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Winners Announced in Visualize Your Water High School Citizen Science Challenge

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 04/21/2016 - 11:00
Summary: In January 2016, U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency challenged high school students in 13 states to create compelling and innovative visualizations of nutrient data from open government data sources. 

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Karl Haase ( Phone: 703-648-5818 );



In January 2016, U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency challenged high school students in 13 states to create compelling and innovative visualizations of nutrient data from open government data sources. 

Students from across the United States participated in the challenge, demonstrating their creativity and commitment to environmental stewardship. For the winning visualizations, students effectively used geographic information systems software (GIS) and water quality datasets to describe nutrient pollution in their local watersheds in innovative ways. 

Plant nutrients can be valuable in agricultural and urban settings, but too much at the wrong place or time will produce algal blooms, hypoxia, and other nutrient-related water quality issues that are particularly acute in the Great Lakes Basin and Chesapeake Bay Watershed. 

Today we are announcing the winners of the challenge. 

National Grand Prize
Understanding Eutrophication in the Chesapeake Bay
Washington-Lee High School; Arlington, Va.

Chesapeake Bay Regional Prize
Nutrient Pollution, the Bay’s Biggest Threat
Poolesville High School; Poolesville, Md.

Great Lakes Regional Prize
Algae Affliction of Lake Erie
Father Gabriel Richard High School; Ann Arbor, Mich.

National Geographic Prize
Eutrophication in the Chesapeake Bay: Fertilizer and Manure

Honorable Mention 
The Chesapeake Bay: A National Treasure in Trouble

Honorable Mention 
The Bonds of Water

The National Grand Prize winner is being awarded $2,500 and an opportunity to attend the Esri Education Conference in San Diego, CA in June. The Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes Regional Prize Winners are each being awarded $2,500. The National Geographic Prize winner is receiving a copy of the National Geographic Atlas of the World. All six winning visualizations will be published in Esri's 2017 Mapping the Nation book.

The Visualize Your Water Challenge is part of the broader work of the Challenging Nutrients Coalition. The coalition was formed in 2013 when the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy convened a group of federal agencies, universities, and non-profit organizations to seek innovative ways to address nutrient pollution. This challenge built on the activities of the Open Water Data Initiative, which works in conjunction with the President’s Climate Data Initiative, to further integrate existing water datasets and make them more accessible to innovation and decision making. 

Visualize Your Water involved students analyzing data and creating maps using online GIS software. In conjunction with President Obama's ConnectED Initiative supporting digital learning for every student in America, any US K-12 school can receive an ArcGIS Online school account for free from Esri.

The winners are being announced during National Environmental Education Week, a nationwide celebration of environmental education.

The GIS-based entry The Chesapeake Bay: A National Treasure in Trouble claims Honorable Mention in the Visualize Your Water high school citizen science challenge.

Most Wind Towers in Southern Great Plains Are Low Risk to Sandhill Cranes

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 04/20/2016 - 13:47
Summary: Sandhill Cranes fly in close proximity to wind turbines near Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in east-central Wisconsin, but to date no crane mortality has been associated with turbines in this area. Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) The current placement of wind energy towers in the central and southern Great Plains may have relatively few negative effects on sandhill cranes wintering in the region, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study published today.

Contact Information:

Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-526-6694 );



Sandhill Cranes fly in close proximity to wind turbines near Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in east-central Wisconsin, but to date no crane mortality has been associated with turbines in this area. Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)

The current placement of wind energy towers in the central and southern Great Plains may have relatively few negative effects on sandhill cranes wintering in the region, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study published today.

Midcontinental sandhill cranes are important to sporting and tourism industries in the Great Plains, an area where wind energy development recently surged. Scientists with the USGS compared crane location data from the winters of 1998-2007 with current wind tower sites in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico prairies. Findings showed only a seven percent overlap between cranes and towers, and that most towers have been placed in areas not often used by cranes during the winter.

“Great Plains wetlands are critical to preserving valuable sandhill crane populations,” said USGS scientist Aaron Pearse, the study’s lead author. “Our findings can help managers minimize risks of future wind energy development to cranes by highlighting potentially hazardous locations.”

Using data from cranes tagged with satellite transmitters, the scientists estimated wintering crane distributions and habitat selection behaviors prior to and during wind tower construction, which began in 1999 but surged from 2004-2013. They then compared the early estimates with post-construction bird behaviors and current tower locations.

“Although about 50 percent of cranes in our study used locations that had wind towers nearby – within 10 kilometers, or about 6.2 miles – there were few instances in which high densities of cranes and high densities of towers coincided,” Pearse said.

The study further showed: 

  • A modest seven percent overlap between study areas visited by cranes during the winters of 1998-2004 and areas with wind towers constructed during 1999-2013;
  • When they spent time near wind towers, the wintering cranes maintained an average distance of 6.5 kilometers, or about four miles, from the towers;
  • Only five percent of wind towers in the Texas High Plains have been constructed in locations identified as highly preferred crane winter habitat; and
  • Wintering cranes generally selected wetlands or upland areas near wetland basins.

Eighty percent of the midcontinent sandhill crane population resides in the central and southern Great Plains for up to half of the year. Potential threats of wind towers to cranes include collisions and avoidance of areas near towers, which reduces available roosting and foraging habitat.

For more information about USGS sandhill crane research, please visit the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center website

How Climate Change Might Affect Polar Bears' Bodies

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 04/20/2016 - 13:00
Summary: PORTLAND, Ore. — You really are what you eat. That’s the taking-off point for a new polar bear study, conducted by U.S. Geological Survey researchers with an assist from the Oregon Zoo — and published this week in the journal Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. Zoo polar bears help scientists understand effects of Arctic bears' shifting diets

Contact Information:

Paul  Laustsen, USGS ( Phone: 650-329-4046 ); Hova Najarian, Oregon Zoo ( Phone: 503-220-5714 );



PORTLAND, Ore. — You really are what you eat. That’s the taking-off point for a new polar bear study, conducted by U.S. Geological Survey researchers with an assist from the Oregon Zoo — and published this week in the journal Physiological and Biochemical Zoology.

As sea ice shifts in the Arctic, scientists have noted a corresponding shift in polar bears’ diets. In Western Hudson Bay, for example, sea-ice loss has been associated with declines in the consumption of benthic-feeding prey, such as bearded seals. In East Greenland, polar bears have increased consumption of hooded seals and decreased consumption of their more typical prey, ringed seals. 

The degree to which these types of changes are common throughout polar bear populations, and their implications on bear health, are not well understood. To determine whether bears are changing their diet in these remote Arctic regions, scientists are gathering baseline data from a couple of animals closer to home — Tasul and Conrad, two resident polar bears at the Oregon Zoo. 

“Science can sometimes be a slow process,” said Amy Cutting, who oversees the zoo’s North America and marine life areas. “And climate change is happening rapidly. Anything we can do to quickly gain information about how polar bears respond will help managers make critical decisions for protecting them in the wild.” 

Using a handy chemical tool called “stable isotopes” — which include the carbon and nitrogen atoms that exist in every living thing — researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey are revealing how polar bears, which currently boast the highest-fat diets of all the animal kingdom, process different types of meals. 

“This new tool is allowing us to use hair and blood samples to discover whether polar bear diets have changed since the ’80s, when we began keeping records,” said Dr. Karyn Rode, the USGS wildlife biologist who led the study. 

This is possible, Rode says, because when a polar bear eats a meal of seal, whale or walrus, it takes on that organism’s isotope load as well. 

These chemical markers can then be detected in the bears’ own tissue samples, such as their blood or hair, which grows at a predictable rate and reveals the bear’s past “dietary signature” — or what and where their meals were eaten, she says. 

But it’s not quite that simple. 

“It’s not just that a 50 percent salmon diet shows up as 50 percent salmon in the body,” Rode said. “Some gets routed toward body fat, some gets stored and some is transformed directly to energy. I need to understand how the bear body processes food before I can understand how different diets may affect them.” 

During data collection, the zoo bears participated in what zoo staff dubbed a “surf and turf” experiment — switching between marine and terrestrial foods. By comparing this new data to USGS archive samples from the Chukchi and Southern Beaufort Sea bear populations over the past 25 years, Rode and her team may reveal the effects of this new meal diversity on polar bears.

“We’re hoping to study their diets over time to explain potential changes in resource use as a result of climate-related changes in this sensitive Arctic ecosystem,” said USGS research biologist Craig Stricker. 

