Caltech es una institución renombrada de investigación y educación mundial centrado en la ciencia y la ingeniería, donde profesores y estudiantes persiguen nuevos conocimientos acerca de nuestro mundo y la búsqueda de los tipos de avances audaces e innovadoras que transformarán nuestro futuro.

La Universidad de Houston es una universidad pública de investigación de alto grado designado por el Carnegie y reconocido por The Princeton Review como una de las mejores universidades de la nación para la educación de pregrado. 

Carnegie Mellon es una universidad privada, clasificada internacionalmente con programas en áreas que van desde la ciencia, la tecnología y los negocios al orden público, las humanidades y las artes.

Administrado por la NASA por el Instituto de Tecnología de California, el Laboratorio de Jet Propulsion tiene programas activos en ciencias de la tierra, astronomía basada en el espacio y el desarrollo tecnológico, y manejado por todo el mundo de la NASA Deep Space Network.

USGS ofrece la ciencia para un mundo cambiante. Visite USGS.gov, y síganos en Twitter @USGS, y nuestros otros canales de medios sociales.

Climate Change May Pose Substantial Future Risk to Sagebrush Habitat in Southwestern Wyoming

USGS Newsroom - Fri, 04/10/2015 - 10:00
Summary: Climate change may pose a substantial future risk for sagebrush habitat in southwestern Wyoming, and thus adversely affect the regional summer habitat and nesting areas of sage-grouse, according to a new study by the United States Geological Survey

Contact Information:

Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



Sioux Falls, SD. — Climate change may pose a substantial future risk for sagebrush habitat in southwestern Wyoming, and thus adversely affect the regional summer habitat and nesting areas of sage-grouse, according to a new study by the United States Geological Survey.  

For the study, scientists used nearly 30 years of Earth observation data to analyze past climate patterns in 3,216 square miles (8,330square kilometers) of southwestern Wyoming to forecast sagebrush abundance in 2050. Wyoming is a stronghold for populations of greater sage-grouse, a species being considered for listing as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The species is dependent upon sagebrush habitat.

“Historic disturbances of fire, development and invasive species have altered the sagebrush landscape, but climate change may represent the habitat’s greatest future risk,” said Collin Homer, the USGS scientist who led the study. “Warming temperatures, combined with less snow and rain, will favor species other than sagebrush, as well as increase sagebrush habitat’s vulnerability to fire, insects, disease and invasive species.”

The authors noted that intact, healthy sagebrush systems increase sage-grouse resilience to negative effects of climate change whereas less intact and more marginal habitats decrease the species’ resilience.

Homer and his colleagues examined the impact of historical precipitation change on key components of sagebrush ecosystems from 1984 to 2011. These historical patterns, discerned from long-term records of the Landsat satellite series (a joint effort of USGS and NASA), were then combined with IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) precipitation scenarios to model and forecast the most likely changes in sagebrush habitat from 2006 to 2050.

Researchers found that projected precipitation patterns for 2050 resulted in decreasing amounts of sagebrush and other shrubs, grasses, and flowering plants (forbs), while increasing the amount of bare ground.  When these changes were translated to sage grouse habitat, researchers found this resulted in a potential loss of 12 percent of sage-grouse nesting habitat and about 4 percent of sage-grouse summer habitat by 2050.  Results also demonstrate the vulnerability of semi-arid lands, such as sagebrush habitat, to precipitation changes because of their already low soil moisture content.

This new research explores how to bring climate change results to a more localized scale, in this case units as small as a quarter of an acre. “Using Landsat and downscaled climate scenarios to enable future forecasts of greater sage-grouse habitat can provide critical information on a more local or regional scale for managers to help them better plan now for the future,” said Homer.

Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces in western North America.  These birds rely on sagebrush ecosystems, which constitute the largest single North American shrub ecosystem and provide vital ecological, hydrological, biological, agricultural, and recreational ecosystem services. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally reviewing the status of greater sage-grouse to determine if the species is warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Multiple Satellite Eyes to Track Algal Threat to U.S. Freshwater

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 04/07/2015 - 10:00
Summary: Four federal agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey have joined forces in an effort to transform satellite data into vital information to protect the American public from freshwater contaminated by harmful algal blooms. 

