Share

First State Geology Newsletter Signup

First State Geology has been the newsletter of DGS for over 25 years.

Click here to signup!

USGS Latest News

New Volume Documents the Science at the Legendary Snowmastodon Fossil Site in Colorado

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 11/24/2014 - 11:15
Summary: Four years ago, a bulldozer operator turned over some bones during construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado. Scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science were called to the scene and confirmed the bones were those of a juvenile Columbian mammoth, setting off a frenzy of excavation, scientific analysis, and international media attention

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Maura O’Neal ( Phone: 303.370.6407 ); Randall Kremer ( Phone: 202-633-2950 );



DENVER — Four years ago, a bulldozer operator turned over some bones during construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado. Scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science were called to the scene and confirmed the bones were those of a juvenile Columbian mammoth, setting off a frenzy of excavation, scientific analysis, and international media attention. This dramatic and unexpected discovery culminates this month with the publication of the Snowmastodon Project Science Volume in the international journal Quaternary Research.  

Fourteen papers by 47 authors from the United States and abroad collectively represent “a new benchmark for understanding climate change in the American West,” said paleontologist Dr. Ian Miller, Snowmastodon Project co-leader and chair of the Museum’s Earth Sciences Department.

Project co-leader and former DMNS chief curator, Dr. Kirk Johnson, and several scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and academic institutions around the world contributed articles to the journal.  

“Nothing beats pulling fossils out of the ground,” said project scientist Dr. Jeff Pigati of the U.S. Geological Survey, “but the site also lets us see what the Colorado Rockies were like during a period of time that we simply couldn’t reach before the discovery.”  

The Snowmastodon site was an ancient lake that filled with sediment between 140,000 and 55,000 years ago preserving a series of Ice Age fossil ecosystems. Particularly fortuitous is the high-elevation locale, providing first-time documentation of alpine ecosystems during the last interglacial period between about 130,000 and 110,000 years ago. Because scientists were able to collect and study such a wide range of fauna and flora—from tiny specks of pollen to the bones of giant mastodons—the site emerged as a trove of information that Miller said will inspire future research for years to come.  

"This project was unprecedented in its size, speed, and depth of collaboration. The science volume now moves beyond the pure excitement of the discovery to the presentation of its hard science and its implications for understanding the biological and climate history of the Rocky Mountain region," said Johnson, now the Sant Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.  

Papers in the special edition focus on impacts of climate change, then and now. The site’s ecosystems—plants, insects, and animals combined—varied dramatically in response to climate change.

“In other words, turn the climate dial a little and the ecosystems change considerably. We were also surprised to find that certain periods in the record that seem to be cool elsewhere in North America were quite warm in the central Rockies,” said Miller. ”The implication is that alpine ecosystems respond differently to climate change than other, lower elevation ecosystems. These new results have huge implications for predicting present-day climate change in Colorado and beyond.”

Usually fossil sites preserve only snapshots in time, which are then pieced together to understand past time periods. By contrast, the Snowmastodon site captures a nearly continuous 85,000-year time span. As a result, the site provides the best-known record of life and climate at high elevation anywhere in North America.  

During a total of 69 days in 2010 and 2011, the Museum mobilized one of the largest fossil excavation efforts ever, recovering more than 5,000 large bones and 22,000 small bones representing roughly 50 different species. The site is most notable for containing the remains of at least 35 American mastodons, representing both genders as well as a variety of ages, from calves to full-grown adults.  

“We had no idea that the high Rockies were filled with American mastodons during the last interglacial period,” Miller noted.  

While the spectacular array of Ice Age animals initially drew scientists to the site, the opportunity to understand the world that they inhabited proved to be a powerful draw as well. “Scientists from around the world donated countless hours and resources toward the project,” said Pigati. “For so many of them to come together and reconstruct a world that no longer exists in such incredible detail, well that’s just a dream come true.”  

About the Denver Museum of Nature & Science

 The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is the Rocky Mountain Region’s leading resource for informal science education. Our mission is to be a catalyst and ignite the community’s passion for nature and science. The Museum envisions an empowered community that loves, understands, and protects our natural world. As such, a variety of engaging exhibits, discussions, and activities help Museum visitors celebrate and understand the wonders of Colorado, Earth, and the universe. The Museum is located at 2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO, 80205. To learn more about the Museum, visit dmns.org or call 303-370-6000. Many of the Museum’s educational programs and exhibits are made possible in part by the citizens of the seven-county metro area through the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District. Connect with the Museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

Additional Information

Review of Minimum and Maximum Conservation Buffer Distance Estimates for Greater Sage-Grouse and Land-Use Activities

USGS Newsroom Technical - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 10:00
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey released a report today that compiles and summarizes published scientific studies that evaluate effective conservation buffer distances from human activities and infrastructure that influence greater sage-grouse populations

Contact Information:

A.B.  Wade ( Phone: 703-648-4483 ); Carol Schuler ( Phone: 541-750-1031 );



The full report is available online.