This project, conducted by the USGS Polar Bear Team, is part of the USGS’s Changing Arctic Ecosystems research on the effects of climate change on polar bears.

The zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects focused on saving animals from extinction include studies on Asian elephants, polar bears, orangutans and cheetahs. 

Support from the Oregon Zoo Foundation enhances and expands the zoo’s efforts in conservation, education and animal welfare. Members, donors and corporate and foundation partners help the zoo make a difference across the region and around the world.

The zoo opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit trimet.org for fare and route information.

Mystery Solved: Traits Identified for Why Certain Chemicals Reach Toxic Levels in Food Webs

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 04/20/2016 - 10:00
Summary: This model provides a new global tool for screening existing and new organic chemicals for their biomagnification potential. Hot colors (red, orange and yellow) indicate a high probability of biomagnification and cool colors (greens, blues) indicate a low probability of biomagnification.(USGS) Researchers have figured out what makes certain chemicals accumulate to toxic levels in aquatic food webs. And, scientists have developed a screening technique to determine which chemicals pose the greatest risk to the environment.

Contact Information:

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



This model provides a new global tool for screening existing and new organic chemicals for their biomagnification potential. Hot colors (red, orange and yellow) indicate a high probability of biomagnification and cool colors (greens, blues) indicate a low probability of biomagnification.(USGS)

Researchers have figured out what makes certain chemicals accumulate to toxic levels in aquatic food webs. And, scientists have developed a screening technique to determine which chemicals pose the greatest risk to the environment.

According to the study led by the U.S. Geological Survey, two traits were identified that indicate how chemicals can build up and reach toxic levels:  how easily a chemical is broken down or metabolized by an organism and the chemical’s ability to dissolve in water.

These traits account for how most chemicals concentrate, or biomagnify, in ever-higher levels as one goes up the food chain from its base to its top predators, such as fish, people, or polar bears. Chemicals that have the ability to biomagnify, such as DDT, can have adverse effects on human and wildlife health and the environment. 

“Chemical manufacturers and regulators can use this information to reduce the risks of harmful chemical exposures to ecosystems and the fish, wildlife and people who live in them,” said David Walters, a USGS research ecologist and lead author of the study. “By screening for these two characteristics, we can identify chemicals that pose the greatest risk of the thousands that are on the market and for new ones being developed.”

The study found that poorly metabolized compounds tend to remain in animal tissues and are passed up the food chain in higher, more toxic amounts as one animal is eaten by another and so on.  Likewise, compounds that don’t dissolve well in water accumulate in animal fats, ultimately exponentially increasing in top predators.

Beyond these chemical properties, the researchers found that certain ecosystems and food webs are more vulnerable to biomagnification than others. For example, extremely high biomagnification occurred in ocean food webs that include birds and mammals. The authors noted this may be in part due to longer food chains in these ecosystems  that is, many levels and kinds of predators - and because warm-blooded animals need to consume more food than do cold-blooded animals like fish. 

Building upon these results, the researchers developed a model of biomagnification based upon how chemicals metabolize and dissolve in water. The likelihood that a chemical would biomagnify was highest – nearly 100 percent -- for slowly metabolized compounds such as chlorinated flame retardants and PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, regardless of their solubility in water.

We need to learn from our previous mistakes and have more informed and responsible design and use of chemicals in the environment,” said Karen Kidd, a Canada Research Chair at University of New Brunswick Saint John and co-author of the study. “Our global review provides a straightforward approach for reducing the use of chemicals with the properties to concentrate through food webs.  This is a critical step for decreasing risks for humans and wildlife from potentially harmful chemical exposures in foods.”

Since the emergence of DDT as a global problem for wildlife in the 1950s and 60s, science has kept a close watch on the behavior of persistent organic pollutants, especially chemicals that may concentrate through food webs to potentially toxic levels in wildlife and humans. Many are resistant to environmental degradation and remain in the environment for decades. While biomagnification can be measured in the laboratory, said Walters, it is best determined by measuring how much the chemical increases with each step in the food chain in wild animal populations.

USGS research partners in this study, “Trophic Magnification of Organic Chemicals: A Global Synthesis,” include the Toxicology Centre at the University of Saskatchewan, the Canadian Rivers Institute at the University of New Brunswick, and Environment and Climate Change Canada. The study is published in Environmental Science and Technology.

This research was supported by the USGS Ecosystems and Environmental Health Mission Areas, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes Research Initiative, and the Canada Research Chair and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada programs.

State of the Survey

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 04/07/2016 - 12:41
Summary: USGS Director Suzette Kimball testified about the priorities and capabilities of the USGS today before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Her written remarks follow: Readout from Director Kimball’s Testimony at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Contact Information:

Anne Berry Wade ( Phone: 703-648-4483 ); David Hebert ( Phone: 703-648-4474 );



USGS Director Suzette Kimball testified about the priorities and capabilities of the USGS today before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Her written remarks follow:

Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Cantwell, members of the committee, thank you very much for inviting me to testify today. I am excited for this opportunity to share some of my views on the state of the USGS and its mission. I would like to start this conversation with some history.

In 1879, Congress passed legislation that merged several Federal scientific and mapping surveys. We call this statute our Organic Act, because it inaugurated the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). From the beginning, the mission of this combined endeavor was not only to map the West and locate resources, but also to push the boundaries of science. USGS scientists, for almost 140 years now, have pursued that mission with an uncommon dedication. I am honored to be their 16th Director and cognizant of the responsibility that the President, the Congress, and this committee have entrusted to me.

Not only is the USGS older than 12 of the States, it is also the forbearer of several important government agencies, including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Reclamation. In the time since we were established, technology and Earth science have evolved and we have evolved along with it, to meet the scientific needs of the Nation.  For example, with the increase in global demand for critical mineral commodities, USGS has focused on conducting research to understand geologic processes that have concentrated known mineral resources at specific localities in the Earth’s crust and to estimate or assess quantities, qualities and areas of undiscovered mineral resources, or potential future supply.  We have increased resources toward the National Geospatial program, earthquake early warning, volcano monitoring and the national streamgage network. USGS has also focused our activities on fulfilling statutory authorities, most recently by addressing national water availability and use through the SECURE Water Act.

Our evolution is evident, as you noted two years ago, Madame Chairman, in a resolution recognizing the anniversary of the massive earthquake that occurred in the Prince William Sound region of Alaska on March 27, 1964 (the Good Friday Earthquake). USGS science in response to that event helped confirm the theory of plate tectonics, fundamentally changing earthquake science.  Shortly thereafter, in 1966, Bill Pecora, our 8th Director, advocated for the use of satellites to study natural resources. This innovation led to Landsat and opened the age of Earth observation from space.

In 1995, Congress merged biologists from the National Biological Survey with the USGS, helping us to become an integrated Earth science agency. As scientific and technological advances have revealed the complexity of the issues we face, the value of bringing Earth science disciplines together has become ever more apparent. Today’s challenges demand the innovation made possible by integrating the full breadth of USGS capabilities. 

One example that illustrates the value of USGS’s diverse scientific capabilities is our leadership in understanding methylation processes of mercury. Mercury is a toxin that can build up in the food chain, becoming deadly to humans. It is most dangerous after undergoing a specific chemical change, methylation. Our geological expertise allows us to understand how and where methylation occurs, and our biological expertise allows us to understand how it affects plants, animals, and humans. Combining the talents, tools, and methods from these two disciplines is necessary to correctly assess methylmercury and its potential impacts.

I want to stress that we rely on numerous partnerships to pursue our scientific mission. The state geological surveys, universities, municipal governments, other Federal agencies, and foreign governments all count as critical partners of the USGS. As you may know, our budget is leveraged resulting in, approximately, an additional half a billion dollars contributed by our partners, especially State governments and other Federal agencies. We see this as an indication of their confidence in and support for our work. Such partnerships also have made it possible, for example, to create and publish a whole-lifecycle mining report, that offers industry and regulators guidance on how to site, develop, and close a mine with resource and environmental implications taken into account. In the future, we plan to do similar work for energy resources.

The USGS works closely with other Interior bureaus such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, as well as other Federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Rather than duplicate those agencies’ missions, the USGS complements their research activities and contributes sound science for their decisionmaking. We are pleased to know that Congress looks to us, too, because researchers from the USGS are here hundreds of times a year meeting with you and your offices.

While I am proud of our integrated approach to problem solving, drawing on geological and biological science, remote sensing, epidemiology, ecology, or any of the myriad disciplines that constitute Earth science, innovation is the characteristic I most hope to nurture during my tenure in this office. While the Bureau has often been at the forefront of innovative research and science, we must take advantage of technological change and respond to emerging scientific directions to meet our full potential.

