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USGS Latest News

Revised Alabama Maps Feature New Design

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:00
Summary: US Topo maps now have a crisper, cleaner design - enhancing readability of maps for online and printed use Newly designed US Topo maps covering Alabama are now available online for free download

Contact Information:

Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 ); Bob Davis ( Phone: 573-308-3554 );



US Topo maps now have a crisper, cleaner design - enhancing readability of maps for online and printed use. Map symbols are easier to read over the digital aerial photograph layer whether the imagery is turned on or off. Improvements to symbol definitions (color, line thickness, line symbols, area fills), layer order, and annotation fonts are additional features of this latest update. The maps also have transparency for some features and layers to increase visibility of multiple competing layers.

This new design was launched earlier this year and is now part of the new US Topo quadrangles for Alabama (840 maps), replacing the first edition US Topo maps for the states.

"Users in our state are very excited about the three year revision cycle of the US Topo maps,” said George Heleine, the Geospatial Liaison for Alabama and Mississippi.  “The Alabama Department of Transportation says that due to increased growth within the state, updated maps will significantly increase their utility across all disciplines within State Government”. 

US Topo maps are updated every three years. The initial round of the 48 conterminous states coverage was completed in September of 2012.  Hawaii and Puerto Rico maps have recently been added. Nearly 1,000 new US Topo maps for Alaska have been added to the USGS Map Locator & Downloader, but will take several years to complete.

Re-design enhancements and new features:

  • Crisper, cleaner design improves online and printed readability while retaining the look and feel of traditional USGS topographic maps
  • New functional road classification schema has been applied
  • A slight screening (transparency) has been applied to some features to enhance visibility of multiple competing layers
  • Updated free fonts that support diacritics
  • New PDF Legend attachment
  • Metadata formatted to support multiple browsers
  • New shaded relief layer for enhanced view of the terrain
  • Military installation boundaries, post offices and cemeteries
  • The railroad dataset is much more complete

The previous versions of US Topo maps for these states, published in 2011, can still be downloaded from USGS web sites. Also, scanned images of older topographic maps from the period 1884-2006 can be downloaded from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection. These scanned images of legacy paper maps are available for free download from The National Map and the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website

US Topo maps are created from geographic datasets in The National Map, and deliver visible content such as high-resolution aerial photography, which was not available on older paper-based topographic maps. The new US Topo maps also provide modern technical advantages that support wider and faster public distribution and on-screen geographic analysis tools for users. The new digital electronic topographic maps are delivered in GeoPDF ® image software format and may be viewed using Adobe Reader, available as a no-cost download.

For more information, go to: http://nationalmap.gov/ustopo/

2014 US Topo map of the Florence, Alabama area with the shaded relief and image layter turned on. 1914 USGS legacy topographic map of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama area.

Interior, Agriculture Departments Partner to Measure Conservation Impacts on Water Quality

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 10/21/2014 - 09:57
Summary: The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new partnership agreement today that will provide a clearer picture of the benefits of farmers' conservation practices on the quality of our Nation's water

Contact Information:

Ethan Alpern ( Phone: 703-648-4406 ); Michael Woodside ( Phone: 615-837-4706 );



ALTON, Ill., Oct. 21, 2014—The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new partnership agreement today that will provide a clearer picture of the benefits of farmers' conservation practices on the quality of our Nation's water.  Working together, USDA's NRCS and DOI's USGS will quantify the benefits of voluntary agricultural practices at a watershed scale.  This information will strengthen the effectiveness of state and federal nutrient reduction strategies while protecting the privacy of individual farmers.  The agreement was announced at the Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force Meeting.

“On a voluntary basis, the agricultural community has put extensive effort into the management of nutrients and reducing runoff into waterways. This collaboration will help evaluate the impact of farmers’ conservation efforts on improving water quality,” said Ann Mills, USDA’s deputy under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment.

Mills said when hundreds of farms take action in one watershed, it can make a difference—it can help prevent an algae bloom downstream or lessen the need for water treatment plants to treat for nitrates.

The U.S. Geological Survey will now use Natural Resources Conservation Service data on conservation work to factor into its surface water quality models, which track how rivers receive and transport nutrients from natural and human sources to downstream reservoirs and estuaries. This information will help provide a more accurate picture of the conservation systems in the watershed that contribute to water quality improvement and will provide crucial information for voluntary nutrient management strategies and watershed planning.

“This agreement will allow NRCS and USGS to combine resource management capabilities with science, and will give us the information we need to prioritize the most effective conservation strategies so that we can improve the quality of streams throughout the Mississippi River Basin,” said Lori Caramanian, DOI deputy assistant secretary for Water and Science.

Working together, NRCS and USGS will develop conservation intensity data sets that reflect the value of conservation actions, but do not reveal private information about individual farms, ranches or forests. Protecting the trust relationship between NRCS and farmers and their private information protected by law is vital to the continued success of voluntary conservation on private lands.

“We know our farmers are doing great work to protect our natural resources. Our goal with this partnership is to be able to better recognize these achievements and provide conservation and water quality management communities with science-based information for improving water quality,” Mills said. “Farmers invest heavily in conservation systems to improve water quality, and we want to aid their decisions with the best science and information available.”

The conservation intensity products developed through the agreement will provide a uniform representation of conservation activities for use in water quality assessments at local, regional and national scales. Technical assistance providers will therefore have the assurance that they are using consistent and accurate information on conservation activities and a common platform for discussing conservation benefits.

Nutrient runnoff from many different sources, including urban areas and industry, impacts our nation’s waterways. By providing science-based information, NRCS and USGS can help farmers decrease nutrient runoff and improve water quality for their communities and downstream.

Visit the following links to learn more about: real-time nitrate monitoring, annual and seasonal nutrient loads to the Gulf of Mexico, nutrient trends, and the Mississippi River basin nutrient model  mapper.

Learn more about NRCS’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project Cropland National Assessment and the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative.

To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center.

USGS Announces Grants for Water Studies

USGS Newsroom Technical - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 07:57
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey recently awarded nearly $1 million to four university programs across the country, through the National Competitive Grants Program.

Contact Information:

Ethan Alpern ( Phone: 703-648-4406 ); Earl Greene ( Phone: 443-498-5505 );



The U.S. Geological Survey recently awarded nearly $1 million to four university programs across the country, through the National Competitive Grants Program.

Proposals from Purdue University, University of Iowa, University of Maryland, and the University of Nebraska won the grants this year.

Purdue University’s project will address the need to improve the nation’s water supply through the evaluation of what factors limit adoption of urban stormwater conservation practices. The project goal is to improve water quality planning and implementation management practices.

The University of Iowa will develop statistical models to describe the relationship between inland flooding and North Atlantic tropical storms. This knowledge is instrumental in identifying and characterizing areas at risk from flooding and for developing a model to determine economic impacts of such events.