The U.S. Geological Survey released a report today that compiles and summarizes published scientific studies that evaluate effective conservation buffer distances from human activities and infrastructure that influence greater sage-grouse populations.

Greater sage-grouse conservation buffers are specified protective distances around greater sage-grouse communal breeding locations, known as leks.

The report, prepared at the request of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, can help decision makers establish buffer distances for use in conservation measures for greater sage-grouse habitat.  BLM requested the report because across the 11-state range of the greater sage-grouse a wide variety of buffer distances and supporting scientific literature have been posed as appropriate for providing protections for the species.

“This report should help DOI and others as they make or refine decisions and implement conservation actions for this species,” said Carol Schuler, USGS senior science advisor for ecosystems.

USGS scientists reviewed, compiled and summarized the findings of numerous previously published USGS and non-USGS scientific studies that evaluated the influence of human activities and infrastructure on greater sage-grouse populations. The report is organized into six sections representing these different land uses or human activities typically found in land-use plans:

  • cumulative surface disturbances;
  • linear features such as active roads and highways and pipelines;
  • oil, gas, wind and solar energy development;
  • tall structures such as electrical, communication and meteorological towers;
  • low structures such as fences and buildings; and
  • activities that don’t involve habitat loss, such as noise and related disruptions. 

The buffer distances in the report reflect a radius around lek locations. Although lek sites are breeding habitats, the report’s authors emphasized that designating protective buffers around these area offer “a consistent and practical solution for identifying and conserving seasonal habitat requirements by greater sage-grouse throughout their life cycle.”

The authors noted that because of variation in populations, habitats, development patterns, social context, and other factors that for a particular disturbance type there is no single number that is an appropriate buffer distance for all populations and habitats across the greater sage-grouse range.

The buffer distance estimates in this report can be useful in developing conservation measures,” said Schuler, “but should be used in conjunction with conservation planning that considers other factors such as local and regional conditions, habitat quality, and the cumulative impact of a suite of conservation and management actions.”

The report shows lek buffer minimum and maximum distance estimates suggested in the scientific literature as well as possible minimum and maximum conservation buffer distances developed by the team of expert scientists who reviewed and synthesized the literature.

The scientific literature indicates that, in some populations, 90-95 percent of sage-grouse movements are within 5 miles (8 km) of lek sites, and that most females nest within about 3.1 miles (5 km) of the lek, suggesting considerable protection of sage-grouse could be achieved using protective measures within these generalized conservation buffer distances.  Consequently, the ranges USGS experts assessed for lower and upper buffer distance limits fall within the 3.1-5 mile radius of leks for surface disturbance, linear features, and energy development categories. The buffer distances suggested for the other 3 categories are smaller.

Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces in western North America.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally reviewing the status of greater sage-grouse to determine if the species is warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Loon Migration Underway, Prompted by Frigid Temperatures

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 13:00
Summary: As freezing air swept into the Upper Midwest this past week, juvenile common loons took a cue from the weather and began their migrations to the warm Gulf of Mexico Follow the Birds Online

Contact Information:

Kevin Kenow ( Phone: 608-781-6278 ); Randy Hines ( Phone: 608-781-6398 ); Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-202-4765 );



As freezing air swept into the Upper Midwest this past week, juvenile common loons took a cue from the weather and began their migrations to the warm Gulf of Mexico. 

By this past Monday, eight young loons, recently tagged by the U.S. Geological Survey and partners, had reached the Gulf of Mexico from the midwestern United States, and eight were en route to southern wintering areas. The scientists captured and radiomarked the juvenile common loons on lakes scattered across Minnesota and Wisconsin during the last two weeks of August 2014 to study the challenges facing these birds during their first two years, when they are most vulnerable.

“Midwest loons are susceptible to avian botulism in the Great Lakes and pollution found in U.S. waters during migration and overwintering,” said Kevin Kenow, USGS lead scientist for the study. “Resource managers need information on the iconic birds’ first critical years to develop effective conservation strategies.” 

Common loons are large, black-and-white, fish-eating waterbirds with haunting calls and are bioindicators, or living gages of ecosystem health, in the Great Lakes states. The survival rate of loons during their first few years of life – about 50 percent over three years – is much lower than that of adults, which have a rate of about 93 percent annually.