Today USGS labs are spearheading novel technologies.  For example we are using eDNA to monitor the spread of Asian carp.  We also work on other invasive species such as zebra mussels, brown tree snakes, and cheatgrass. Through our groundbreaking work on white-nosed syndrome, avian influenza and other wildlife diseases, the Bureau has become known as “the CDC of wildlife,” and is on the front lines of possible future epidemics.

One of our ongoing pursuits is 21st century mapping. In Alaska, we are harnessing our partnerships with the State and the University of Alaska, along with the technology of interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or ifsar, to produce modern geospatial information for the State. Back in the lower 48, high resolution elevation data are being collected using lidar technology by a coalition of Federal, State and private industry partners, to inform decisionmaking and enable newfound abilities like mapping and even forecasting landslides. The landslide tragedy at Oso, Washington, in 2014, not unlike the Good Friday Earthquake, pushes us to look farther, aim higher, and complete a scientific achievement worthy of the investment and trust placed in us by the American people.

Speaking of hazards, the USGS has long led Federal research into various geologic hazards and we are pressing forward on innovative approaches in this area, too. Along the West Coast, we are establishing, in cooperation with states, universities, and philanthropic partners, a state-of-the-art earthquake early warning system. This system could readily be expanded to Alaska and other high-risk regions of the country. We are also applying advanced telemetry and remote sensing technologies, making a volcano early warning system a reality. For many of your constituents, these are hazards they live with every day and they are also threats to the Nation as a whole.

The unknown unknowns of Earth science motivate us to advance our understanding of the natural world. As we look toward the future I see challenges where we are positioned to lead, all of which I have touched on: water security and availability, tools for protection from and response to natural hazards, assessment of critical minerals, forecasting and preventing biological threats, and creating the next generation of mapping tools and technology.

I have every confidence that the USGS will continue to meet these challenges, and I am heartened by a recent survey of marine and coastal scientists and managers which found the USGS to be the most credible Federal science agency. This is not a reason to boast, but a calling to meet such high expectations.

The mission of the USGS in the 21st century will not only be to locate natural resources for the benefit of the Nation, but to find ways of exploiting those resources sustainably so that our prosperity is not fleeting or fragile. For example, we are researching microbial production of natural gas, which may someday make it possible harness the energy of coal resources while avoiding many of the environmental costs traditionally associated with it. It is the job of the USGS, working with our partners, to help bring that future to fruition.

On behalf of the approximately 8,000 employees of the USGS, thank you again for inviting me here today. I would be happy to answer any questions you have.

New Maps for Texas and Oklahoma Released

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 04/07/2016 - 09:30
Summary: New US Topo maps for Texas and Oklahoma are now available in the USGS Store for free download. One of the main improvements is the inclusion of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER) road data. Updated US Topo maps for Texas and Oklahoma available for download; add Census Bureau road data, wetlands layer and select trails

Contact Information:

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



New US Topo maps for Texas and Oklahoma are now available in the USGS Store for free download. One of the main improvements is the inclusion of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER) road data.

“The US Topo digital maps are a great public resource to provide authoritative, robust maps to emergency management field personnel and first responders when response time matters”, said Michael Ouimet, Critical Information Systems Manager for the Texas Division of Emergency Management. “Our agency deployed the US Topo digital maps to our field personnel across the state.”

Other important additions to the new US Topo maps for Texas and Oklahoma are the integration of wetlands layers using data from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Wetlands Inventory, along with the continued incorporation of “crowdsourced” trail data from the International Mountain Bike Association.

The US Topo map improvement program has entered its third, three-year cycle of revising and updating digital US Topo quadrangles. These new US Topo maps replace the second edition US Topo maps and are available for no-cost file download from The National Map, the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website , and several other USGS applications.

The USGS recently released US Topo maps for Wisconsin, Iowa and Kansas which were the first set of states to feature TIGER data. The TIGER database contains all geographic features — such as roads (more than 6.3 million miles), railroads, rivers, and legal and statistical geographic boundaries — needed to support the Census Bureau’s data collection and dissemination programs.

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/.

Scan of the 1886 legacy topographic map quadrangle of the greater Austin, Texas area from the USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection Updated 2016 version of the East Austin US Topo quadrangle with orthoimage turned off to better see the improved road network. (1:24,000 scale) Updated 2016 version of the East Austin US Topo quadrangle with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale)

Alaska Still a Likely Portal for Avian Influenza

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 04/05/2016 - 12:00
Summary: ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The U.S. Geological Survey released additional evidence that western Alaska remains a hot spot for avian influenza to enter North America. The new report announces that while no highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses have been found in Alaska, the state remains an important area to monitor due to migratory bird flyways from North America and Eurasia that overlap the region.

Contact Information:

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



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The U.S. Geological Survey released additional evidence that western Alaska remains a hot spot for avian influenza to enter North America. The new report announces that while no highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses have been found in Alaska, the state remains an important area to monitor due to migratory bird flyways from North America and Eurasia that overlap the region.

“Our past research in western Alaska has shown that while we have not detected the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, up to 70 percent of the other 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 and lead author of the recent report. “This is because Asian and North American migratory flyways overlap in western Alaska.”

The designation of low or highly pathogenic avian influenza refers to the potential for these viruses to cause disease or kill chickens. The designation of “low pathogenic" or “highly pathogenic" does not refer to how infectious the viruses may be to humans, other mammals or other species of birds. Most strains of avian influenza are not highly pathogenic and cause few signs of disease in infected wild birds. However, in poultry, some low-pathogenic strains can mutate into highly pathogenic avian influenza strains that cause contagious and severe illness or death among poultry, and sometimes among wild birds as well.

Past research by the USGS, found low pathogenic H9N2 viruses in an Emperor Goose and a Northern Pintail. Both 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. 

In the new report, the USGS collaborated with the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel, Alaska, and the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens, Georgia to obtain and test bird samples from Alaska Native subsistence hunters during spring of 2015. Hunters provided researchers with over 1,000 swabs from harvested water birds, the primary hosts of avian influenza viruses. 

Last year, the USGS published an article describing the introduction of highly pathogenic avian influenza into North America at the end of 2014, likely via migratory birds that migrated through Alaska. However, highly pathogenic avian influenza was never documented in Alaska. The highly pathogenic viruses spread throughout parts of the western and Midwestern U.S., impacting approximately 50 million poultry. However, those highly pathogenic viruses have now not been detected in North America since July 2015. 

This fall, the USGS will sample wild birds at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Most of those samples will come from sport hunters. 

The new report is entitled, “Surveillance for Eurasian-origin and intercontinental reassortant highly pathogenic influenza A viruses in Alaska, spring and summer 2015” and is published in Virology Journal.

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

USGS Alaska Science Center

USGS National Wildlife Health Center USGS National Wildlife Health Center

Ecosystem Restoration Projects Generate Jobs and Business Activity in Local, Regional, and National Economies

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 04/05/2016 - 10:00
Summary: Riparian planting in the Powell River watershed in Lee County, Virginia. Part of the Lone Mountain NRDAR restoration. Photo credit: Upper Tennessee River Roundtable. Clearing of juniper in the Burley Landscape in Idaho. Photo credit: BLM. FORT COLLINS, Colo. – From restoring the sagebrush sea to rejuvenating watersheds and landscapes after fires, ecosystem restoration can bear substantial economic fruit for local, state and national economies, according to a USGS study published today.

Contact Information:

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



Riparian planting in the Powell River watershed in Lee County, Virginia. Part of the Lone Mountain NRDAR restoration. Photo credit: Upper Tennessee River Roundtable. Clearing of juniper in the Burley Landscape in Idaho. Photo credit: BLM.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – From restoring the sagebrush sea to rejuvenating watersheds and landscapes after fires, ecosystem restoration can bear substantial economic fruit for local, state and national economies, according to a USGS study published today.

USGS economists evaluated 21 Department of the Interior restoration projects and found that for each dollar invested in ecosystem restoration, there was a two- to three-fold return in economic activity that rippled through local, regional and national economies. Case study projects include restoration activities associated with Natural Resource Damage Assessment sites and Bureau of Land Management sagebrush and sage-grouse habitat restoration, fuels reduction and post-fire restoration projects. 