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Keith  Loftin ( Phone: 785-832-3543 );



Four federal agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey have joined forces in an effort to transform satellite data into vital information to protect the American public from freshwater contaminated by harmful algal blooms. 

The $3.6 million research project is a collaborative effort among NASA, NOAA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and USGS. Using methods and technology established to analyze ocean color satellite data, scientists from the four agencies will work to develop an early warning indicator for toxic and nuisance algal blooms in freshwater systems and build an information distribution system to expedite public health advisories. 

Algal blooms are a worldwide environmental problem causing human and animal health risks, fish kills, and noxious taste and odor in drinking water. In the United States, the cost of freshwater degraded by harmful algal blooms is estimated at $64 million annually. In August 2014, officials in Toledo, Ohio, banned the use of drinking water supplied to more than 400,000 residents after it was contaminated by an algal bloom in Lake Erie

“Harmful algal blooms have emerged as a significant public health and economic issue that requires extensive scientific investigation,” said Suzette Kimball, acting USGS Director. “USGS uses converging lines of evidence from ground to space to assess changes in water quantity and quality, ecosystems, natural hazards, and environmental health issues important to the nation.” 

Ocean color satellite data are currently available to scientists, but are not routinely processed and produced in formats that help state and local environmental and water quality managers. Through this project, satellite data on harmful algal blooms developed by the partner agencies will be converted to a format that stakeholders can use through mobile devices and web portals. 

“The vantage point of space not only contributes to a better understanding of our home planet, it helps improve lives around the world,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We’re excited to be putting NASA’s expertise in space and scientific exploration to work protecting public health and safety.”

The new network builds on previous NASA ocean satellite sensor technologies created to study the global ocean’s microscopic algal communities, which play a major role in ocean ecology, the movement of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and ocean, and climate change. These sensors detect the color of the sunlit upper layer of the ocean and are used to create indicators that can help identify harmful algal blooms. 

NOAA and NASA pioneered the use of satellite data to monitor and forecast harmful algal blooms. Satellites allow for more frequent observations over broader areas than water sampling. Satellite data support NOAA’s existing forecasting systems in the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes. 

“Observing harmful algae is critical to understanding, managing, and forecasting these blooms. This collaboration will assure that NOAA’s efforts will assist the coastal and inland public health officials and managers across the country to distribute this information to the community in an easily understandable fashion,” said Holly Bamford, acting NOAA Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management and Deputy Administrator in Washington. 

Under certain environmental conditions, algae naturally present in marine and fresh waters rapidly multiply to create a bloom. Some species of algae called cyanobacteria produce toxins that can kill wildlife and domestic animals and cause illness in humans through exposure to contaminated freshwater or by the consumption of contaminated drinking water, fish, or shellfish. Cyanobacteria blooms are a particular concern because of their dense biomass, toxins, taste, and odor. 

“EPA researchers are developing important scientific tools to help local communities respond quickly and efficiently to real-time water quality issues and protect drinking water for their residents,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Working with other federal agencies, we are leveraging our scientific expertise, technology and data to create a mobile app to help water quality managers make important decisions to reduce negative impacts related to harmful algal blooms, which have been increasingly affecting our water bodies due to climate change.” 

The project also includes a research component to improve understanding of the environmental causes and health impacts of cyanobacteria and phytoplankton blooms across the United States. Blooms in lakes and estuaries are produced when aquatic plants receive excess nutrients under suitable environmental conditions. Various land uses, such as urbanization and agricultural practices, change the amount of nutrients and sediment delivered in watersheds, which can influence cyanobacterial growth. 

Researchers will compare the new freshwater algal blooms data with satellite records of land cover changes over time to identify specific land-use activities that may have caused environmental changes linked to the frequency and intensity of blooms. The results will help to develop better forecasts of bloom events. 

“Algal blooms pose an expensive, unpredictable public health threat that can affect millions of people,” said Sarah Ryker, USGS Deputy Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change. “By using satellite-based science instruments to assess conditions in water and on adjacent land, we hope to improve detection of these blooms and to better understand the conditions under which they occur.”  

The Landsat satellite series, a joint effort of USGS and NASA, has provided a continuous dataset of land use and land cover conditions since 1972. The latest satellite, Landsat 8, has demonstrated promising new capabilities for water quality assessment.