University of Maryland’s objective is to characterize the number and concentration of gestagens in tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay and to document the exposure effects of gestagens on the reproductive health of the fathead minnow. Because fish are key indicators of the effects of steroid hormones and other emerging contaminants in water, they can reveal critical insights for understanding the quality of the Nation’s water supply.

University of Nebraska’s research will develop models to predict how soluble uranium is transported and how it can be remediated or reduced. Soluble uranium is a recognized contaminant in public ground water supplies in various regions throughout the United States. It can appear in drinking water in both urban and rural communities, which has led to human health concerns including kidney failure and cancer risk. How this occurs is poorly documented.

The goals of the National Competitive Grants program are to promote collaboration between USGS and university scientists in research on significant national and regional water resources issues; promote the dissemination and results of the research funded under this program; and assist in the training of scientists in water resources.

The federal funding for this program is required to be matched with non-federal dollars each year. Any investigator at an accredited institution of higher learning in the United States is eligible to apply for a grant through a Water Research Institute or Center established under the provisions of the Water Resources Research Act of 1984.

National Scale Assessment of Mercury Contamination in Streams

USGS Newsroom Technical - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 12:07
Summary: A new USGS report presents a comprehensive assessment of mercury contamination in streams across the United States. It highlights the importance of environmental processes, monitoring, and control strategies for understanding and reducing stream mercury levels.

Contact Information:

Mark Brigham ( Phone: 763-783-3274 ); Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



A new USGS report presents a comprehensive assessment of mercury contamination in streams across the United States. It highlights the importance of environmental processes, monitoring, and control strategies for understanding and reducing stream mercury levels.

Methylmercury concentrations in fish exceed the human health criterion in about one in four U.S. streams.  

Mercury contamination of fish is the primary cause of fish consumption advisories, which currently exist in every state in the nation. Mercury can travel long distances in the atmosphere and be deposited in watersheds, thus contaminating fish even in areas with no obvious source of mercury pollution.

“Understanding the source of mercury, and how mercury is transported and transformed within stream ecosystems, can help water resource managers identify which watersheds are most vulnerable to mercury contamination. They can then prioritize monitoring and management actions,” said William Werkheiser, USGS Associate Director for Water.

Some of the highest fish mercury levels were found in southeastern U.S. streams draining forested watersheds containing abundant wetlands.

Wetlands provide ideal conditions for atmospherically deposited mercury to be converted to methlymercury — which enters the aquatic food web and ultimately bioaccumulates in fish, especially top predator game fish such as largemouth bass. Thus, wetland construction or restoration (for example, to improve habitat or to filter nutrients and sediment) should balance the potential for increased methylmercury production against the anticipated ecological and water-quality benefits of the wetlands.

Elevated mercury levels also were noted in areas of the western U.S. affected by historical gold and mercury mining.

Fish mercury levels were lowest in urban streams, despite an abundance of sources of inorganic mercury. This occurs because urban streams lack conditions, such as wetlands, that are conducive to production and bioaccumulation of methylmercury.

In contrast to other environmental contaminants, mercury emission reduction strategies need to consider global mercury sources in addition to domestic sources. Reductions in domestic mercury emissions are likely to result in lower mercury levels in fish in the eastern U.S., where domestic emissions contribute a large portion of atmospherically deposited mercury. In contrast, emission controls will provide smaller benefits in the western U.S., where reduced domestic emissions may be offset by increased emissions from Asia.

Atmospheric mercury emissions from municipal and medical waste incineration, metallurgical processes, and other sources have been reduced in the U.S. by more than 60 percent since 1990. Mercury concentrations in lake sediment, fish tissue, and precipitation have decreased in some areas of the U.S. during recent decades, coincident with mercury reduction legislation. The development of a national monitoring approach will be critical to track the effectiveness of future management actions.

A complete description of the mercury study by the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program is available online. Additional information on USGS mercury research is also available online.

Seismometers to Measure DC Shaking

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 11:00
Summary: Thirty seismometers are being installed in the Nation’s capital this winter to monitor ground tremors to better estimate the intensity of ground shaking that can be expected during future earthquakes in the area USGS and Virginia Tech Begin Installations in November

Contact Information:

Thomas  Pratt ( Phone: 206-919-8773 ); Guney  Olgun ( Phone: 540-231-2036 ); Hannah  Hamilton ( Phone: 703-314-1601 );



WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thirty seismometers are being installed in the Nation’s capital this winter to monitor ground tremors to better estimate the intensity of ground shaking that can be expected during future earthquakes in the area.

The project was announced today by U.S. Geological Survey acting director Suzette Kimball at an event at the National Building Museum promoting ShakeOut, an international earthquake drill involving more than 20 million people scheduled for Oct. 16.

“The surprising amount of damage to buildings here in Washington, D.C. during the 2011 Virginia earthquake – despite its relatively modest 5.8 magnitude and the epicenter being nearly 90 miles away – raised questions on how much seismic shaking is amplified by local geological conditions,” said Kimball.  “The installation of these seismometers should provide the information necessary to help us answer those questions and better estimate the intensity of shaking during future earthquakes in the area.”

Scientists from the USGS and Virginia Tech will begin the installations in November, locating the bowl sized sensors at various sites throughout the District of Columbia, including government facilities, parks, and private homes.

The extremely sensitive seismometers will remain in place until summer of 2015 to record weak ground shaking from distant earthquakes, as well as vibrations from regional earthquakes, quarry blasts and background noise generated by sources such as automobile traffic. The seismometers will continuously record information, with scientists periodically visiting the instruments to retrieve the data.

In time the results should provide information that will help architects and engineers mitigate the effects of future earthquakes when they design or renovate buildings in the area. Although no one can predict when the area will experience its next earthquake, the Eastern United States has the potential to experience larger, more damaging earthquakes than was experienced in 2011.

The seismometers are on loan from the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, which is a consortium of more than 120 US universities and research institutions dedicated to facilitating investigations of earthquakes and Earth dynamics.

More than 450 aftershocks have been recorded since the Virginia earthquake, which was felt from central Georgia to central Maine, and west to Detroit and Chicago.  It is estimated that approximately one-third of the U.S. population could have felt the earthquake, which damaged the Washington National Cathedral and the Washington Monument.

Additional information about the earthquakes in Virginia is available online.

For more information visit the USGS Earthquake Hazard Program website.

Wind Turbine or Tree? Certain Bats Might Not Know

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 15:17
Summary: Certain bats may be approaching wind turbines after mistaking them for trees, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Contact Information:

Heidi Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Cris Hein ( Phone: 706-621-1975 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



Additional Contacts:  Cris Hein, Bat Conservation International, 706-621-1975, chein@batcon.org and Marcos Gorresen, Univ. of Hawaii at Hilo, 808-985-6407, mgorresen@usgs.gov

FORT COLLINS, Colorado – Certain bats may be approaching wind turbines after mistaking them for trees, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study, led by U.S. Geological Survey scientist Paul Cryan, was the first to use video surveillance cameras to watch bats for several months flying at night near experimentally manipulated wind turbines and led to the discovery that tree-roosting bats, or “tree bats,” may approach and interact with wind turbines in consistent and predictable ways. 