“Based on case study results, we found that for every $1 million invested in ecosystem restoration, between $2.2 and $3.4 million flow through to the U.S. economy, demonstrating how such investments support jobs and livelihoods, small businesses and rural economies,” said USGS economist and lead author Catherine Cullinane Thomas. 

The report quantified methods to provide economic impact analyses focused on the jobs and business activity generated through money spent on ecosystem restoration activities.  The research was a joint project among the USGS, the DOI Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program, the DOI Office of Policy Analysis, and the BLM Socioeconomics Program.

"This report highlights the importance of restoration activities not only for the benefit of natural resources impacted by oil spills or hazardous chemicals, but also for the economic well-being of human communities," said Steve Glomb, director of the DOI Office of Restoration and Damage Assessment.

"The study shows that these collaborative projects sustain our local economies in addition to restoring our nation's public lands and resources," said Josh Sidon, a BLM economist and study co-author.

All 21 case studies can be found at https://www.fort.usgs.gov/economic-impacts-restoration.

Economic impacts are reported as job-years, a measure of the total number of annualized full and part-time jobs accumulated over the duration of the restoration project.  Labor income is a measure of the wages and salaries earned through the jobs supported by project expenditures. Value added is a measure of the contribution to Gross Domestic Product. Economic output is a measure of the total value of the production of goods and services supported by project expenditures.

 

Highlighted Case Studies:

Sagebrush Steppe Restoration in South Beaver Area, Utah -

Through Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative, the BLM and other federal, state and local agencies and organizations teamed up to help restore and manage high-priority ecosystems in Utah, including portions of Colorado Plateau and Great Basin. WRI partners are providing better wildlife habitat, restoring critical watersheds and reducing the risk of wildfire to urban communities. To date, WRI partners have restored more than 1.1 million acres in Utah. Sagebrush restoration in the South Beaver area is one of many WRI projects. This area is crucial mule deer winter habitat, contains important elk habitat and historic sage-grouse habitat. Restoration in this area is ongoing and encompasses 145,000 acres.

 

Total cost of restoration:  $3.5 million, an estimated 72 percent spent locally in Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane and Washington counties in Utah.

Local economic impacts:

Labor income: $1.9 million

Local economic output: $4.2 million

Contribution to GDP:  $2.5 million

Job-years: 37

Regional economic impacts:

Labor income: $3.5 million

Regional economic output: $8 million

Regional contribution to GDP: $4.6 million

Job-years: 59

Burley Landscape Sage-Grouse Habitat Restoration

The area surrounding the BLM’s Burley Field Office in Idaho is home to a variety of species, such as the greater sage-grouse, mule deer, antelope, bighorn sheep and pygmy rabbit. In the late 1800’s, with the settlement of the west, this landscape began to shift from a sagebrush steppe ecosystem to woodlands dominated by Utah juniper and conifers, decreasing available habitat for sagebrush-dependent species such as the sage-grouse and mule deer.

Total cost of restoration: $1.4 million

 

Local economic impacts:

Labor income: $300,000

Local economic output: $450,000

Contribution to GDP: more than $310,000

Job-years: 8

Regional economic impacts:

Labor income: $1.6 million

Regional economic output: $3.1 million

Contribution to GDP: $1.9 million

Job-years: 42

 Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge (Crab Orchard NWR): Wastewater Treatment Plant Remediation and Restoration -

The Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in southern Illinois has a unique history of industry, employment and restoration. During World War II, the War Department established the Illinois Ordnance Plant on the site to manufacture ammunition and bombs. Following the war, the land was transferred into the National Wildlife Refuge System. In 1987, because of extensive environmental contamination from the ordnance plant and other industrial tenants, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated the industrial complex as a Superfund site. The wastewater treatment plant on the Crab Orchard NWR is one of 21 sites on the refuge that have been remediated.

Total cost of restoration of wastewater treatment plant: $9 million, more than a third spent in local economy

Local economic impacts:

Labor income: $1.8 million

Local economic output: nearly $5 million

Contribution to GDP: contributed $3 million

Job-years: 32

National economic impacts:

Labor income: nearly $9 million

National economic output: $22 million

Contribution to GDP: more than $13 million

Job-years: 139

For more information on the other case studies in this report please see the accompanying website at https://www.fort.usgs.gov/economic-impacts-restoration. The USGS Open-File Report, Estimating the economic impacts of ecosystem restoration—methods and case studies, was authored by Catherine Cullinane Thomas, USGS; Christopher Huber, USGS; Kristin Skrabis, DOI; and Joshua Sidon, BLM. 

Cold Mountain Streams Offer Climate Refuge:

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 04/04/2016 - 15:15
Summary: A new study offers hope for cold-water species in the face of climate change. The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, addresses a longstanding paradox between predictions of widespread extinctions of cold-water species and a general lack of evidence for those extinctions despite decades of recent climate change Future Holds Hope for Biodiversity

Contact Information:

Leslie  Gordon, USGS ( Phone: 650-329-4006 ); Jennifer  Hayes, USFS ( Phone: 970-498-1365 ); Beth Gavrilles, UGA ( Phone: 706-542-7247 );



Additional Contact: Debra Nowland, QUT, d.nowland@qut.edu.au; Maggie Mooney-Seus, NOAA, 206-526-4348 or 774-392-4865, Marjorie.Mooney-Seus@noaa.gov

A new study offers hope for cold-water species in the face of climate change. The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, addresses a longstanding paradox between predictions of widespread extinctions of cold-water species and a general lack of evidence for those extinctions despite decades of recent climate change.

The paper resulted from collaborative research led by the U.S. Forest Service with partners including the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, University of Georgia and the Queensland University of Technology. The research team drew information from huge stream-temperature and biological databases contributed by over 100 agencies and a USGS-run regional climate model to describe warming trends throughout 222,000 kilometers (138,000 miles) of streams in the northwestern United States.

The scientists found that over the last 40 years, stream temperatures warmed at the average rate of 0.10 degrees Celsius (0.18 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade. This translates to thermal habitats shifting upstream at a rate of only 300-500 meters (0.18-0.31 miles) per decade in headwater mountain streams where many sensitive cold-water species currently live. The authors are quick to point out that climate change is still detrimentally affecting the habitats of those species, but at a much slower rate than dozens of previous studies forecast. The results of this study indicate that many populations of cold-water species will continue to persist this century and mountain landscapes will play an increasingly important role in that preservation. 

“The great irony is that the cold headwater streams that were believed to be most vulnerable to climate change appear to be the least vulnerable. Equally ironic is that we arrived at that insight simply by amassing, organizing and carefully analyzing large existing databases, rather than collecting new data that would have been far more expensive,” said Dr. Daniel Isaak, lead author on the study with the U.S. Forest Service.

The results also indicate that resource managers will have sufficient time to complete extensive biological surveys of ecological communities in mountain streams so that conservation planning strategies can adequately address all species.

“One of the great complexities of restoring trout and salmon under a rapidly changing climate is understanding how this change plays out across the landscape. Dr. Isaak and his colleagues show that many mountain streams may be more resistant to temperature change than our models suggest and that is very good news. This provides us more time to effect the changes we need for long-term persistence of these populations,” said Dr. Jack Williams, senior scientist for Trout Unlimited. 

This study is complementary and builds upon the Cold-Water Climate Shield. This new study is unique as it describes current trends rather than relying on future model projections and addresses a broad scope of aquatic biodiversity in headwater streams (e.g., amphibians, sculpin and trout). In addition, the data density and geographic extent of this study is far greater than most previous studies because over 16,000 stream temperature sites were used with thousands of biological survey locations to provide precise information at scales relevant to land managers and conservationists.

The study, entitled “Slow climate velocities of mountain streams portends their role as refugia for cold-water biodiversity” was conducted by Daniel Isaak, lead author from the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station; Michael Young, Charles Luce, Dona Horan, Matt Groce and David Nagel of the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station; Steven Hostetler, U.S. Geological Survey; Seth Wenger, University of Georgia; Erin Peterson, Queensland University of Technology; and Jay Ver Hoef, U.S. NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Additional funding for this research was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Great Northern and North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.

States covered by this study are Idaho, Oregon, Washington, western Montana, as well as small portions of western Wyoming, northern Nevada, northern Utah and northern California.