Seeing into Water in New Ways: The Visualizing Nutrients Challenge

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 04/07/2015 - 09:59
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Blue Legacy International (a nonprofit organization) announce the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge, an innovation competition with $15,000 in cash prizes. 

Contact Information:

Nate Booth ( Phone: 703-648-5014 ); Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



The U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Blue Legacy International (a nonprofit organization) announce the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge, an innovation competition with $15,000 in cash prizes. 

Harnessing the competitive instinct for the public good, this contest focuses on inventive ways to organize and analyze existing data of nutrient levels in water. Participants will tap open government data sources to create compelling visualizations that inform citizens, communities, and resource managers about conditions of nitrogen and phosphorus in the nation’s waters. The outcomes of this tournament of ideas are expected to help educate and inspire action to address algal blooms, hypoxia, and other nutrient-related water quality issues. 

First Place will receive $10,000, and a People’s Choice Award will receive $5,000. Both winners will have special opportunities to highlight their work in a number of important forums. The competition starts today and will stay open through 11:59 p.m. on June 8, 2015.  

Visualizing Nutrients builds on the activities of the Open Water Data Initiative that seeks to further integrate existing water datasets and make them more accessible to innovation and decision making. The Open Water Data Initiative works in conjunction with the President's Climate Data Initiative

This prize competition is also part of the National Day of Civic Hacking, as well as the broader work of the Challenging Nutrients Coalition. Under the directive of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the coalition was organized with the goal of bringing innovative approaches to the issue of nutrient pollution. The group consists of federal agencies, universities, and non-profits. 

For additional information and to submit a solution, visit the prize competition website.

Quick-Action Helps Maintain Key Mining Industries during Ebola Outbreak

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 04/07/2015 - 09:07
Summary: The important mining industries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were able to largely maintain their operations during the deadly 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey

Contact Information:

Steven M.  Fortier ( Phone: 703-648-4920 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



The important mining industries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were able to largely maintain their operations during the deadly 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey. In addition, quick, coordinated actions on the part of the mining companies operating in all three countries helped surrounding communities and national health organizations in their efforts to contain the virus.

In this outbreak, the first laboratory-confirmed case of Ebola was reported by the Ministry of Health in Guinea on March 21, 2014, and, as of January 18, 2015, nearly 22,000 cumulative cases had been reported. Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone were the three countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak.

“Although the mining industry continued to operate throughout the Ebola crisis, the effects of the crisis and changing market conditions could substantially reduce prospects for growth and planned investments in the mineral sector of these three countries in the future,” said Steven M. Fortier, Director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center. 

The mineral industries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are important sectors to these countries’ economies. In 2013 alone, the estimated contribution of the mineral sector to GDP in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone was about 13, 11, and 23 percent, respectively.

Mineral development projects were the underpinnings for the World Bank’s forecasts of GDP increases in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone through 2017. In 2012, it was estimated that for Guinea the development of these projects had the potential to double the country’s real GDP by 2015 and to greatly enhance the prospects for future GDP growth through 2017.

Uncertainty regarding the status of mining and mineral exploration operations in the three countries following the onset of the Ebola outbreak and changes in mineral market conditions raised questions regarding the prospects for such growth and future foreign direct investment in the region.

However, mining companies in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone acted quickly to help their staff and ensure the mines stayed open. They secured the perimeter of the mining operations; established health and preventative screening to prevent the spread of Ebola; and provided safety training to staff in and around mining facilities and nearby communities.

In addition, a group of mining companies created an advocacy group to coordinate their efforts to address the Ebola outbreak and work with the United Nations.

The new report is entitled “The Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak and the Mineral Sectors of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone,” and can be accessed online.

The USGS National Minerals Information Center collects, analyzes, and disseminates information on the domestic and international supply of and demand for minerals and mineral materials essential to the U.S. economy and national security. Learn more by visiting our website or by following us on Twitter @USGSMinerals.

Circulation of Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu in North American Birds

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 04/02/2015 - 11:45
Summary: Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 viruses of Eurasian origin continue to circulate and evolve in North American wild birds Viral Changes Make Current Situation More Complex

Contact Information:

Marisa Lubeck, USGS ( Phone: 303-202-4765 ); Gail Moede Rogall, USGS ( Phone: 608-270-2438 ); Joelle Hayden, USDA ( Phone: 301-851-4040 );



Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 viruses of Eurasian origin continue to circulate and evolve in North American wild birds. 