Bats are long-lived, slow-breeding mammals that serve as the main predators of night flying insects, such as moths and beetles. Insect-eating bats are estimated to save farmers billions of dollars each year in the United States by providing natural pest control. Historically, fatal collisions of bats and tall, human-made structures were rarely observed, but something changed with the construction of large, industrial wind turbines. It is now estimated that tens to hundreds of thousands of bats die each year after interacting with the moving blades of wind turbines. Most tree bats are found dead beneath turbines in late summer and autumn, yet reasons for this seasonal susceptibility remain a mystery – unknown behaviors of bats may play a role.  

"If we can understand why bats approach wind turbines, we may be able to turn them away," said Paul Cryan, a USGS research scientist and the study’s lead author. "Advances in technology helped us overcome the difficulties of watching small bats flying in the dark around the 40-story heights of wind turbines. The new behaviors we saw are useful clues in the quest to know how bats perceive wind turbines and why they approach them."  

The researchers used ‘thermal’ cameras that image heat instead of light, and they recorded surveillance imagery of bats for several months at three wind turbines in Indiana. The team also monitored the nighttime airspace around turbines with near-infrared security cameras, radar and machines that record the ultrasonic calls of bats, as well as developed computer code for automatically finding bats in the hundreds of hours of recorded video imagery. Over the period of the study, bats were seen on video near turbines more than 900 times. 

Bats typically approached turbines one or more times rather than just flying past, and bats often flew very close to the turbine monopoles, nacelles (machinery boxes at top of monopoles) and sometimes approached stationary or slow-moving blades. At the same time, radar indicated that hundreds of night-migrating birds were flying above and around the turbines nightly, but not closely approaching like bats.    

The most surprising discovery was that bats more often approached wind turbines high above the ground and from the downwind side when the wind was blowing. This strong pattern strengthened as wind speed increased and when turbine blades were experimentally prevented from turning at full speed, but decreased in high winds when turbine blades spun normally. Bats also appeared at turbines more often during brightly moonlit nights. The authors concluded from these patterns that bats might follow airflow paths around tree-like structures and use visual cues at night, but may not be able to tell a tree from a wind turbine with slow or stopped blades.

"The way bats approach turbines suggests they follow air currents and use their dim-adapted vision to find and closely investigate tall things shaped like trees," said Marcos Gorresen, an author of the study and scientist with the University of Hawaii at Hilo. "We see these behaviors less often on darker nights and when fast-moving turbine blades are creating chaotic downwind turbulence. This may be because bats are less likely to mistake turbines for trees and approach them in those conditions."

Previous studies indicated that bat fatalities at wind turbines might occur more often on nights with low average wind speeds. The authors speculate that bats may be more likely to approach turbines in such conditions when turbines have airflow patterns resembling trees, but then might be put at risk if wind speed rapidly increases and pushes turbine blades to speeds faster than bats can perceive or outmaneuver.

Although these new findings revealed bats closely investigating most parts of the turbines, the study could not determine their reasons for doing so. The authors wonder if bats might expect to find roosts, clouds of insect prey or other bats at turbines as they might at trees, regardless of whether such resources actually occur at wind turbines. Little is known about the behaviors of bats or insects around tall trees during late summer and autumn, but the authors write that studying treetop behaviors in natural environments might help explain why bats are particularly susceptible to wind turbines.  

The new findings also have practical implications toward the goal of reducing or avoiding bat fatalities at wind turbines. A current method of reducing bat fatalities at wind turbines is to increase the wind speed threshold at which turbine blades begin operating and spinning fast. “It might be possible to efficiently further reduce fatalities with this method by accounting for sporadic gusts of wind during low-wind periods when bats might be hanging around turbines,” said Cris Hein, an author of the study and scientist with Bat Conservation International. The findings also suggest that pointing monitoring or deterrent devices into the downwind airspace of a turbine might have better chances of detecting or keeping bats away than if they are pointed elsewhere.

The authors conclude that increasing our understanding of the ways that bats perceive and approach wind turbines helps in the search for solutions to reduce the effects of this important energy source on bat populations. More information about this study and additional bat research is available online at the USGSFort Collins Science CenterBat Conservation International and Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative.

Promising Tools Assess Presence of Chytrid Fungus in Amphibian Habitats

USGS Newsroom Technical - Mon, 09/29/2014 - 12:00
Summary: Amphibians, including threatened and endangered species like the Oregon Spotted Frog, may benefit from a recent study that highlights the use of promising tools that can assess the risk of disease exposure

Contact Information:

Tara Chestnut ( Phone: 503-251-3283 ); Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



PORTLAND, Ore. — Amphibians, including threatened and endangered species like the Oregon Spotted Frog, may benefit from a recent study that highlights the use of promising tools that can assess the risk of disease exposure. With global biodiversity decreasing, it has become important for scientists to find new and innovative tools to quickly assess how environmental hazards affect wildlife, especially those that are threatened or endangered.

“By sampling water for amphibian chytrid fungus, rather than sampling amphibians directly, we can detect the pathogen with as few as four samples,” says U.S. Geological Survey researcher Tara Chestnut.

This information is vital to researchers and resource managers, alike, by providing early detection of potential problems that may require immediate conservation efforts or further detailed investigation. Of all species, amphibians (e.g. frogs, toads, salamanders, and newts) appear especially vulnerable to environmental hazards, with up to 41 percent considered threatened worldwide. One potentially lethal threat is the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. The amphibian chytrid fungus causes the disease chytridiomycosis, which is linked to many of the observed amphibian population declines and extinctions globally.

For this study, scientists coupled sophisticated molecular tools with advanced statistics to evaluate whether the amphibian chytrid fungus occupied ponds and wetlands. First, they used DNA extracted from water samples to test for the presence and abundance of the amphibian chytrid fungus. Then they used an occupancy modeling method to estimate the chance of a false-negative result, or the likelihood of not detecting the pathogen when it was actually present. The study found chytrid fungus in approximately 61 percent of sampled ponds and wetlands. The fungus was present year round at the long-term monitoring site, but its density was highest in the spring. Beside seasonal variability, elevation also played a role in the presence of the fungus. Chytrid fungus was more common in amphibian breeding habitats at lower elevations than those habitats at higher elevations.

Among the benefits of these tools, scientists have been able to improve survey protocols, which increases the chances of detecting the amphibian chytrid fungus in the environment, while reducing the risk of a false-negative. More importantly, these tools are not limited to only studying the amphibian chytrid fungus. These same methods can be modified to quickly and applied to other aquatic diseases that pose risks to the health of wildlife and humans alike.