Bull trout, a popular fish species of conservation concern, that find shelter in mountain stream climate refugia. Photographer: Bart Gamett, U.S. Forest Service

 

Miniature temperature sensors used to record hourly measurements in rivers and streams at thousands of sites where data were used to develop stream temperature climate scenarios. Photographer: Dan Isaak, U.S. Forest Service, disaak@fs.fed.us Northwest United States temperature and climate map developed from data at more than 16,000 sites that was used to highlight climate refugia for mountain stream species. Photographer: Dan Isaak, U.S. Forest Service, disaak@fs.fed.us Typical headwater mountain stream that will provide cold-water species climate refugia this century. Photographer: Dona Horan, U.S. Forest Service

Despite Long-Lasting Pollutants, Ospreys Thrive in US' Largest Estuary

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 04/04/2016 - 09:44
Summary: The world's largest breeding population of ospreys is coping well with the long-lasting residues of toxic chemicals that were banned decades ago but remain in the Chesapeake Bay food chain at varying levels, such as the pesticide DDT and insulating chemicals known as PCBs Up to 10,000 pairs are nesting now in Chesapeake Bay,

Contact Information:

Barnett  Rattner ( Phone: 301-497-5671 ); Heather Dewar ( Phone: 443-498-5584 );



The world's largest breeding population of ospreys is coping well with the long-lasting residues of toxic chemicals that were banned decades ago but remain in the Chesapeake Bay food chain at varying levels, such as the pesticide DDT and insulating chemicals known as PCBs. The resilient fish hawks are also showing few effects from two other groups of chemicals that have become widespread in the estuary—flame retardant PBDEs and pharmaceuticals intended for human use. Those are key findings of a three-year study led by US Geological Survey scientists, which follows up on a wide-ranging USGS survey conducted in 2001 of persistent chemical pollutants in the fish and fish hawks of the Chesapeake Bay, the United States' biggest estuary.

These osprey chicks in a nest on the James River in Virginia are just a few days old. Nestlings in industrial areas carry traces of toxic chemicals in their blood plasma, but osprey parents successfully raised chicks at almost all sites, says USGS scientist Rebecca Lazarus, lead author of 3 research papers on the ospreys' Chesapeake Bay food chain. Photo credit: Rebecca Lazarus, USGS.

 

The researchers tested fish, osprey eggs and the blood plasma of osprey chicks in the Chesapeake Bay's tidal waters. In the ospreys' eggs they found high levels of PCBs at some locations. They also found residues of DDT and a related compound, p,p'-DDE, but at levels much lower than the ones that caused osprey and bald eagle population declines in the late 20th century. Both PCBs and DDT were banned in the 1970s. Further, the researchers found that young ospreys are being exposed to PBDEs, which are considered potentially toxic to wildlife. Yet these residues had no discernible effect on the big raptors' success in the Chesapeake region, where as many as 10,000 breeding pairs are expected to nest this season. 

"Osprey populations are thriving almost everywhere in the Chesapeake," said Rebecca Lazarus, a researcher at the USGS' Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the lead author of a report on the study's latest findings, published April 1 in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. "We found them nesting in some of the most highly contaminated areas in the Bay and we did not find any relationship between contaminants and their nests' productivity."

The scientists found one cautionary sign: the osprey nestlings' blood carried low levels of a biological marker for genetic damage. Levels of the marker were highest in one of the bay's most polluted areas, near Baltimore's Back River wastewater treatment plant, and osprey nests near that plant did poorly at raising chicks to adulthood. Baywide, the damage is not enough to affect the birds' overall ability to reproduce, but it may be having subtle, undetected effects, and warrants more research, Lazarus said.

USGS researcher Rebecca Lazarus prepares to take a blood sample from an osprey fledgling in a nest on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, Delaware Bay in 2015. Lazarus and colleagues did similar sampling of 48 chicks on Chesapeake Bay in 2011-2013. All the Chesapeake Bay nestlings' blood plasma had traces of a human medication to fight hypertension, diltiazem, and biomarkers of low-grade genetic damage, with no discernible effects on the ospreys' reproductive success. Photo credit: USGS.

 

Ospreys have just returned from winter homes in South America to Chesapeake Bay, the estuary one writer called "the osprey garden of the world." The bay's shallow waters and abundant fish attract roughly one-quarter of the Lower 48 States’ ospreys. The fish hawks usually return to the nests they used the year before. In March the males in each of the Bay's breeding pairs began gathering sticks to mend their nests. By mid-April most females will be brooding two or three eggs.

These charismatic fish hawks are one of the world's most widely distributed birds, found on every continent but Antarctica, and one of its most distinctive, with golden eyes, six-foot wingspans, and barbed talons adapted to hold wet, wriggling fish. Their global range, all-fish diet, and their role as a top predator make them ideal subjects for studies of water pollutants' paths through the aquatic food chain. The USGS research is the one of the world's most comprehensive studies of ospreys' exposure to toxic chemicals; a similar study on Pacific Northwest ospreys was published in 2008.

In the 1960s and 1970s scientists found the pesticide DDT was biomagnifying, becoming concentrated in ospreys and other fish-eating birds and causing females to lay eggs so fragile that they cracked under the parents' weight. The bay's osprey population fell to fewer than 1,500 pairs before DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972. In 1979 Congress also banned PCBs, which can cause reproductive failure in animals. PBDEs, which were introduced as replacements for PCBs, are being phased out because of concerns about potential toxicity.

The EPA classifies more than 70 percent of Chesapeake Bay tidal waters as impaired by toxic chemicals. To track these toxics and their effects on bay ospreys, Lazarus and her colleagues collected fish, osprey eggs, and blood samples from 48 osprey chicks along Chesapeake Bay tributaries in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Working during the spring and summer nesting season from 2011 through 2013, they included several sites the EPA considers pollution "regions of concern"  – Baltimore's Harbor and Patapsco River; Washington, DC's Anacostia and Potomac rivers; and the Elizabeth River at Hampton Roads, Virginia.

In the first set of study findings, published in 2015 in the journal Environmental Pollution, the researchers found that in these heavily industrial, urban regions of concern, levels of the DDT breakdown byproduct were 80% lower than in the 2001 study, but PCB levels barely declined at all. Osprey eggs from developed areas had PCB levels three to four times higher than at nests on an island in the open bay.

"In fact the levels of PCBs have not changed significantly in the past 35 years, which tells you how persistent these chemicals are," said USGS ecotoxicologist Barnett Rattner, an expert on toxics in bay ospreys who led the 2000-2001 study and worked with Lazarus on the latest research. "Yet the birds are doing well. They're exposed to these toxic chemicals, which are biomagnified up the food chain, yet fortunately we do not see any really serious effects in ospreys."

In the next phase of the work, the researchers reported finding numerous human medications in Chesapeake Bay water samples, but only one in osprey chicks. Pharmaceutical compounds pass through humans' waste into wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, which discharge them into waterways. The scientists looked for 23 pharmaceutical compounds and an artificial sweetener and found 18 of them in bay waters and seven in fish. The drug diltiazem, used to treat hypertension in people, was found in all 48 chicks' blood samples, though at levels below those known to cause adverse effects in wildlife.

"Some of these chemicals are in the wastewater stream, but they do not seem to be biomagnifying in ospreys," Rattner said. Those results were published in 2015 in the journal Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management.

For more information on USGS science being used to help restore the Chesapeake Bay, visit http://chesapeake.usgs.gov/

Bat with white-nose syndrome confirmed in Washington state

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 03/31/2016 - 14:00
Summary: Wing damage from fungus in little brown bat. These little brown bats in a NY cave exhibit the fuzzy white muzzles associated with the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center conducts a bat autopsy as part of its efforts to study the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats. A healthy, banded little brown bat hangs out in a cave. Photographer - Paul Cryan, USGS OLYMPIA, Wash. – White-nose syndrome (WNS) has been confirmed in a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) found near North Bend – the first recorded occurrence of this devastating bat disease in western North America. The presence of this disease was verified by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center.

Contact Information:

Katherine  Haman, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife ( Phone: 360-870-2135 ); Catherine  Hibbard, United States Fish and Wildlife Service ( Phone: 413-531-4276 ); Marisa Lubeck, USGS ( Phone: 303-526-6694 );



Wing damage from fungus in little brown bat. These little brown bats in a NY cave exhibit the fuzzy white muzzles associated with the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.
The USGS National Wildlife Health Center conducts a bat autopsy as part of its efforts to study the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats. A healthy, banded little brown bat hangs out in a cave. Photographer - Paul Cryan, USGS

OLYMPIA, Wash. – White-nose syndrome (WNS) has been confirmed in a little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) found near North Bend – the first recorded occurrence of this devastating bat disease in western North America. The presence of this disease was verified by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center.