“Satellite transmitter and geolocator tag technologies help us learn more about the movements, habitat use and causes of mortality of young common loons, and ultimately about the health of the overall food web,” Kenow said. 

The tracking devices record daily location, temperature, light levels and pressure data used to log the foraging depths of these diving birds.

Previous band recovery data suggested that while some common loons may remain on wintering grounds year-round their first two years, there is the potential for a northward movement up the Atlantic Coast during summers. Watch where the new loons travel this year via the USGS common loon migration website.

For more information on USGS loon studies, please visit the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center website.

VideoUnraveling Mysteries of the Common Loon

"Teddy Bear" Unlikely to Go Extinct

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 11/19/2014 - 09:00
Summary: The bear species nicknamed “teddy” more than a century ago that inspired the iconic stuffed toy still popular today will likely survive at least another century, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study USGS study looks at Louisiana Black Bear Population

Contact Information:

Joseph  Clark ( Phone: 865-974-4790 ); Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-498-5019 );



A threatened Louisiana black bear and her cubs up in a tree. (High resolution image)

The bear species nicknamed “teddy” more than a century ago that inspired the iconic stuffed toy still popular today will likely survive at least another century, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study

The threatened Louisiana black bear, one of 18 subspecies of black bear in North America, has less than a 1 percent chance of going extinct in the next 100 years.  The bear was once found throughout Louisiana, eastern Texas, southern Arkansas and western Mississippi. Habitat loss and overhunting has since reduced and fragmented the population resulting in its listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992.

The species was nicknamed the “teddy bear” in 1902 when President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt famously refused to shoot a tethered bear while on a hunting trip.

To determine the viability of the bear population today, researchers used projections of population growth over time based on capture and radio-telemetry data to estimate the bear’s extinction probability. In some instances, scientists captured and released the bears to obtain the data, while other times they collected DNA extracted from hair samples to identify individual bears. The study also used genetics and capture data to evaluate how frequently individual bears move between the fragmented subpopulations of Louisiana black bear in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Connectivity among subpopulations of a species is important to help avoid genetic problems resulting from too much inbreeding. These findings address goals created in 1995 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for recovery.

“Estimates of a species’ viability can help wildlife managers determine the status of threatened, endangered or at-risk species and guide effective management efforts,” said Joseph Clark, the USGS research ecologist who led the study in collaboration with Jared Laufenberg from the University of Tennessee. “This study will be used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether to pursue removing the bear from the ‘threatened’ species list.”

Researchers collected data with DNA sampling, live capture, winter den visits and monitoring of radio-collared animals from 2002 to 2014. To collect the DNA samples, researchers set up barbed wire fences that bears had to cross to obtain pastry baits. This method, which does not harm the bears, results in the bears leaving their DNA in the form of hair samples on the barbs, which scientists are able to use to identify the individual identities of each bear visiting the site.   

Bears in Louisiana primarily exist in four distinct subpopulations, and data were sufficient for researchers to perform viability analyses on three of them. The probability of these bears not going extinct ranged from 29.5 percent to greater than 99 percent, depending on the subpopulation and the assumptions upon which the models were based.  However, the chances that all of the subpopulations will simultaneously go extinct, based on the most conservative models, were only 0.4 percent. The researchers also found that individual bears were moving among some subpopulations.

“The completion of this project represents many years of collaborative work and we’re excited about the results,” said Maria Davidson, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist program manager.  “The information provided by this project is based on the best available science, enabling us to make management decisions focused on the long term sustainability of the Louisiana black bear.”

Since originally being listed as threatened in 1992, the Louisiana black bear population has grown and the habitat has recovered to the extent that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering “delisting,” or removing the bear from the threatened species list. This population growth is because of state and federal protection of the bears, a reintroduction project and habitat recovery aided by the Federal Conservation Reserve Program and the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program.

This study was completed in cooperation with Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Tennessee and Louisiana State University, among others. The full study is available online.

USGS-NASA Award Recognizes Innovations in Earth Observation

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 11/18/2014 - 16:00
Summary: A pioneer in mapping global land cover change and the team behind the United States’ most advanced land surface mapping satellite have both been honored with the 2014 William T. Pecora Award for achievement in Earth remote sensing

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



A pioneer in mapping global land cover change and the team behind the United States’ most advanced land surface mapping satellite have both been honored with the 2014 William T. Pecora Award for achievement in Earth remote sensing. Sponsored by the Department of the Interior's U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA, the annual award was presented on Nov. 18 in Denver at the 19th William T. Pecora Memorial Remote Sensing Symposium. 