The U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Department of Agriculture published the genetic analysis of a mixed-origin HPAI H5N1 avian flu virus in the journal Genome Announcements today. This novel virus was discovered in a green-winged teal in Washington State that was sampled at the end of 2014. It is a mixed-origin virus containing genes from the Eurasian HPAI H5N8 and genes from North American low pathogenic avian influenza from wild birds. This H5N1 virus is different from the well-known Asian H5N1 HPAI virus that emerged in 1996. 

This new publication follows a recent article describing the introduction of Eurasian HPAI H5N8 into North America at the end of 2014 and the detection of a different mixed-origin virus (HPAI H5N2) in wild birds. In March 2015, the HPAI H5N2 virus was detected in commercial turkey flocks in Minnesota, Missouri and Arkansas, in a backyard flock of mixed poultry in Kansas and in a wild bird in Wyoming. 

“Such findings are not unexpected and might continue as the Eurasian lineage H5 circulates in the United States,” said co-author Mia Kim Torchetti, a USDA Animal and Plant Inspection Service scientist. 

The term ‘highly pathogenic’ refers to the ability of an avian influenza virus strain to produce disease in chickens. The population-level impact of these viruses on free-living wild bird species is currently unknown. 

“This report describes the first detection of HPAI H5N1 virus in North America, and this virus has since been detected in a backyard flock in British Columbia, Canada,” said Hon Ip, a USGS National Wildlife Health Center scientist. 

As with the parental Eurasian H5N8 virus, no human infections with this H5N1 virus have been detected. However, similar viruses have infected people in other countries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The public health risk posed by these domestic HPAI outbreaks is considered low at this time, but it is possible that human infections with these viruses may occur.  

Each mixed-origin virus might carry different risks and surveillance of circulating HPAI viruses is ongoing. The USGS and USDA scientists continue to monitor Eurasian H5 lineage viruses and provide stakeholders with timely information for management purposes. 

For more information about avian influenza, please visit the USGS National Wildlife Health Center website or the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service avian influenza page

Polar Bears Unlikely to Thrive on Land-based Foods

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 13:00
Summary: A team of scientists led by the U.S. Geological Survey found that polar bears, increasingly forced on shore due to sea ice loss, may be eating terrestrial foods including berries, birds and eggs, but any nutritional gains are limited to a few individuals and likely cannot compensate for lost opportunities to consume their traditional, lipid-rich prey—ice seals

Contact Information:

Karyn Rode ( Phone: 907-786-7106 ); Paul  Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



Polar bear laying down to dry after a swim in the Chukchi sea. (High resolution image)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A team of scientists led by the U.S. Geological Survey found that polar bears, increasingly forced on shore due to sea ice loss, may be eating terrestrial foods including berries, birds and eggs, but any nutritional gains are limited to a few individuals and likely cannot compensate for lost opportunities to consume their traditional, lipid-rich prey—ice seals.

“Although some polar bears may eat terrestrial foods, there is no evidence the behavior is widespread,” said Dr. Karyn Rode, lead author of the study and scientist with the USGS. “In the regions where terrestrial feeding by polar bears has been documented, polar bear body condition and survival rates have declined.”

The authors detail their findings in a review article in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The scientists noted that over much of the polar bear’s range, terrestrial habitats are already occupied by grizzly bears. Those grizzly bears occur at low densities and are some of the smallest of their species due to low food quality and availability. Further, they are a potential competitor as polar bears displaced from their sea ice habitats increasingly use the same land habitats as grizzly bears. 

“The smaller size and low population density of grizzly bears in the Arctic provides a clear indication of the nutritional limitations of onshore habitats for supporting large bodied polar bears in meaningful numbers,” said Rode. “Grizzly bears and polar bears are likely to increasingly interact and potentially compete for terrestrial resources.”

The study found that fewer than 30 individual polar bears have been observed consuming bird eggs from any one population, which typically range from 900 to 2000 individuals. “There has been a fair bit of publicity about polar bears consuming bird eggs. However, this behavior is not yet common, and is unlikely to have population-level impacts on trends in body condition and survival,” said Rode.