WNS has spread quickly among bats in other affected areas, killing more than six million beneficial insect-eating bats in North America since it was first documented nearly a decade ago.

WNS is not known to pose a threat to humans, pets, livestock or other wildlife.

On March 11, hikers found the sick bat about 30 miles east of Seattle near North Bend, and took it to Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) for care. The bat died two days later, and had visible symptoms of a skin infection common in bats with WNS.

PAWS then submitted the bat for testing to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, which confirmed through fungal culture, molecular and pathology analyses that it had WNS.

“We are extremely concerned about the confirmation of WNS in Washington state, about 1,300 miles from the previous westernmost detection of the fungus that causes the disease,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “Bats are a crucial part of our ecology and provide essential pest control for our farmers, foresters and city residents, so it is important that we stay focused on stopping the spread of this fungus. People can help by following decontamination guidance to reduce the risk of accidentally transporting the fungus.”

First seen in North America in the winter of 2006/2007 in eastern New York, WNS has now spread to 28 states and five Canadian provinces. USGS microbiologist David Blehert first identified the unknown fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which causes the disease. WNS is named for the fuzzy white fungal growth that is sometimes observed on the muzzles of infected bats. The fungus invades hibernating bats’ skin and causes damage, especially to delicate wing tissue, and physiologic imbalances that can lead to disturbed hibernation, depleted fat reserves, dehydration and death.

“This finding in a far-western location is unfortunately indicative of the challenges we face with the unpredictability of WNS,” said Suzette Kimball, director of the USGS. "This underscores the critical importance of our work to develop tools for early detection and rapid response to potentially devastating wildlife diseases." 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leads the national WNS response effort, working with state and federal partners to respond to the disease. The Service’s National White-nose Syndrome Coordinator Jeremy Coleman said the first step will be to conduct surveillance near where the bat was found to determine the extent of WNS in the area. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is responsible for bat management and conservation in Washington and will coordinate surveillance and response efforts.

WDFW veterinarian Katie Haman said the disease is transmitted primarily from bat to bat, although people can carry fungal spores on their clothing, shoes or caving gear.

“The bat found near North Bend most likely had been roused from hibernation and was attempting to feed at a time of very low insect availability,” Haman said. “At this point we don’t know where the infected bat may have spent the winter, but it seems likely that it was somewhere in the central Cascades.”

Haman said Washington state has 15 species of bats that benefit humans by consuming large quantities of insects that can impact forest health and commercial crops.

WDFW advises against handling animals that appear sick or are found dead. If you find dead bats or notice bats exhibiting unusual behavior such as flying outside during the day or during freezing weather, please report your observation online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/wns or contact the WDFW Wildlife Health Hotline at (800) 606-8768.

To learn more about WNS and access the most updated decontamination protocols and cave access advisories, visit www.whitenosesyndrome.org

Crude Oil Byproducts in Groundwater Plumes

USGS Newsroom Technical - Thu, 03/31/2016 - 13:50
Summary: A new study suggests that the degraded breakdown products of oil-spill contaminants in groundwater could be just as important to monitor as the original contamination itself.

Contact Information:

Leslie  Gordon ( Phone: 650-329-4006 );



A new study suggests that the degraded breakdown products of oil-spill contaminants in groundwater could be just as important to monitor as the original contamination itself.

At sites where crude oil or petroleum hydrocarbon fuel spills have occurred and contaminants have entered groundwater, naturally occurring microbes in the soil can digest or break down the original crude oil, producing byproducts known as metabolites. The metabolites are more soluble in groundwater than the parent compounds and are transported from the original source forming a groundwater plume.

Results of a recent U.S. Geological Survey study suggest that at oil-spill sites where residual sources are present, the monitoring of metabolites or breakdown products may be an important part of an effective evaluation of the fate and effects of groundwater contaminant plumes.

The study of two crude-oil spill sites in Minnesota focused on the occurrence and fate of the combination of all dissolved organic carbon metabolites in existing contaminant plumes. Contaminants such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are commonly found in groundwater plumes from crude oil. It was the metabolites of those contaminants as well as the less soluble components of the crude oil – the biodegradation products of the original oil contaminants – that were studied.

Scientists discovered concentrations of oil breakdown products at greater concentrations than the typical regulated-compound concentrations. These types of crude-oil metabolites in groundwater plumes at the two sites are not covered by regulatory monitoring and reporting requirements in Minnesota and other states. Yet at study sites where the spilled oil is still present, the total concentration of metabolites can exceed the concentrations of regulated compounds by one to two orders of magnitude. In addition to possible concerns about toxicity, these plumes of metabolites can slow the biodegradation of other compounds in the contaminant plume.

“We compiled 20 years of monitoring data to understand the occurrence of the metabolites relative to other regulated crude-oil contaminants,” said USGS hydrologist and lead author of the study, Barbara Bekins. “Concentrations of the regulated crude oil compounds are one-third to one-half of the total concentration of the metabolites found in groundwater at our study sites. The values of the metabolites are 10 times higher than benzene and two to three times higher than the standard regulatory measure of diesel-like compounds in the same wells. Monitoring data show that the plume of metabolites is expanding more rapidly than the benzene plume.”

“Metabolites of hydrocarbon degradation, such as those found at these crude oil spill sites, are also common at sites contaminated by other fuels such as gasoline leaks and spills,” said USGS co-author Isabelle Cozzarelli.

“This analysis was possible because of USGS scientists’ long-term monitoring of hydrocarbon degradation progression. Long-term collection of hydrologic and geochemical measurements is the foundation of USGS science. This study is a great example of the application of science to inform potential regulatory process updates,” said USGS groundwater specialist and co-author Melinda Erickson.

This new research, “Crude oil metabolites in groundwater at two spill sites,” published in the journal “Groundwater,” is available online.

USGS Seeks National Ground-Water Monitoring Network Proposals 2016 Round II

USGS Newsroom Technical - Wed, 03/30/2016 - 15:01
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey will award up to $4 million in cooperative agreements to support participation in the National Ground-Water Monitoring Network (NGWMN). 

Contact Information:

Daryll Pope ( Phone: 609-771-3933 ); Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



The U.S. Geological Survey will award up to $4 million in cooperative agreements to support participation in the National Ground-Water Monitoring Network (NGWMN). 

The USGS is working with the Federal Advisory Committee on Water Information’s (ACWI) Subcommittee on Ground Water (SOGW) to develop and administer the NGWMN.  The NGWMN is designed as a cooperative groundwater data collection, management, and reporting system that will be based on data from selected wells in existing Federal, State, Tribal, and local groundwater monitoring networks. The Network is envisioned as a long-term collaborative partnership among Federal and non-Federal data providers that will help address present and future groundwater management questions facing the nation.

Cooperative agreements will provide support for both new and existing data providers in the NGWMN. The USGS will fund new data providers to select and classify sites within existing monitoring programs, to set up web services that will link the data to the NGWMN Portal, and to produce a report describing this process. Existing data providers will receive funds to maintain web services and keep site information current. Data providers may also receive funding to collect data to improve site information, to maintain wells, and to drill new or replacement Network wells. Information about the cooperative agreements is available on the NGWMN Cooperative Agreements page.

Interested agencies may apply online at GRANTS.GOV under funding opportunity number G16AS00043. Applications will be accepted from March 30, 2016 through May 31, 2016. 

Two Webinars are scheduled to review the application package and answer any question about the opportunity. These are scheduled for April 13th at 1 pm EDT and May 3rd at 2 pm EDT. Registration for the webinars is required. After your registration is accepted, you will receive meeting information. You may register for the webinars at:

April 13th

https://usgs.webex.com/usgs/j.php?RGID=rab7917828b342cb451207fd2882f537f 

May 3rd

https://usgs.webex.com/usgs/j.php?RGID=ref1581be2ef44f102d46946e0b0dc5d0 

Special Review and Webinar Showcase Critical Minerals Research at USGS

USGS Newsroom Technical - Wed, 03/30/2016 - 09:00
Summary: Scientists studying rare earth and critical elements now have a solid foundation for future research, as detailed in a special volume of the Society of Economic Geologists. This review volume, featuring several papers authored and co-authored by the U.S. Geological Survey, provides a comprehensive review of the current state of knowledge for rare earth and critical elements in ore deposits.

Contact Information:

Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 );



Scientists studying rare earth and critical elements now have a solid foundation for future research, as detailed in a special volume of the Society of Economic Geologists. This review volume, featuring several papers authored and co-authored by the U.S. Geological Survey, provides a comprehensive review of the current state of knowledge for rare earth and critical elements in ore deposits.