Christopher O. Justice, professor and chair of geographical sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park, was honored for advancing the understanding of the Earth by means of remote sensing. The government and industry team that built and now operates Landsat 8, the latest in the Landsat series of satellites, was also acknowledged for their contributions to study of Earth’s land surface and coastal regions. 

Landsat 8, launched as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission in February 2013, provides frequent global medium-resolution data for science and applications. Landsat 8 extends the unprecedented Landsat data record which now covers more than four decades. 

Justice has made numerous scientific contributions to the study of land use and land cover change and the detection and analysis of wildfires, expanding the use of Earth-observing data from NASA’s Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instruments. 

An innovator in the use of global daily polar orbiter satellite data for mapping and monitoring land cover, Justice provided the vision that led to the first global 1-km data Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) dataset. He leads long-term monitoring of the Congo Basin using Landsat data, an effort that provides invaluable information on the state of the forests of central Africa. 

Justice is perhaps best known for his research on wildfires. First using AVHRR data and now MODIS and VIIRS, he successfully developed algorithms for fire detection and burned area estimation. He spearheaded the development of a rapid response system that reveals the location of fires shortly after images are obtained. This system has provided significant practical benefits in many parts of the world and is regularly used in the strategic deployment of fire-fighting assets. 

Justice now leads agricultural monitoring efforts. With colleagues from NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he leads the development of a system for forecasting agricultural production based primarily on MODIS data. He is working on transitioning the system to use VIIRS data to ensure longer-term continuity. 

The Landsat 8 Team is a partnership between USGS  and NASA with strong contributions from industry and the academic community. The Landsat 8 Project Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., oversaw development and launch of the satellite. The USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, managed ground system development and assumed operation of the mission following in-orbit commissioning. 

Landsat 8’s Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) was built at NASA Goddard. Ball Aerospace & Technology Corporation was responsible for the Operational Land Imager (OLI). Orbital Sciences Corporation built the spacecraft, and United Launch Alliance provided the Atlas 2 launch vehicle. The Landsat Science Team of university and government scientists provided scientific and technical input to a wide range of mission activities. 

The Landsat 8 Team met the challenge of continuing and advancing the Landsat legacy of observations. The OLI sensor on Landsat 8 is a substantial technical advancement over the Thematic Mapper sensors flown since 1982 on Landsats 4, 5, and 7. In addition, the TIRS instrument utilizes a two-band thermal infrared sensor to more effectively address atmospheric contamination in the thermal infrared spectrum. Mission performance has exceeded expectations, providing more imagery, higher quality measurements, and new capabilities over previous missions.  

The Pecora Award was established in 1974 to honor the memory of a former USGS director and Interior undersecretary. William T. Pecora was influential in the establishment of the Landsat satellite program, which created a continuous record of Earth's land areas spanning a period of more than 40 years.

 

Southern Beaufort Sea Polar Bear Population Declined in the 2000s

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 11/17/2014 - 12:00
Summary: In a new polar bear study published today, scientists from the United States and Canada found that during the first decade of the 21st century, the number of polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea experienced a sharp decline of approximately 40 percent

Contact Information:

Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 ); Yvette  Gillies ( Phone: 907-786-7039 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In a new polar bear study published today, scientists from the United States and Canada found that during the first decade of the 21st century, the number of polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea experienced a sharp decline of approximately 40 percent.  

The scientists, led by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey, found that survival of adult bears and cubs was especially low from 2004 to 2006, when most of the decline occurred. 

“Of the 80 cubs observed in Alaska from 2004 to 2007, only 2 are known to have survived,” said Jeff Bromaghin, USGS research statistician and lead author of the study. 

Survival of adults and cubs began to improve in 2007 and the population stabilized at approximately 900 bears in 2010, the last year of the study. However, the survival of juvenile bears declined throughout the 10-year study period (2001-2010), suggesting that conditions remained unfavorable for young bears newly separated from their mothers.

Scientists suspect that limited access to seals during both summer and winter contributed to low survival during this period. Although some bears in this population now come onshore during the autumn open water period, most stay with the sea ice as it retreats north into the Arctic Basin and far from shore where few seals are thought to occur. Similarly, the thinning and increasingly mobile winter ice is susceptible to breaking up and rafting, which can create rough and jumbled ice conditions that may make it harder for polar bears to capture seals. However, other potential causes, such as low seal abundance, could not be ruled out. 