Few foods are as energetically dense as marine prey. Studies suggest that polar bears consume the highest lipid diet of any species, which provides all essential nutrients and is ideal for maximizing fat deposition and minimizing energetic requirements. Potential foods found in the terrestrial environment are dominated by high-protein, low-fat animals and vegetation. Polar bears are not physiologically suited to digest plants, and it would be difficult for them to ingest the volumes that would be required to support their large body size.

“The reports of terrestrial feeding by polar bears provide important insights into the ecology of bears on land,” said Rode. “In this paper, we tried to put those observations into a broader context.  Focused research will help us determine whether terrestrial foods could contribute to polar bear nutrition despite the physiological and nutritional limitations and the low availability of most terrestrial food resources. However, the evidence thus far suggests that increased consumption of terrestrial foods by polar bears is unlikely to offset declines in body condition and survival resulting from sea ice loss.”

The review article was developed by researchers at the USGS, Washington State University, and Polar Bears International.

The USGS is leading studies of polar bear response to sea ice loss through its Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative. Current studies include examination of polar bear nutritional and behavioral ecology, linked to population-level consequences. For further information, visit the USGS Polar Bear Program.

USGS Releases Online Tool for Estimating Atrazine Levels in Streams and Rivers

USGS Newsroom Technical - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 11:12
Summary: A new online, interactive tool for estimating atrazine concentrations in streams and rivers is now available

Contact Information:

Wes Stone ( Phone: 317-600-2786 ); Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



A new online, interactive tool for estimating atrazine concentrations in streams and rivers is now available. 

The online mapping tool can assist water managers, policy makers, and scientists in several ways, including:

  • Understanding where and why pesticides occur in streams.
  • Assessing geographic patterns in pesticide stream concentrations at many scales, ranging from the watershed to regional and national;
  • Designing efficient and cost-effective monitoring programs and studies; and
  • Identifying streams with the greatest likelihood to have concentrations that exceed a water-quality benchmark of potential concern. 

“Assessment and management of pesticides require far more information on concentrations in streams and rivers than we can afford to directly measure for all the places and times of interest,” said Wes Stone, the USGS hydrologist who developed the model.  “For these situations, statistical models can be used to estimate water-quality conditions at unmonitored locations under a range of possible circumstances.” 

The estimates are based on a USGS statistical model — referred to as Watershed Regression for Pesticides (or “WARP”) — which also provides key statistics for each selected stream, including the probability that a pesticide may exceed a water-quality benchmark of potential concern, and a level of confidence and uncertainty associated with each estimate. 

The release for atrazine is the first in a series of statistical models for other pesticides, each of which is based on USGS National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) monitoring in streams from 1992-2011, agricultural pesticide use, and environmental characteristics, such as soil characteristics, hydrology, and climate.  

Future updates will provide similar mapping and modeling for additional pesticides. Estimates and interactive mapping of pesticides for streams in the U.S. are available at this USGS website. The new website replaces an earlier version of the model for atrazine.  

Golden State Quads Add Trails

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 04/01/2015 - 09:30
Summary: Several of the 2,798 new US Topo quadrangles for California now display public trails along with segments of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail Newly released US Topo maps for California now feature selected trails and other substantial updates.

Contact Information:

Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 ); Larry Moore ( Phone: 303-202-4019 );



Several of the 2,798 new US Topo quadrangles for California now display public trails along with segments of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Also the new maps now show improved data layers such as public land survey information, map symbol redesign, enhanced railroad information and new road source data. Some of the data for the trails is provided to the USGS through a nationwide “crowdsourcing” project managed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA).

“The USGS 7.5-minute quads have been the long time gold standard for wall to wall mapping in the United States.” said Tom Lupo, Deputy Director, Data and Technology Division, California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “To me, they are the second best thing the Federal government has ever done!”

For California recreationalists and visitors who want to explore the diverse west coast landscape on a bicycle seat, hiking, horseback or other means, the new trail features on the US Topo maps will come in handy. During the past two years the IMBA, in a partnership with the MTB Project, has been building a detailed national database of trails. This activity allows local IMBA chapters, IMBA members, and the public to provide trail data and descriptions through their website.  MTB Project and IMBA then verify the quality of the trail data provided, ensure accuracy and confirm the trail is legal.  This unique crowdsourcing venture has increased the availability of trail data available through The National Map mobile and web apps, and the revised US Topo maps.