In addition, on March 30th at 1:00 PM EDT, American Geosciences Institute (AGI) will co-host a webinar titled Underpinning Innovation: The Science and Supply of America's Critical Minerals and Materials. USGS speakers include Larry Meinert, the program coordinator of the USGS Mineral Resources Program and Steve Fortier, the director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center. In addition, Rod Eggert, the deputy director of the Critical Minerals Institute, Ames Laboratory will be a featured speaker.

This webinar is based on a March 3rd Congressional briefing organized by AGI on behalf of the Mineral Science & Information Coalition. The webinar will address the efforts being taken at the federal level to ensure a steady supply of critical minerals and materials.

The special volume, entitled "Rare Earth and Critical Element in Ore Deposits," represents an important contribution to our understanding of where, how, and why individual critical elements occur and should be of use to both geoscientists and public policy analysts. While the papers in this volume provide an overview of the state of knowledge concerning the economic geology of rare earth and critical elements, they also demonstrate the lack adequate data on the occurrence of these elements in many deposit types.

Critical minerals and materials are key components of the innovation economy. Minerals are a part of almost every product we use on a daily basis, either as the raw materials for manufacturing processes or as the end products themselves. Advanced technologies for communications, clean energy, medical devices, and national security rely on raw materials from mines throughout the world.

The concept of element criticality is useful for evaluation of the fragility of commodity markets. This fragility is commonly due to a potential risk of supply disruption, which may be difficult to quantify because it can be affected by political, economic, geologic, geographic, and environmental variables. For instance, in 2010, China curtailed exports of rare earth metals and sparked major concern about the security of global supply chains for a range of vital minerals and materials.

Critical elements may be recovered either as primary commodities or as by-products from mining of other commodities. For example, nearly 90 percent of world production of niobium (Nb) is from the Araxá niobium mine (Brazil), whereas gallium (Ga) is recovered primarily as a by-product commodity of bauxite mining or as a by-product of zinc processing from a number of sources worldwide. Critical elements that are solely produced as by-product commodities pose a particular supply risk because their production is tied to other markets and thus fluctuations in their supply can be independent from their demand.

Rare earth elements are a focus of this volume because price spikes of these commodities over the past several years have created broad interest. As demonstrated in the papers in this volume, ore-grade enrichment of REEs can occur in a variety of deposit types.

Study Shows Cold and Windy Nights Physically Drain Mangy Wolves

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 03/29/2016 - 12:53
Summary:  

Contact Information:

Paul Cross ( Phone: 406-994-6908 ); Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



 

Note the bright red patch on the wolf's hindquarters in this thermal image of a captive wolf at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. This is where fur was shaved to replicate the loss of fur associated with sarcoptic mange. The fur will eventually grow back. USGS scientists are examining thermal imagery of wolves as one step in assessing impacts of sarcoptic mange on the survival, reproduction and social behavior of this species in Yellowstone National Park. All research animals are handled by following the specific requirements of USGS Animal Care and Use policies. Researchers at the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center and their partners place thermal remote cameras near deer and elk carcasses in Yellowstone National Park to capture images of wolves with mange feeding in the wild. Red-colored blotches in the thermal images reveal areas of hair loss from which wolves with mange lose heat. Researchers at the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center and their partners place thermal remote cameras near deer and elk carcasses in Yellowstone National Park to capture images of wolves with mange feeding in the wild. Red-colored blotches in the thermal images reveal areas of hair loss from which wolves with mange lose heat.

During winter, wolves infected with mange can suffer a substantial amount of heat loss compared to those without the disease, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey and its partners.

Using a remotely triggered thermal camera to capture vivid and colorful images, scientists gathered body temperature data from mange-infected gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park and compared that to a sample group of healthy captive wolves with shaved patches of fur to simulate mange-induced hair loss. Using these data, scientists were able to quantify the level of heat loss, or energetic costs, during the winter months.

Results show that a more severe mange infection could increase heat loss by around 1240 to 2850 calories per night which represent roughly 60-80 percent of the average wolf’s daily caloric needs.

“That lost heat has to be replaced, otherwise the wolves’ core body temperatures would be getting colder,” said Paul Cross, USGS ecologist and lead author of the study. “To replace that lost heat wolves would need the equivalent of about two to four extra pounds of elk meat per day.”

Sarcoptic mange, present in one of 10 known packs in Yellowstone as of 2015, is a skin disease caused by a mite that burrows into the skin, causing irritation and scratching that then leads to hair loss. Researchers engineered the remotely-triggered thermal camera for use in Yellowstone to record the surface temperatures of wolves with and without mange-induced hair loss. Those images could then be compared with images from healthy, captive wolves. In addition, field crews observed or photographed all radio-collared wolves and their pack mates for the purpose of recording infection status.

The study also found that increased wind speed was a more significant factor in heat loss than colder temperatures. To compensate for the extra heat loss, infected wolves would need to increase food consumption in addition to other daily energy demands for survival. For wolves with mange this is more difficult as hair loss and depressed vigor leaves them vulnerable to hypothermia, malnutrition and dehydration, which can eventually lead to death.

Data from GPS-collared wolves in Yellowstone indicated that wolves with mange reduce daily movement distances depending on the degree of infection. In addition, the wolf with the most hair loss became more active during the day than during the twilight hours, which is opposite behavior of a healthy wolf.

“By definition, parasites drain energy from their hosts. In this study we estimated just one portion of the energetic costs of infection,” said Cross. “Even when parasites do not kill their hosts they are affecting the energy demands of their hosts, which could alter consumption rates, food web dynamics, predator-prey interactions and scavenger communities.”

Mange was introduced into the Northern Rockies in the early 1900s by the Montana state wildlife veterinarian in an attempt to help eradicate local wolf and coyote populations. The disease persists in coyotes and foxes and once wolves were reintroduced into the ecosystem in 1995-96, they appeared to be free of mange until 2002.

The article “Energetic costs of mange in Yellowstone wolves estimated from infrared thermography” is published in Ecology.

The study is a collaborative effort between the USGS, Pennsylvania State University, University of Western Australia, Yellowstone National Park, University of Wollongong, NWB Sensors Inc. and Montana State University.

More information about wolf disease studies can found on the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center website

This video describes USGS research utilizing remote thermal imaging cameras to study the extent and impact of mange on wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

Hot Days Can Trigger Yosemite Rockfalls

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 03/28/2016 - 11:00
Summary: After more than three years of monitoring the towering granite cliffs of Yosemite National Park, scientists have new insights into a potentially important mechanism that can trigger rockfalls in the park. Although many conditions can trigger rockfalls, some rockfalls are more likely to happen in the hottest part of the day, during the hottest part of the year.

Contact Information:

Leslie Gordon ( Phone: 650-329-4006 );



After more than three years of monitoring the towering granite cliffs of Yosemite National Park, scientists have new insights into a potentially important mechanism that can trigger rockfalls in the park. Although many conditions can trigger rockfalls, some rockfalls are more likely to happen in the hottest part of the day, during the hottest part of the year.

Rockfalls in Yosemite are common and part of the natural process of erosion, but they also pose hazards to park visitors. Improved understanding of this thermal triggering mechanism may assist the National Park Service in managing rockfall hazards in the park.

To explain this phenomenon, U.S. Geological Survey and NPS geologists placed sensitive deformation and temperature gauges in a crack behind a large, partially detached slab of granite clinging to a Yosemite Valley cliff.  The scientists found that daily heating and cooling of the rock surface caused the crack to open and close by nearly half an inch. The resulting stress can cause such cracks to grow, destabilizing the rock slabs to the point where they fall, in a process called exfoliation.

According to Brian Collins, USGS geotechnical engineer and coauthor of the study, “Our research provides clear evidence that thermal effects can move large slabs of rock and that these movements, over time, can lead to rock falls.”

“Summertime rockfalls have been something of a mystery,” said Greg Stock, Yosemite park geologist and coauthor of the study. “With this work we now have a plausible explanation for why they happen.”

The full report, “Rockfall triggering by cyclic thermal stressing of exfoliation fractures,” is published in the current issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, and is available online.

Yosemite National Park geologist Greg Stock and USGS civil engineer Brian Collins download data from instruments measuring how much granitic exfoliation sheets move from daily temperature variations as a precursor to rock fall. Photo credit: Valerie Zimmer, National Park Service.