“The low survival may have been caused by a combination of factors that could be difficult to unravel,” said Bromaghin, “and why survival improved at the end of the study is unknown. Research and monitoring to better understand the factors influencing this population continue.”

The Polar Bear Specialists’ Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature will use the new estimate for the southern Beaufort Sea population to track historic (within the last 25 years) and current (within the last 12 years) trends in the 19 populations worldwide. Currently, four populations, including the southern Beaufort Sea population, are considered to be declining, five are stable, one is increasing, with the remainder considered to be data deficient.

Collaborators with USGS in the study included Environment Canada, University of Alberta, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Polar Bears International, and Western Ecosystems Technology.

The polar bear was listed as globally threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008 due to concerns about the effects of sea ice loss on their populations. 

The paper “Polar bear population dynamics in the southern Beaufort Sea during a period of sea ice decline” was published today in early online view in the journal Ecological Applications.

 

For further information:

Learn more about USGS Quantitative Ecology program that originated this study, then visit the USGS Polar Bear program website. The USGS conducts this work under its Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative

Summary of polar bear population status per 2013 from the Polar Bear Specialists Group.

Multimedia

Find more polar bear photos in the USGS multimedia gallery.

Check out our polar bear POV video in the USGS multimedia gallery. 

USGS Assesses Current Groundwater-Quality Conditions in the Williston Basin Oil Production Area

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 11/17/2014 - 10:00
Summary: Energy development in the Williston Basin oil production area of Montana and North Dakota, which includes the Bakken and Three Forks Formations, has not affected shallow groundwater quality, according to a recently published study in the journal Groundwater

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Rod  Caldwell ( Phone: 406-457-5933 ); Joel Galloway ( Phone: 701-250-7402 );



USGS scientist prepares to sample a domestic well in the Bakken Formation oil and gas production area of North Dakota. (High resolution image)

Energy development in the Williston Basin oil production area of Montana and North Dakota, which includes the Bakken and Three Forks Formations, has not affected shallow groundwater quality, according to a recently published study in the journal Groundwater. The paper is based on water samples collected by U.S. Geological Survey scientists from 30 randomly distributed, non-federal domestic wells screened in the upper Fort Union Formation. 

The study compared concentrations of several chemicals to health-based drinking-water standards, analyzed correlations between concentrations and oil and gas well locations and evaluated methane for indications of deep production-zone gases. 

“These results are good news for water users, and the data provide a valuable baseline against which future water-quality data can be compared,” said Peter McMahon, a USGS hydrologist and lead author of the study. “However, it is important to consider these results in the context of groundwater age.” 

Most of the sampled water was more than 1,000 years old based on carbon-14 dating and predates oil and gas development in the study area. Results suggest that shallower wells screened at the water table would be better suited for detecting contamination associated with recent surface spills than the domestic wells sampled by this study. 

Old groundwater could be directly contaminated by recent subsurface leaks from improperly cemented oil and gas wells, but groundwater velocities calculated from carbon-14 ages indicated that the contaminants, if present in groundwater, would not have moved far from their source. 

“The groundwater age results indicate that a long-term commitment to monitoring is needed to assess the effects of energy development on groundwater quality in the Williston Basin production area,” said McMahon. 

The study was the first comprehensive regional assessment of shallow groundwater quality and age in the Williston Basin production area. Inclusion of groundwater-age measurements in assessing the effects of energy development on groundwater quality is a new approach that provides valuable context for water-quality data and can lead to more effective monitoring programs.

This report is a product of the USGS Groundwater Resources Program that provides scientific information and develops interdisciplinary understanding necessary to assess and quantify the availability of the nation’s groundwater resources. Program priorities include conducting regional and national overviews, scientific assessments of critical groundwater issues, field methods and model development and improved access to fundamental groundwater data.

Building the Water Theme of the White House Climate Data Initiative

USGS Newsroom Technical - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 08:53
Summary: USGS science leaders are meeting with other federal agency scientists at the annual conference of the American Water Resources Association this week to consider critical issues that face the nation in regard to its water resources and how to best utilize the extensive information that is collected about those resources. 

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



USGS science leaders are meeting with other federal agency scientists at the annual conference of the American Water Resources Association this week to consider critical issues that face the nation in regard to its water resources and how to best utilize the extensive information that is collected about those resources. 

What are the overarching water challenges of the nation and what information is needed to address them? How can government water information be presented so that commercial firms can transform it into useful applications? How can structures such as the Federal Geographic Data Committee and the Advisory Committee on Water Information be used to define an appropriate architecture for Open Water Data sharing for the nation? Answers to these complex questions will contribute to focusing the Water theme of the Climate Data Initiative. 