Another trail system, provided through a USGS partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, is the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This west-coast long NST joins the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the North Country National Scenic Trail, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail as being featured on the new US Topo quads around the nation. The USGS hopes to eventually include all National Scenic Trails in The National Map products.

The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail is a treasured pathway through some of the most scenic terrain in the nation. Beginning in southern California at the Mexican border, the PCT travels a total distance of 2,650 miles through California, Oregon, and Washington until reaching the Canadian border. The PCT is one of the original National Scenic Trails established by Congress in the 1968 National Trails System Act and fifty-four percent of the trail lies within designated wilderness

Another important addition to the new California US Topo maps is the inclusion of Public Land Survey System data. PLSS is a way of subdividing and describing land in the US. All lands in the public domain are subject to subdivision by this rectangular system of surveys, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

These new maps replace the first edition US Topo maps for the Golden State and are available for free download from The National Map, the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website , or several other USGS applications.

To compare change over time, scans of legacy USGS topo maps, some dating back to the late 1800s, can be downloaded from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection

For more information on US Topo maps: http://nationalmap.gov/ustopo/

Updated 2015 version of El Capitan, California quadrangle with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1.4 MB) Scan of the 1909 USGS quadrangle of the Yosemite, California area, to include El Capitan, from the USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection. (1:250,000 scale) (high resolution image 2 MB) Updated 2015 version of the El Capitan, California quadrangle with orthoimage turned off to better see the various trail networks. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1.3 MB) The National Trails System was established by Act of Congress in 1968. The Act grants the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture authority over the National Trails System. The Act defines four types of trails. Two of these types, the National Historic Trails and National Scenic Trails, can only be designated by Act of Congress. National scenic trails are extended trails located as to provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of nationally significant scenic, historic, natural, and cultural qualities of the area through which such trails may pass.

There are 11 National Scenic Trails:
  • Appalachian National Scenic Trail
  • Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail
  • Continental Divide National Scenic Trail
  • North Country National Scenic Trail
  • Ice Age National Scenic Trail
  • Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
  • Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail
  • Florida National Scenic Trail
  • Arizona National Scenic Trail
  • New England National Scenic Trail
  • Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail
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New Technology Helps Identify Dispersal of Avian Flu Virus between Asia and Alaska

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 13:00
Summary: In a new study published today, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service harnessed a new type of DNA technology to investigate avian influenza viruses in Alaska

Contact Information:

Andy Ramey ( Phone: 907-786-7174 ); Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In a new study published today, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service harnessed a new type of DNA technology to investigate avian influenza viruses in Alaska.  Using a “next generation” sequencing approach, which identifies gene sequences of interest more rapidly and more completely than by traditional techniques, scientists identified low pathogenic avian influenza viruses in Alaska that are nearly identical to viruses found in China and South Korea. 

The viruses were found in an area of western Alaska that is known to be a hot spot for both American and Eurasian forms of avian influenza.

“Our past research in western Alaska has shown that 70 percent of avian influenza viruses isolated in this area were found to contain genetic material from Eurasia, providing evidence for high levels of intercontinental viral exchange,” said Andy Ramey, a scientist with the USGS Alaska Science Center and lead author of the study.  “This is because Asian and North American migratory flyways overlap in western Alaska.”

The new study, led by the USGS, found low pathogenic H9N2 viruses in an Emperor Goose and a Northern Pintail.  Both of the H9N2 viruses were nearly identical genetically to viruses found in wild bird samples from Lake Dongting, China and Cheon-su Bay, South Korea.

“These H9N2 viruses are low pathogenic and not known to infect humans, but similar viruses have been implicated in disease outbreaks in domestic poultry in Asia,” said Ramey. 

There is no commercial poultry production in western Alaska and highly similar H9N2 virus strains have not been reported in poultry in East Asia or North America, so it is unlikely that agricultural imports influenced this result.

The finding provides evidence for intercontinental movement of intact avian influenza viruses by migratory birds. The USGS recently released a publication about the detection of a novel highly pathogenic H5N8 virus in the U.S. that is highly similar to the Eurasian H5N8 viruses. This suggests that the novel re-assortment may be adapted to certain waterfowl species, enabling it to survive long migrations. That virus, and associated strains, have now spread from early detections in wild and domestic birds in Pacific states to poultry outbreaks in Minnesota, Missouri and Arkansas.