“When we study the ecology of pathogens by sampling the environment, conservation efforts can be more informed and focused to meet the management goals and objectives for threatened and endangered species, and common species,” says Chesnut.

The study was published in the journal PLOS One.

Past, Present and Future Climates Go Hand in Hand with Tribes

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 09/25/2014 - 14:38
Summary: Collaboration between federal Climate Science Centers, partner agencies and tribes is vital for minimizing and adapting to potential harmful effects of climate change on human society and surrounding ecosystems, according to a newly-released U.S. Geological Survey circular

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



Collaboration between federal Climate Science Centers, partner agencies and tribes is vital for minimizing and adapting to potential harmful effects of climate change on human society and surrounding ecosystems, according to a newly-released U.S. Geological Survey circular.

“All eight of our Climate Science Centers are working closely with tribal nations to develop the practical science they need," said Anne Castle, DOI Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, "and we are looking forward to the addition of five new BIA tribal liaison positions within the CSC network to help bring climate science results directly to tribal governments.” 

The South Central CSC provides climate science training and science tools that can help tribes assess their natural and cultural resource vulnerabilities and develop adaptation strategies. The circular also provides resources related to funding opportunities, climate science resources and partnership contacts.  

Eight Climate Science Centers were established by the U.S. Department of the Interior between 2010 and 2012 to increase understanding of climate change and coordinate an effective response to climate change effects on the natural and cultural resources that DOI manages.  

“It is our intent to share climate change mitigation and adaptation information with tribes and to receive feedback from tribal members regarding how ecosystems and cultural resources can be maintained as climate changes,” said Kim Winton, USGS scientist and director of the SC CSC.

The SC CSC gives natural resource managers the science, tools and information they need to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate variability and change on their areas of responsibility. The mission of the Climate Science Center is to produce “actionable science,” or science that can be utilized to make resource management decisions such as responding to drought, fire, invasive species and other environmental issues. 

This new USGS circular describes issues of interest to the 68 Native American tribes in the south-central United States, the programs and initiatives of the SC CSC and means of sharing climate science knowledge with tribes in the south central United States. 

“Through two-way communication of interests, knowledge and concern about climate change and related issues, the needs of tribes in the south central United States will be better served, and interpretation of the effects of climate change in this region will be strengthened,” said Winton.

Captive Whooping Cranes Released Into the Wild

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 14:18
Summary: Four whooping crane chicks raised in captivity began their integration into the wild Saturday as part of the continuing effort to increase the wild population of this endangered species Efforts continue to increase population of endangered bird

Contact Information:

John  French ( Phone: 301-452-0497 ); Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-498-5019 );



NECEDAH, Wis. – Four whooping crane chicks raised in captivity began their integration into the wild Saturday as part of the continuing effort to increase the wild population of this endangered species.

The cranes, hatched and raised by their parents at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, were released on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.

The chicks, about six-months old, are part of an experimental rearing and release method referred to as “parent-rearing.”  The parent-reared whooping crane chicks were hatched and raised by captive adult whooping cranes. This method relies entirely on the expertise of captive parents, who care for, exercise, and feed the chicks.

These chicks will join a flock of about 95 cranes that inhabit wetlands on the refuge and elsewhere in central Wisconsin during the spring and summer.  The flock is composed of cranes reintroduced into the wild in order to establish a migratory flock of whooping cranes in the eastern United States.  The Eastern Migratory Flock flies south to wetlands in the Southeast United States for the winter.  The USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center also raises chicks for release into a newly established non-migratory flock in the wetlands of Southwest Louisiana.

“Over the past 13 years, USGS biologists – dressed in costumes to avoid having the birds “imprint” on people -- have raised between five and 20 whooping crane chicks annually that have been released into the Eastern Migratory Flock,” said John French, leader of the USGS whooping crane project at Patuxent.  “This new method of allowing captive adult cranes rear the chicks prior to release into the wild is intended to evaluate the effects of rearing by humans in costume, which is obviously an odd condition.  Parent rearing may result in the chicks learning behavior important to their survival and reproduction.”

While the parent-rearing method has been used previously with sandhill cranes in Mississippi and whooping cranes in Florida, this is only the second year it has been attempted with a migratory population. 

“Our refuge has a long history of helping with the successful reintroduction of endangered or threatened bird species to the area,” said Doug Staller, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge manager. “Necedah is the summer home for the bulk of the Eastern Migratory Flock of whooping cranes, some of which are breeding, and provides a unique and important opportunity to learn more about these endangered birds. It was only natural for us to be involved in the parent rearing effort.”

The parent-reared chicks arrived at Necedah NWR Saturday, where they were housed in separate predator resistant enclosures to provide them a safe place for chicks to roost while they acclimated to their new surroundings near other free-ranging whooping cranes.

The pens are located in the vicinity of pairs of adult whooping cranes without chicks of their own.  Such pairs have a tendency to adopt other chicks, and when adopted, will lead them south during migration, which begins at the end of October.

In addition to the four parent-reared chicks released at Necedah NWR, seven costumed-reared whooping crane chicks will join the eastern migratory flock this year as well.  The chicks were raised in captivity by costumed handlers and have been imprinted on an ultralight aircraft.  They will earn the migration route by following the ultralight from White River Marsh in Wisconsin to the Gulf Coast of Florida.  More information on the migration will be available when it begins in October.

All of the releases of whooping cranes in Wisconsin add to the Eastern Migratory Flock, a reintroduction project undertaken by a broad coalition of Federal, state, and NGO partners belonging to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

At one point in the past, researchers believe the Whooping crane population dropped to fewer than two-dozen birds.  Today the population is estimated to be approximately 425 in the wild, with another 125 in captivity.

  

We Will Rock You - Geologic Map Day

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 09/23/2014 - 09:00
Summary: Celebrate the third annual Geologic Map Day! On October 17, as a part of the Earth Science Week 2014 activities, join leading geoscience organizations in promoting awareness of the importance of geologic mapping to society The U.S. Geological Survey is partnering with the American Geosciences Institute, the Association of American State Geologists and others to promote the importance of geologic mapping to society.

Contact Information:

Douglas Howard ( Phone: 703-648-6978 ); Geoff Camphire, AGI ( Phone: 703-379-2480, x216 ); Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 );



Celebrate the third annual Geologic Map Day! On October 17, as a part of the Earth Science Week 2014 activities, join leading geoscience organizations in promoting awareness of the importance of geologic mapping to society.

Geologic maps are vital to education, science, business, and public policy concerns. Geologic Map Day will focus the attention of students, teachers, and the general public on the study, uses, and significance of these tools, by engaging audiences through educational activities, print materials, online resources, and public outreach opportunities.