Announced by President Obama in March 2014, the Climate Data Initiative is a broad effort to leverage the federal government’s extensive, freely available data resources relevant to climate to stimulate innovation and private-sector entrepreneurship in support of national climate change preparedness. The Water theme is one of seven themes under the topic of climate on data.gov—the federal government’s source of open data.

Resources are drawn from across the U.S. federal government and can be used to help understand:

  • How the human and natural components of the water cycle are changing.
  • How communities and water managers can plan for uncertain future conditions relating to water.

"USGS science has contributed to more than 40 water and climate datasets within the Initiative, extending the range of software tools available to help analyze and assess impacts of a changing climate on the water cycle,” said Jerad Bales, USGS Chief Scientist for Water. “These tools provide specialists with convenient data-access capabilities, water data software tools, and analysis methods for data and related information."

The U.S. government has made records of streamflow, groundwater levels, and water quality available for more than a century, and estimated water use since 1950. These data and information resources are vital to building resilience across our water resources in a changing climate.

"The information from the datasets will help water managers make informed decision about their water resources," said Bales.

Datasets include the USGS National Water Information System, which is the leading source of high frequency streamflow, water quality, groundwater, and water use data for the Nation. It features water-resources data collected by USGS at approximately 1.5 million sites in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Another key resource is the NOAA National Climatic Data Center’s holdings of historical precipitation and other climate drivers relevant to the water cycle.

Additionally, base map data such as the USGS National Hydrography Dataset and 3D Elevation Program, land cover, soils, and others are provided along with models such as the NASA North American Land Data Assimilation System, which estimates soil moisture and other water variables.

Other themes included within the Climate Data Initiative are Coastal Flooding, Energy, Ecosystem, Health, Food Resilience, and Transportation.

To date, the Administration’s Climate Data Initiative has engaged a range of private, philanthropic and academic partners to make commitments to mobilizing climate data for action, including Google, Intel, Coca-Cola, IBM, Walmart, Microsoft, the World Bank, Rockefeller Foundation, and many others.

 

Who Will Come to Your Bird Feeder in 2075?

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 11/05/2014 - 14:06
Summary: The distribution of birds in the United States today will probably look very different in 60 years as a result of climate, land use and land cover changes.

Contact Information:

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



The distribution of birds in the United States today will probably look very different in 60 years as a result of climate, land use and land cover changes.

A new U.S. Geological Survey study predicts where 50 bird species will breed, feed and live in the conterminous U.S. by 2075. While some types of birds, like the Baird’s sparrow, will likely lose a significant amount of their current U.S. range, other ranges could nearly double. Human activity will drive many of these shifts. The study was published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

"Habitat loss is a strong predictor of bird extinction at local and regional scales," said Terry Sohl, a USGS scientist and the author of the report. "Shifts in species’ ranges over the next several decades will be more dramatic for some bird species than others."      

Climate change will cause average temperatures to change by three degrees to seven degrees Fahrenheit by 2075, depending upon scenario and location within the conterminous U.S. Temperature increases will drive breeding ranges for many species to the north. Precipitation will increase in some regions and decline in others, resulting in substantial impacts on local and regional habitat.

Habitats for birds currently breeding in the far southern U.S., such as the desert-dwelling Gambel’s quail and cactus wren, will expand greatly by 2075 in the conterminous U.S. as a warming climate moves the overall range to the north. The chestnut-collared longspur, sharp-tailed grouse and gray partridge could all lose over 25 percent of their suitable breeding range in the northern U.S. as climate becomes more suitable in Canada for these species. The Baird’s sparrow may lose almost all of its current U.S. range.

Landscape changes resulting largely from human activity, including land use and land cover changes, will also significantly affect future U.S. bird distributions. The effects of landscape change will be more scattered, with very high loss of habitat at local and regional scales. 

"Changing landscape patterns such as deforestation and urban growth are likely to have at least as large of an impact on future bird ranges as climate change for many species," Sohl said.

The new study used climate and landscape data to create and compare U.S. distribution maps of 50 bird species in 2001 and 2075. The maps for each species are available online.