USGS Bolsters Better References for Mass Spectrometers

USGS Newsroom Technical - Fri, 03/25/2016 - 07:38
Summary: USGS scientists Haiping Qi and Tyler Coplen were key contributors, among 24 contributing scientists, to a recently completed international project to develop isotopic reference materials for mass spectrometers. An article in the journal Analytical Chemistry details the findings.  

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Tyler B. Coplen ( Phone: 703-648-5862 );



USGS scientists Haiping Qi and Tyler Coplen were key contributors, among 24 contributing scientists, to a recently completed international project to develop isotopic reference materials for mass spectrometers. An article in the journal Analytical Chemistry details the findings.  

The team established 19 new organic reference materials for stable hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen stable isotope-ratio measurements. These materials will be used by isotope laboratories worldwide to calibrate their mass spectrometers so that the complex instruments will indicate the same measurement results on the same sample.

The announcement of so many isotopic reference materials at one time is unprecedented since isotope measurements of the elements hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen began expanding in the early 1950s. Authoritative standard references for mass spectrometers help advance their use in many disparate fields, including anthropology, archaeology, atmospheric sciences, biology, chemistry, ecology, environmental sciences, food and drug authentication, forensic applications, fossil fuel and biofuel research, geochemistry, geology, medical diagnostics, oceanography and paleoclimatology.

The USGS scientists performed most of the testing of the materials to confirm isotopic homogeneity prior to the distribution of those materials to 11 isotope laboratories that participated in the project.

Learn more                                                                      

USGS Reston Stable Isotope Laboratory

More Science at Your Fingertips

USGS Newsroom Technical - Thu, 03/24/2016 - 09:30
Summary: The USGS Science Data Catalog (SDC) recently completed and launched a new and improved interface, making USGS data more accessible and discoverable for users. The USGS SDC is a searchable public data catalog for more than 7,000 USGS data assets and 20 USGS collections. New USGS Science Data Catalog interface improves searches for USGS scientific data

Contact Information:

Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 ); Michelle Chang ( Phone: 303-202-4333 );



The USGS Science Data Catalog (SDC) recently completed and launched a new and improved interface, making USGS data more accessible and discoverable for users. The USGS SDC is a searchable public data catalog for more than 7,000 USGS data assets and 20 USGS collections.

The SDC was launched in January of 2014, in response to the White House Open Data Initiatives to make federally funded data more available and open to the public.

The SDC serves as the single point of entry that connects USGS data listings to the Department of the Interior and data.gov catalog. USGS programs and science centers partner with SDC as data providers to contribute data from a wide array of relevant science topics including energy and minerals, land cover, natural hazards, hydrology and ecosystems research.

To search for a USGS data asset, go to the Search page and enter one or more search terms. Alternatively users can search by location using the map tool. Results will be displayed with further information about each particular resource. Users can further sort or filter results to discover and explore data assets. The SDC will point to the location where the data can be downloaded.

Notable updates to the SDC include:

  • New Home page – View frequently accessed USGS datasets and data highlighted from USGS programs and science centers
  • Addition of collection-level datasets – Search datasets within large USGS collections (i.e. US Topo Maps and National Land Cover Dataset)
  • New Browse page – Discover USGS datasets by browsing through newly implemented Science Topics, in addition to USGS Mission Areas and data sources represented by USGS Programs and Centers
  • Easy-to-use myReports Page – For USGS data providers, easily access record reports and monitor the records that your center or program is providing to the SDC
  • Data visualization feature for comma delimited value (.csv) data – Instantly visualize selected USGS data in comma separated value (.csv). Future improvements are continuing on this feature.

All USGS programs and science centers are encouraged to participate as data providers, as outlined in the new USGS Instructional Memoranda for Data Management.

For further information about SDC or how to visualize your csv datasets for users, contact sciencedatacatalog@usgs.gov.

The SDC was developed in collaboration with the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and also serves as a Member Node to the National Science Foundation sponsored DataONE project

The new home page of the USGS Science Data Catalog. Image: USGS Science Data Catalog home page featuring the National Water Information System (NWIS)]

 

The new search page allows users to search for USGS datasets based on keywords, location and other filters. Image: Screenshot of a search page results for the keyword, “sediment samples.”

 

A new exploratory and discovery feature allows the catalog to visualize selected USGS datasets for users. Datasets with the "View Data" button allow users to visualize csv datasets in a variety of different charts and graphs. Image: Example screenshot of a pop up page displaying a graph with a display of different variables contained in the dataset. 

First-Ever Maps to Show Induced and Natural Earthquake Hazards -- Press Conference

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 03/24/2016 - 09:09
Summary: On March 28, USGS scientists will release a report and the first-ever maps showing potential ground-shaking hazards from both human-induced and natural earthquakes. In the past, USGS maps only identified natural earthquake hazards.

Contact Information:

Jessica Fitzpatrick ( Phone: 703-648-6624 );



On March 28, USGS scientists will release a report and the first-ever maps showing potential ground-shaking hazards from both human-induced and natural earthquakes. In the past, USGS maps only identified natural earthquake hazards.

This will also be the first one-year outlook for the nation’s earthquake hazards, and is a supplement to existing USGS assessments that forecast earthquake shaking over 50 years.

This report can be used by government officials to make more informed decisions as well as emergency response personnel to assess vulnerability and provide safety information to those who are in potential danger. Engineers can use this product to evaluate earthquake safety of buildings, bridges, pipelines and other important structures.

The USGS is the only federal agency with responsibility for recording and reporting earthquake activity nationwide and assessing seismic hazard. USGS hazard assessments are incorporated into building codes that influence a trillion dollars in new construction annually and improve the nation’s resilience to earthquake disasters.

What:

The USGS invites media to join a telephone press conference to discuss this new research and updates to the nation’s earthquake hazards.

Who: 

  • Mark Petersen, Chief of the National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project, USGS
  • Michael Blanpied, Associate Coordinator, Earthquake Hazards Program, USGS
  • Justin Rubinstein, Deputy Chief of the Induced Seismicity Project, USGS

When:

Monday, March 28, 2016

1:00 pm ET

Where:

To join, please call 1-888-989-7565 and use the passcode 1317771.

For those outside of the U.S., call 517-308-9122 and use the passcode 1317771.

A recording of the event will be available approximately one hour after the call is completed, and it will be accessible for 30 days. It can be retrieved at 1-800-925-4633 (toll free) or 203-369-3529 (toll for those outside of the U.S.).

Learn more about induced earthquakes by visiting the main USGS website as well as reading six facts and common questions.

First-Ever Maps to Show Induced and Natural Earthquake Hazards -- Press Conference

USGS Newsroom Technical - Thu, 03/24/2016 - 09:09
Summary: On March 28, USGS scientists will release a report and the first-ever maps showing potential ground-shaking hazards from both human-induced and natural earthquakes. In the past, USGS maps only identified natural earthquake hazards.

Contact Information:

Jessica Fitzpatrick ( Phone: 703-648-6624 );



On March 28, USGS scientists will release a report and the first-ever maps showing potential ground-shaking hazards from both human-induced and natural earthquakes. In the past, USGS maps only identified natural earthquake hazards.

This will also be the first one-year outlook for the nation’s earthquake hazards, and is a supplement to existing USGS assessments that forecast earthquake shaking over 50 years.

This report can be used by government officials to make more informed decisions as well as emergency response personnel to assess vulnerability and provide safety information to those who are in potential danger. Engineers can use this product to evaluate earthquake safety of buildings, bridges, pipelines and other important structures.

The USGS is the only federal agency with responsibility for recording and reporting earthquake activity nationwide and assessing seismic hazard. USGS hazard assessments are incorporated into building codes that influence a trillion dollars in new construction annually and improve the nation’s resilience to earthquake disasters.

What:

The USGS invites media to join a telephone press conference to discuss this new research and updates to the nation’s earthquake hazards.

Who: 

  • Mark Petersen, Chief of the National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project, USGS
  • Michael Blanpied, Associate Coordinator, Earthquake Hazards Program, USGS
  • Justin Rubinstein, Deputy Chief of the Induced Seismicity Project, USGS

When:

Monday, March 28, 2016

1:00 pm ET

Where:

To join, please call 1-888-989-7565 and use the passcode 1317771.

For those outside of the U.S., call 517-308-9122 and use the passcode 1317771.

A recording of the event will be available approximately one hour after the call is completed, and it will be accessible for 30 days. It can be retrieved at 1-800-925-4633 (toll free) or 203-369-3529 (toll for those outside of the U.S.).

Learn more about induced earthquakes by visiting the main USGS website as well as reading six facts and common questions.