Be sure to check out the Geologic Map Day poster included in this year’s Earth Science Week Toolkit. The poster and other materials in the kit show how geologic maps can be used to understand natural hazards as well as providing step-by-step instructions for a related classroom activity focusing on the Grand Canyon. Additional resources for learning about geologic maps can be found on the Geologic Map Day web page.

Geologic Map Day partners include the American Geosciences Institute (AGI), the Association of American State Geologists, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, the Geological Society of America, and Esri.

To learn more, please visit www.earthsciweek.org/. To order your Toolkits, please visit www.earthsciweek.org/materials/. You may also call AGI Publications to place your order at 703-379-2480. 

For more information, go to:  http://www.earthsciweek.org/geologicmap/

Geologic map of the conterminous United States at 1:2,500,000 scale. (High resolution image)

Pharmaceuticals from Treated Municipal Wastewater Can Contaminate Shallow Groundwater Following Release to Streams

USGS Newsroom Technical - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 10:00
Summary: Pharmaceuticals and other contaminants from treated municipal wastewater can travel into shallow groundwater following their release to streams, according to a recent USGS study

Contact Information:

Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 ); Dana Kolpin ( Phone: 319-358-3614 );



Pharmaceuticals and other contaminants from treated municipal wastewater can travel into shallow groundwater following their release to streams, according to a recent USGS study. The research was conducted at Fourmile Creek, a small, wastewater-dominated stream near Des Moines, Iowa.

 “Water level measurements obtained during this study clearly show that stream levels drive daily trends in groundwater levels. Combined with the detection of pharmaceuticals in groundwater collected several meters away from the stream, these results demonstrate that addition of wastewater to this stream results in unintentional, directed transport of pharmaceuticals into shallow groundwater,” said Paul Bradley, the study’s lead author.

Samples for the study were taken from Fourmile Creek during the months of October and December of 2012. In October, the wastewater made up about 99 percent of the stream’s flow, whereas in December, the wastewater made up about 71 percent of the stream’s flow. During both months, Fourmile Creek experienced persistent dry conditions.

Pharmaceuticals and other wastewater contaminants are most likely to contaminate adjacent shallow groundwater systems during dry conditions when wastewater contributes the greatest proportion to streamflow.

The samples from the stream and groundwater were analyzed for 110 pharmaceutical compounds, as well as other chemicals like personal care products and hormones. These compounds are able to move into the groundwater systems because they remain dissolved in the water, rather than attaching themselves to the sediments that filter other chemicals out of the water as it moves from the stream into adjacent groundwater. There were no sources of these pharmaceuticals to groundwater in the study reach other than municipal wastewater in the stream.

This study found that 48 and 61 different pharmaceuticals were present in the stream downstream of the wastewater discharge point during the two periods of study, with concentrations as high as 7,810 parts-per-trillion (specifically the chemical metformin, an anti-diabetic pharmaceutical). Correspondingly, between 7 and 18 pharmaceuticals were present in groundwater at a distance of about 65 feet (20 meters) from the stream bank, with concentrations as high as 87 parts-per-trillion (specifically fexofenadine, an antihistamine pharmaceutical).  

“This research has important implications for the application of bank filtration for indirect water reuse,” said Bradley. Bank filtration is the engineered movement of water between surface water bodies and wells located a short distance away on the streambank. Bank filtration is routinely used to pretreat surface-water for drinking water supply (raw surface water moves from the stream to a shallow groundwater extraction well), or as a final polishing step for the release of treated wastewater (treated wastewater moves from infiltration wells or lagoons through the bank to the stream).

This study is part of a long-term effort to determine the fate and effects of contaminants of emerging concern and to provide water-resource managers with objective information that assists in the development of effective water management practices. 

The paper is entitled “Riverbank filtration potential of pharmaceuticals in a wastewater-impacted stream” and has been published in Environmental Pollution. More information on this study and other studies on contaminants of emerging concern can be found here. To learn more about USGS environmental health science, please visit the USGS Environmental Health website and sign up for our GeoHealth Newsletter or our Environmental Health Headlines.

Sampling and Monitoring for the Mine Life Cycle Handbook Now Available

USGS Newsroom Technical - Fri, 09/19/2014 - 15:31
Summary: The sixth of a series of handbooks on technologies for management of metal mining influenced water is now available online from the Society of Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration Inc

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Kathy Smith ( Phone: 303-236-5788 );



The sixth of a series of handbooks on technologies for management of metal mining influenced water is now available online from the Society of Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration Inc.

“This volume was prepared through the Acid Drainage Technology Initiative–Metal Mining Sector (ADTI-MMS), which includes USGS mine drainage expertise, other federal and state agencies, industry, and academia, to develop a handbook with an approach for environmental sampling and characterization throughout the mine life cycle,” said Kathy Smith, U.S. Geological Survey research geologist and co-editor of the new publication. 

This handbook supplements and enhances current environmental mine sampling and monitoring literature and provides an awareness of the specialized approach necessary for environmental sampling and monitoring at mining sites. It differs from most information sources by providing an approach to address mining influenced water and other sampling media throughout the mine life cycle. 

Sampling and Monitoring for the Mine Life Cycle is organized into a main text and six appendices, including an appendix containing technical summaries written by subject-matter experts that describes various analytical, measurement and collection procedures. Sidebars and illustrations are included to provide additional detail about important concepts, to present examples and brief case studies and to suggest resources for further information. Extensive references are included. 

For more information about USGS minerals research, please visit the website.

Streamgages Measure Drought, Earthquake Impacts on Water

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 09/16/2014 - 14:00
Summary: While the national streamflow database is documenting evidence of California’s historic drought, the database is also confirming another recently seen hydrologic phenomenon: earthquake-induced increases in streamflow

Contact Information:

Laurel  Rogers ( Phone: 619-980-6527 ); Leslie  Gordon ( Phone: 650-329-4006 );



Hydrograph showing stream flow in cubic feet per second on USGS streamgage on Sonoma Creek near Agua Caliente, from about August 23 - September 13, 2014. The sharp rise starting on August 24 reflects an increased streamflow due to the South Napa Earthquake. (High resolution image) Hydrograph showing stream flow in cubic feet per second on USGS streamgage on Sonoma Creek near Agua Caliente, from April 1 - mid-September, 2014. The steady decline in streamflow reflects current drought conditions in California. The sharp decrease and increase aroundAugust 1 is a regional trend, reflecting an upstream irrigation diversion.The sharp rise starting on August 24 reflects an increased streamflow due to the South Napa Earthquake. (High resolution image) Hydrograph showing an increase of gage-height in feet (.01 increments) at the Sonoma Creek at Agua Caliente gage, in the early morning of August 24, 2014. The sharp rise in water level between 4:15 - 4:30 a.m. reflects an increased streamflow due to the South Napa Earthquake an hour earlier. (High resolution image)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — While the national streamflow database is documenting evidence of California’s historic drought, the database is also confirming another recently seen hydrologic phenomenon: earthquake-induced increases in streamflow.