The species that will either gain or lose more than 20 percent of their conterminous U.S. ranges as compared to 2001 are:

  • Gambel’s quail: 61.8 percent gain
  • Cactus wren: 54.1 percent gain
  • Scissor-tailed flycatcher: 46.4 percent gain
  • Gray vireo: 44.9 percent gain
  • Painted bunting: 38.5 percent gain
  • Anna’s hummingbird: 27.2 percent gain
  • Black-capped chickadee: 21 percent loss
  • Ferruginous hawk: 21.2 percent loss
  • Sora: 22.8 percent loss
  • Northern harrier: 24.7 percent loss
  • Bobolink: 24.9 percent loss
  • Short-eared owl: 26.2 percent loss
  • Vesper sparrow: 26.4 percent loss
  • Savannah sparrow: 27.2 percent loss
  • Sedge wren: 29 percent loss
  • Gray partridge: 35.6 percent loss
  • Sharp-tailed grouse: 44.8 percent loss
  • Chestnut-collared longspur: 54.1 percent loss
  • Baird’s sparrow: 90.8 percent loss

For more information on species distribution modeling, please visit the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center website.

National Water-Use at Lowest Levels since before 1970

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 11/05/2014 - 09:16
Summary: Water use across the country reached its lowest recorded level in nearly 45 years. According to a new USGS report, about 355 billion gallons of water per day (Bgal/d) were withdrawn for use in the entire United States during 2010.

Contact Information:

Ethan Alpern ( Phone: 703-648-4406 );



Water use across the country reached its lowest recorded level in nearly 45 years. According to a new USGS report, about 355 billion gallons of water per day (Bgal/d) were withdrawn for use in the entire United States during 2010.

This represents a 13 percent reduction of water use from 2005 when about 410 Bgal/d were withdrawn and the lowest level since before 1970.

“Reaching this 45-year low shows the positive trends in conservation that stem from improvements in water-use technologies and management,” said Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the Interior.  “Even as the U.S. population continues to grow, people are learning to be more water conscious and do their part to help sustain the limited freshwater resources in the country.”


Total water withdrawals by State and barchart showing categories by State from west to east, 2010.(Larger image)

In 2010, more than 50 percent of the total withdrawals in the United States were accounted for by 12 states in order of withdrawal amounts: California, Texas, Idaho, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan, New York, Alabama and Ohio.

California accounted for 11 percent of the total withdrawals for all categories and 10 percent of total freshwater withdrawals for all categories nationwide. Texas accounted for about 7 percent of total withdrawals for all categories, predominantly for thermoelectric power, irrigation and public supply.

Florida had the largest saline withdrawals, accounting for 18 percent of the total in the country, mostly saline surface-water withdrawals for thermoelectric power. Oklahoma and Texas accounted for about 70 percent of the total saline groundwater withdrawals in the United States, mostly for mining.

“Since 1950, the USGS has tracked the national water-use statistics,” said Suzette Kimball, acting USGS director. “By providing data down to the county level, we are able to ensure that water resource managers across the nation have the information necessary to make strong water-use and conservation decisions.”

Trends in total water withdrawals by water-use category, 1950–2010.(Larger image)

Water withdrawn for thermoelectric power was the largest use nationally, with the other leading uses being irrigation, public supply and self-supplied industrial water, respectively. Withdrawals declined in each of these categories. Collectively, all of these uses represented 94 percent of total withdrawals from 2005-2010.

  • Thermoelectric power declined 20 percent, the largest percent decline.
  • Irrigation withdrawals (all freshwater) declined 9 percent.
  • Public-supply withdrawals declined 5 percent.

Self-supplied industrial withdrawals declined 12 percent. 

A number of factors can be attributed to the 20 percent decline in thermoelectric-power withdrawals, including an increase in the number of power plants built or converted since the 1970’s that use more efficient cooling-system technologies, declines in withdrawals to protect aquatic habitat and environments, power plant closures and a decline in the use of coal to fuel power plants.

"Irrigation withdrawals in the United States continued to decline since 2005, and more croplands were reported as using higher-efficiency irrigation systems in 2010,” said Molly Maupin, USGS hydrologist. “Shifts toward more sprinkler and micro-irrigation systems nationally and declining withdrawals in the West have contributed to a drop in the national average application rate from 2.32 acre-feet per acre in 2005 to 2.07 acre-feet per acre in 2010."

For the first time, withdrawals for public water supply declined between 2005 and 2010, despite a 4 percent increase in the nation’s total population. The number of people served by public-supply systems continued to increase and the public-supply per capita use declined to 89 gallons per day in 2010 from 100 gallons per day in 2005.

Declines in industrial withdrawals can be attributed to factors such as greater efficiencies in industrial processes, more emphasis on water reuse and recycling, and the 2008 U.S. recession, resulting in lower industrial production in major water-using industries.

In a separate report, USGS estimated thermoelectric-power withdrawals and consumptive use for 2010, based on linked heat- and water-budget models that integrated power plant characteristics, cooling system types and data on heat flows into and out of 1,290 power plants in the United States. These data include the first national estimates of consumptive use for thermoelectric power since 1995, and the models offer a new approach for nationally consistent estimates.