“The frequency of inter-hemispheric dispersal events of avian influenza viruses by migratory birds may be higher than previously recognized,” said Ramey.

While some of the samples for the project came from bird fecal samples collected from beaches at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, most of the samples came from sport hunters.

“For the past several years, we’ve worked closely with sport hunters in the fall to obtain swab samples from birds and that has really informed our understanding of wildlife disease in this area,” said Bruce Casler, formerly a biologist with the USFWS Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and a co-author of the study. None of the viruses found in harvested birds from Izembek Refuge are known to infect humans, but hunters should always follow safe meat handling and cooking guidelines when processing wild game.

The paper, “Dispersal of H9N2 influenza A viruses between East Asia and North America by wild birds” was published today in the journal Virology. A summary of all samples collected at the Izembek Refuge will be described in a subsequent publication. 

Additional information about avian influenza can be found at the following web sites:

Alaska is an international crossroads for millions of migratory birds that spend winter in Asia, Oceania, South America, and the lower-48 United States. (High resolution image 3 MB)

Updated Information on Cuba Mineral and Petroleum Resources Released

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 10:40
Summary: Cuba is among the top 10 producers of cobalt and nickel and has significant other mineral and petroleum resources, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey publication

Contact Information:

Steven Fortier ( Phone: 703-648-4920 ); Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-352-3487 );



Cuba is among the top 10 producers of cobalt and nickel and has significant other mineral and petroleum resources, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey publication.

The report and accompanying map highlight the mineral resources available in Cuba, as well as detailing locations of petroleum exploration and development. The map also identifies mines, mineral processing facilities and petroleum facilities as well as information on location, operational status and ownership. It also addresses the current status of mineral industry projects, historical developments and trends of the Cuban economy with an emphasis on mineral industries and the supply of and demand for Cuba’s mineral resources.

“Cuba’s geology is complex, and the country has a variety of mineral commodity and energy resources,” said Steven Fortier, Director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center. “It is important that the public and industry have the latest information on the status of the mineral industry and the potential for natural resource development in Cuba.”

A few key points from the report are:

  • In 2013, Cuba was estimated to be among the world’s top ten producers of cobalt and nickel, which are the country’s leading exports
  • Cuba’s current crude oil and associated natural gas production from onshore and shallow water reservoirs is approximately 50,000 barrels per day of liquids and about 20,000 barrels per day oil equivalent of natural gas
  • In 2013, the value of mining and quarrying activities accounted for 0.6 percent of Cuba’s gross domestic product, compared with 1.4 percent in 2000
  • The value of production from Cuba’s industrial manufacturing sector increased by 88 percent between 1993 and 2013, whereas the sector’s share in the GDP decreased by 3 percent during the same period reflecting economic growth in other sectors of the economy

In 2004, the USGS released an assessment of the hydrocarbons of the North Cuba Basin and its three sub-basins. The total amount of undiscovered technically recoverable resources was estimated to be 9.8 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas, 4.6 billion barrels of crude oil, and 0.9 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. About 70 percent of this oil was estimated to be located no more than 50 to 80 kilometers (km) offshore along the length of the western and northern coasts of the island. To date, deepwater drilling has resulted in no commercially viable oil or gas discoveries. 

Industrial minerals and manufactured industrial mineral products produced in Cuba include ammonia and ammonia byproducts, bentonite, cement, feldspar, high-purity zeolite minerals, gypsum, kaolin (a type of clay), lime, high-grade limestone, marble, sand, sulfuric acid, steel and urea. In 2013, an estimated 4,500 metric tons of zeolites was exported to Europe and other Latin American countries and in 2014 the majority of the country’s ammonium nitrate was intended for export.

In 2014, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment announced 246 development projects for which it sought foreign investment. The petroleum sector offered the greatest number of prospective investment opportunities followed by the manufacturing and mining sectors. In the energy sector, the country is offering joint ventures in petroleum extraction from onshore and offshore blocks and foreign investment opportunities are being offered in biomass and solar energy production and hydroelectric power.

The report ‘Recent trends in Cuba’s mining and petroleum extraction industries’ FS 2015-3032 is available online.