Rivers and streams across California are flowing at record lows. Streamflow data from 182 U.S. Geological Survey streamgages in California with at least 30 years of record, currently show that 62 percent of streamgages are recording flows less 25 percent of normal, and 44 percent are recording flows less than 10 percent of normal. At several streamgage sites, scientists have had to extend measurement scales and rating formulas that help calculate accurate streamflow, because of record low water flows.

Increased flow over rock riffle in Sonoma Creek seen after South Napa Earthquake of August 24, 2014. (High resolution image)

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the August 24 magnitude 6.0 South Napa Earthquake in California, water has begun to flow again in some previously-dry surrounding creeks, rivers and streams prompting many nearby residents to scratch their heads.

Hydrogeologic responses to earthquakes have been known by scientists for decades. In the case of the South Napa Earthquake, the discharge of springs and groundwater to some streams has increased. Based on experience in previous earthquakes, stream and spring flows are expected to decline again over the next several months, assuming that the Napa region does not get significant rainfall over that time period.

Post-earthquake changes in streamflow were recorded at a USGS streamgage on Sonoma Creek, near the city of Sonoma where measured increases in streamflow began after 4:15 a.m. on August 24, about an hour after the earthquake occurred. Streamflow has increased intermittently since the earthquake from 0.1 cubic feet per second to nearly 3 cfs on September 12. The median historical streamflow for this time period is about 0.5 cfs. Scientists theorize that this increase in streamflow is due to groundwater flow entering the river, and the intermittent nature of the streamflow is due to the non-uniform release of groundwater across the basin. 

Related Links and Resources

Media Advisory: USGS to Host Congressional Briefing: #StrongAfterSandy--The Science Supporting the Department of the Interior's Response

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 11:06
Summary: Department of the Interior scientists are generating and sharing critical information to aid the recovery of the areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy, helping to protect our valuable coastal resources and to make communities more resilient against future extreme storms

Contact Information:

Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 (work) 703-314-1601 (cell) );



Department of the Interior scientists are generating and sharing critical information to aid the recovery of the areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy, helping to protect our valuable coastal resources and to make communities more resilient against future extreme storms. Moving forward DOI is positioned to help answer questions such as: What locations along the coast are forecasted to be the most vulnerable to future hurricanes? What were the storm impacts to ecosystems, habitats, fish and wildlife? What is being learned about the importance of undeveloped land? Come learn how the U.S. Geological Survey and its partners are working to assemble and apply better data to keep citizens safe.

Speakers:

  • Neil K. Ganju –  Research Oceanographer, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Mary Foley – Regional Chief Scientist, Northeast Region, National Park Service
  • Eric Schrading – New Jersey Field Office Supervisor,  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Emcee:

Claude Gascon, Executive Vice President and Chief Science Officer, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Where:

Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2325, Washington, D.C.

When:

Friday, September 19, 2014 – 11:00 a.m.

Host:

Refreshments provided courtesy of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

To learn how USGS is combining interdisciplinary science with state-of-the-art technologies to achieve a comprehensive understanding of coastal change caused by Hurricane Sandy, read our new fact sheet: Using Science to Strengthen our Nation’s Resilience to Tomorrow’s Challenges—Understanding and Preparing for Coastal Impacts.

New Oregon Maps Feature National Scenic Trails

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 11:00
Summary: Newly released US Topo maps for Oregon now feature segments of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail

Contact Information:

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



Newly released US Topo maps for Oregon now feature segments of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Several of the 1,835 new US Topo quadrangles for the state now display parts of the Trail along with other improved data layers.

“Having the Pacific Crest NST finally show up on Oregon US Topo maps is significant for all of the recreational users of the wild spaces the trail traverses,” said Tom Carlson, Geospatial Liaison for the Pacific Northwest. “Hiking the trail provides commanding views of the volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range as well as the verdant forests of the western side of the mountains and down into the farmlands of the Willamette Valley. You also see parts of the open Ponderosa Pine forest and high desert on the eastern slopes of the mountains.”

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.

The USGS partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to incorporate the trail onto the Oregon US Topo maps. This NST joins the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail and the North Country National Scenic Trail as being featured on the new US Topo quads. The USGS hopes to eventually include all National Scenic Trails in The National Map products. 

These new maps replace the first edition US Topo maps for Oregon and are available for free download from The National Map and the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website.

Another important addition to the new Oregon US Topo maps in the inclusion of Public Land Survey System. 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.

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

To download US Topo maps: http://nationalmap.gov/ustopo/

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
(high resolution image) New 2014 US Topo quadrangle of the Three Fingered Jack, Oregon, area. Scale 1:24,000, with the orthoimagery layer turned on. (high resolution image) Scanned copy of the 1929 USGS Three Sister’s, Oregon, quadrangle. Scale 1:25,000 – from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection. (high resolution image)

20-Year Study Shows Levels of Pesticides Still a Concern for Aquatic Life in U.S. Rivers and Streams

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 08:30
Summary: Levels of pesticides continue to be a concern for aquatic life in many of the Nation’s rivers and streams in agricultural and urban areas, according to a new USGS study spanning two decades (1992-2011)

Contact Information:

Ethan Alpern ( Phone: 703-648-4406 ); Wesley Stone ( Phone: 317-600-2786 );



Levels of pesticides continue to be a concern for aquatic life in many of the Nation’s rivers and streams in agricultural and urban areas, according to a new USGS study spanning two decades (1992-2011). Pesticide levels seldom exceeded human health benchmarks.

Over half a billion pounds of pesticides are used annually in the U.S. to increase crop production and reduce insect-borne disease, but some of these pesticides are occurring at concentrations that pose a concern for aquatic life.

High resolution image

The proportion of streams with one or more pesticides that exceeded an aquatic-life benchmark was similar between the two decades for streams and rivers draining agricultural and mixed-land use areas, but much greater during the 2002-2011 for streams draining urban areas.

Fipronil, an insecticide that disrupts the central nervous system of insects, was the pesticide most frequently found at levels of potential concern for aquatic organisms in urban streams during 2002-2011.

“The information gained through this important research is critical to the evaluation of the risks associated with existing levels of pesticides,” said William Werkheiser, USGS Associate Director for Water.

Since 1992, there have been widespread trends in concentrations of individual pesticides, some down and some up, mainly driven by shifts in pesticide use due to regulatory changes, market forces, and introduction of new pesticides. “Levels of diazinon, one of the most frequently detected insecticides during the 1990s, decreased from about 1997 through 2011 due to reduced agricultural use and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory phase-out of urban uses,” said, Wesley Stone, USGS hydrologist.

The potential for adverse effects on aquatic life is likely underestimated in these results because resource constraints limited the scope of monitoring to less than half of the more than 400 pesticides currently used in agriculture each year and monitoring focused only on pesticides dissolved in water.

The USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program is continually working to fill these data gaps by adding new pesticides that come into use, such as the neonicotinoid and pyrethroid insecticides, improving characterization of short-term acute exposures, and enhancing evaluations of sediment and other environmental media.

The study “Pesticides in U.S. Streams and Rivers:  Occurrence and trends during 1992-2011” is a feature article in the Environmental Science and Technology journal. The article and additional information including data, reports, and maps on pesticide status, trends, and use are available online.

200 Years of Magma at Kīlauea Volcano Described in New Book

USGS Newsroom Technical - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 15:00
Summary: A new book that summarizes the Kīlauea magma system is now available online, with printed copies to follow soon

Contact Information:

Thomas Wright ( Phone: 301-365-2287 );



Professional Paper 1806: Two Hundred Years of Magma Transport and Storage at Kīlauea Volcano, Hawaiʻi, 1790–2008

ISLAND OF HAWAIʻI, Hawaiʻi — A new book that summarizes the Kīlauea magma system is now available online, with printed copies to follow soon.  The U.S. Geological Survey monograph summarizes the evolution of the internal plumbing of Kīlauea Volcano on the Island of Hawaiʻi from the first documented eruption in 1790 to the explosive eruption of March 2008 in Halemaʻumaʻu Crater. 

For the period before the founding of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in 1912, the authors rely on written observations of eruptive activity, earthquake swarms, and periodic draining of magma from the lava lake present in Kīlauea Caldera by missionaries and visiting scientists. After 1912 the written observations were supplemented by continuous measurement of tilting of the ground at Kīlauea’s summit and by a continuous instrumental record of earthquakes, both measurements made during 1912–56 by a single pendulum seismometer housed on the northeast edge of Kīlauea’s summit. Scientific interpretations become more robust following the installation of seismic and deformation networks in the 1960s. A major advance in the 1990s was the ability to continuously record and telemeter ground deformation to allow its precise correlation with seismic activity before and after eruptions, intrusions, and large earthquakes.

In Kīlauea’s 200-year history, USGS scientists and authors of the new volume, Thomas Wright and Fred Klein, identify three regions of the volcano in which magma is stored and supplied from below. Source 1 is at 1-km depth or less beneath Kīlauea’s summit and fed Kīlauea’s summit lava lakes throughout most of the 19th century and again from 1907 to 1924. Source 1 was used up in the series of small Halemaʻumaʻu eruptions following the end of lava-lake activity in the summit collapse of 1924. Source 2 is the magma reservoir at a depth of 2–6 km beneath Kīlauea’s summit that has been imaged by seismic and deformation measurements beginning in the 1960s. This source was first identified in the summit collapses of 1922 and 1924. Source 3 is a diffuse volume of magma-permeated rock between 5 and 11 km depth beneath the east rift zone and above the near-horizontal fault at the base of the Kīlauea edifice. 

Kīlauea’s history can be considered in cycles of equilibrium, crisis, and recovery. The approach of a crisis is driven by a magma supply rate that greatly exceeds the capacity of the plumbing to deliver magma to the surface. Crises can be anticipated by inflation measured at Kīlauea’s summit coupled with an increase in overall seismicity, particularly manifest by intrusion and eruption in the southwest sector of the volcano. Unfortunately the nature of the crisis—for example, a large earthquake, new eruption, or edifice-changing intrusion—cannot be specified ahead of time. The authors conclude that Kīlauea’s cycles are controlled by nonlinear dynamics, which underscores the difficulty in predicting eruptions and earthquakes.

Highlights of interpretations for the period prior to 1952 are:

• Prior to and including 1924, major subsidence events include draining of the deep magma system identified beneath Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone. 1924 is the last such occurrence.

• A massive intrusion on the lower east rift zone preceding the 1924 phreatic activity at Kīlauea’s summit stabilized the south flank and the present magmatic system.

• The 1952 eruption was preceded by deep earthquakes associated with the magma supply path from the mantle resulting in the beginning of a steady increase in magma supply rate extending to 2008.  A large earthquake swarm on the offshore part of Kīlauea’s south flank in the months before the 1952 eruption ushered in the modern era of seaward spreading.

Interpretations in the post-1952 period are based on connecting events over a far longer time period than the duration of any one person’s tenure on the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff.

Highlights are:

• Kīlauea’s shallow magma system is envisioned as a small molten core surrounded by a partially molten matrix able to record both short- and long-period seismicity.

• Magma coming from the mantle enters the rift zone before it reaches the molten core and appears in rift eruptions before it is seen as a summit eruption.

• Earthquake swarms beneath Kīlauea’s south flank precede as well as succeed shallow intrusions, supporting the modern idea of deep magma pressure being exerted from beneath the East Rift Zone.

• Prior to the M7 south flank earthquake on November 29, 1975 south flank spreading was driven by Kīlauea’s magma supply. Following the earthquake the spreading rate was decoupled from the still increasing magma supply rate.

• The seismic signatures of “suspected deep intrusions” in the monograph are equated with similar signatures that characterize “slow-slip” or “silent” earthquakes. The occurrence of such events is inferred to extend as far back as the 1960s well before continuous geodetic monitoring could identify correlated spreading steps.

• Major changes in Kīlauea’s behavior, such as ends of long eruptions, large south flank earthquakes or changes in eruptive style are anticipated by increased seismic activity on the southwest side of the volcano. The nature of the coming event is not specified, which emphasizes the uncertainties in eruption and earthquake forecasting, even in an increasingly well-monitored, but yet imperfectly understood volcano.

Citation: Wright, T.L., and Klein, F.W., 2014, “Two hundred years of magma transport and storage at Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai'i, 1790-2008,” U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1806, 240 p., plus 8 digital appendixes.

Appendices include yearly time-series seismic plots and map plots for all intrusion-related earthquake swarms covered in the text. Earthquakes are color-coded to indicate those preceding, during, and following the intrusion.

Ocean Warming Affecting Florida Reefs

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 14:22
Summary: Late-summer water temperatures near the Florida Keys were warmer by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last several decades compared to a century earlier, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey Increased Temperatures Spell Trouble for Corals

Contact Information:

Ilsa Kuffner ( Phone: 727-502-8048 ); Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-498-5019 );



ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— Late-summer water temperatures near the Florida Keys were warmer by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last several decades compared to a century earlier, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Researchers indicate that the warmer water temperatures are stressing corals and increasing the number of bleaching events, where corals become white resulting from a loss of their symbiotic algae.  The corals can starve to death if the condition is prolonged.

“Our analysis shows that corals in the study areas are now regularly experiencing temperatures above 84 F during July, August and September; average temperatures that were seldom reached 120 years ago,” said Ilsa Kuffner, a USGS research marine biologist and the study’s lead author. “When corals are exposed to water temperatures above 84 F they grow more slowly and, during extended exposure periods, can stop growing altogether or die.”

The new analysis compares water temperatures during two time periods a century apart at two of Florida’s historic offshore lighthouses – Fowey Rocks Lighthouse, off Miami, and Carysfort Reef Lighthouse, off Key Largo, Florida. The first period included data from 1879 to 1912, while the second period spanned from 1991 to 2012. Temperatures at a third area, a reef off Islamorada, Florida, were also monitored from 1975 to 2007.

“What’s interesting is that the temperature increase observed during this recent 32-year period was as large as that measured at the lighthouses spanning 120 years,” said Kuffner. “This makes it likely the warming observed at the lighthouses has actually occurred since the 1970s.” 

The study indicates that August is consistently the month when Florida’s ocean temperatures peak. In the analysis of recent decades, average temperatures for August have been at or very close to 86 F.  At Fowey Lighthouse from 1879 to 1912, the average August temperature was just 84.2 F. Temperatures this August at the same location, though not included in the study, averaged 87 F. 

Coral bleaching is currently underway in the Florida Keys, highlighting the real-time impact that warmer ocean temperatures are having on reefs. Corals can recover from bleaching if the waters cool down within a few weeks, but mortality usually ensues if corals remain bleached longer than a month or two.

The study, “A century of ocean warming on Florida Keys coral reefs: Historic in-situ observations,” was recently published in the journal Estuaries and Coasts and is available via open access.  

Research Shows Historic Decline in Pacific Walrus Population

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 13:00
Summary: The Pacific walrus population roughly halved between 1981 and 1999, the last year for which demographic data are available. A recent study by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey quantifies this historic population decline

Contact Information:

Rebecca Taylor ( Phone: 907-786-7004 ); Chris Trent ( Phone: 703-648-4451 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Pacific walrus population roughly halved between 1981 and 1999, the last year for which demographic data are available. A recent study by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey quantifies this historic population decline. The 18 year decline identified by the study was not steady across that period. The decline was most severe in the mid-1980s, and then moderated in the 1990s. 

If the moderating trend has continued up to the present time then the population might be stabilized. That, however, cannot be determined until more recent data are collected and analyzed. USGS is working to obtain the data needed to close the gap from collection of the last demographic data to the present day. This information will be vital because the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is expected to determine whether the Pacific walrus should be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2017. Population dynamics, such as those investigated in this USGS study, will be a critical factor in the decision.

“We integrated data from many sources,” said lead author of the study research statistician Rebecca Taylor, with the USGS Alaska Science Center in Anchorage. “These included annual harvest records, 6 age structure surveys and 5 population size surveys conducted at various times over the 32 year study. The age structure data—collected between 1981 and 1999—were particularly informative, and enabled us to quantify the population decline and the birth and death rates that caused it.”

Scientists think past walrus population dynamics were affected mainly by harvest. Previous work suggests the population probably increased rapidly in the 1960s due to reduced hunting and reached or exceeded the size that could be supported by food resources in the late 1970s to early 1980s.  The decline quantified by the USGS analysis was probably initiated by this overabundance of walruses and exacerbated by a return to the relatively high harvests of the 1980s.

“The decline probably was prompted by these historical reasons, but we can’t rule out other possible contributing factors,” said Taylor. “The environment isn’t static, and food may have become less available to walruses over time, possibly because of sea ice loss.”  Sea ice is important to walruses because they rest on it between dives to the ocean floor to eat clams and other invertebrates.

Taylor’s analytical approach allows the incorporation of new data to understand more recent population dynamics.  In 2013 and 2014, the USGS, USFWS and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game jointly surveyed walruses in Bering Strait and the Chukchi Sea to estimate current age structures and test a new method of estimating population size using a genetic mark-and-recapture approach. Another survey is planned for 2015.

In 2011, due to the combined threats of harvest and sea ice loss, the USFWS determined that listing of the population as threatened under the Endangered Species Act was warranted but was precluded by higher priorities. The agency is under a court order to make a listing decision in 2017.

This research effort is part of the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative. The results of this new study were published in the online journal Marine Mammal Science on September 5, 2014. 

For further information:

Multimedia Gallery links:

Endocrine Disruption May Make Fish More Prone to Disease

USGS Newsroom Technical - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 07:57
Summary: New USGS-led research suggests that fish exposed to estrogenic endocrine-disrupting chemicals may have increased susceptibility to infectious disease

Contact Information:

Luke  Iwanowicz ( Phone: 304-724-4550 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



LEETOWN, W.Va. -- New USGS-led research suggests that fish exposed to estrogenic endocrine-disrupting chemicals may have increased susceptibility to infectious disease.

Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals can affect the reproductive system and cause the development of characteristics of the opposite sex, such as eggs in the testes of male fish. Wild- caught fish affected by endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been found in locations across the county.  Estrogenic endocrine-disrupting chemicals are derived from a variety of sources from natural estrogens to synthetic pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals that enter the waterways.

In this study, researchers discovered that cellular receptors for estrogen were present in cells of the channel catfish immune system, which alters the immune system response. These cellular receptors are similar to “on-off switches” that require a lock and key for activation. The study looked at channel catfish because of their well-researched leukocyte cell lines. Leukocytes are immune system cells involved in defending the body against infectious disease and foreign invaders.

Estrogens have been shown to modify immune system responses in mammals and a diverse group of ray-finned fishes that include tunas, halibut, herring and catfish. Most fish species are members of this group, called teleosts. Prior to this research few studies looked at how estrogen receptors in fish leukocytes function. 

The study also marks the first time the dynamics of estrogen receptor gene behavior has been evaluated in activated immune cells. Immune cells are either activated or not, much like a dimmable light, there are degrees of activation.   The researchers found that all cells of the immune system are not likely to be equally affected. 

“We found that B-cells that produce antibodies, T-cells that regulate and coordinate immune responses and destroy virus-infected cells, and macrophages that gobble up invaders, have different arrays of estrogen receptors,” said lead author, USGS research biologist Luke Iwanowicz. “It is likely that these cells are instructed by estrogens differently.”

Iwanowicz noted that this work moves researchers one step closer to better understanding the consequences of exposure to estrogenic substances on the immune function in fish.  “This new research not only means that endocrine disruptors may make fish more prone to disease, but it also provides the context and baseline data to enhance our ability to conduct similar work in wild-caught fishes and investigate relationships between disease in the aquatic environments and endocrine disruptors.”

Based on these findings, future research would explore age-related differences as well as seasonal differences in fish and estrogenic endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure.

The journal article, “Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) leukocytes express estrogen receptor isoforms ERα and ERβ2 and are functionally modulated by estrogens,” by L.R. Iwanowicz, J.L. Stafford, R. Patino, E. Bengten, N.W. Millerand V.S. Blazer, is available online in Fish & Shellfish Immunology.