In August, USGS released the 2010 water-use estimates for California in advance of the national report. The estimates showed that in 2010, Californians withdrew an estimated total of 38 Bgal/day, compared with 46 Bgal/day in 2005.  Surface water withdrawals in the state were down whereas groundwater withdrawals and freshwater withdrawals were up. Most freshwater withdrawals in California are for irrigation.

The USGS is the world’s largest provider of water data and the premier water research agency in the federal government. 

Tracking the Nitrate Pulse to the Gulf of Mexico

USGS Newsroom Technical - Tue, 11/04/2014 - 11:36
Summary: A new USGS report describes how advanced optical sensor technology is being used in the Mississippi River basin to accurately track the nitrate pulse to the Gulf of Mexico.

Contact Information:

Ethan Alpern ( Phone: 703-648-4406 );



A new USGS report describes how advanced optical sensor technology is being used in the Mississippi River basin to accurately track the nitrate pulse to the Gulf of Mexico.

Excessive springtime nitrate runoff from agricultural land and other sources in the Mississippi drainage flows into the Mississippi River and downstream to the Gulf of Mexico. This excess nitrate contributes to the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, an area with low oxygen known commonly as the "dead zone." NOAA-supported researchers reported that the summer 2014 dead zone covered about 5,052 square miles, an area the size of Connecticut.

The USGS is using the new sensor technology to collect nitrate concentration data every hour to improve the accuracy of nitrate load estimates to the Gulf of Mexico. The data can also be used to make it easier to detect changes in nitrate levels related to basin management and to track progress toward the goal of reducing the size of the dead zone.

“High frequency data from these sensors has revealed considerable variability in nitrate concentrations in small rivers and streams,” said Brian Pellerin, USGS researcher. “However, we were surprised to see nitrate concentrations vary by as much as 20 percent in a week in a river as large as the Mississippi River without similar changes in streamflows.”

These rapid changes are very easy to miss with traditional water-quality monitoring approaches. However, hourly information on nitrate levels improves the accuracy and reduces the uncertainty in estimating nitrate loads to the Gulf of Mexico, especially during drought and flood years.

This high frequency data also provides new insights into timing and magnitude of nitrate flushing from soils during wet and dry conditions. For instance, the high frequency data revealed high nitrate concentrations during the spring and early summer of both 2013 and 2014 following the drought of 2012.

Nitrate sensors on small streams and large rivers throughout the Mississippi River basin are improving our ability track where the pulses are coming from and forecast when they will arrive at the Gulf.

The USGS, in cooperation with numerous local, state, and other federal agencies, currently operates over 100 real-time nitrate sensors across the Nation. Real-time nitrate monitoring is supported by the USGS National Stream Quality Accounting NetworkCooperative Water Program, and the National Water-Quality Assessment Program.

The USGS also continuously monitors water levels and streamflows at thousands of the nation's streams on a real-time basis. These data are available at USGS Current Streamflow Conditions.

USGS and Canada Reach Confluence in Monitoring Streamflow

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 11/04/2014 - 07:56
Summary: In a joint effort, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Water Survey of Canada (WSC) have produced the North America WaterWatch (NAWW), an online website that displays streamflow conditions throughout much of North America. 

Contact Information:

Robert Mason, USGS ( Phone: 703-648-5305 ); Lingling Liu, WSC ( Phone: 613- 790-5151 ); Jon Campbell, USGS ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



In a joint effort, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Water Survey of Canada (WSC) have produced the North America WaterWatch (NAWW), an online website that displays streamflow conditions throughout much of North America. 

The site provides a fast, easy-to-use, cartographically-based, central web interface for users to access real-time streamflow conditions for both Canada and the United States. NAWW can be accessed online in both English and French 

"North America WaterWatch delivers easily understandable maps and graphics of streamflow conditions and, simultaneously, provides access to real-time and past streamflow data at thousands of streamgages in both nations,” said Jerad Bales, USGS Chief Scientist for Water. “The portal demonstrates the value of free exchange of water-data through interoperable web services, which is a major strategic focus of the USGS through open-water data activities."

The international collaboration was announced at the American Water Resources Association annual conference in Tysons Corner, Va. 

The NAWW site is arranged similarly to USGS Water Watch. Real-time instantaneous flow data are compared against historical daily streamflow percentiles at hydrometric monitoring stations. The stations are then color coded on the map to indicate current flow conditions in relation to normal conditions based on statistical thresholds (i.e. much below normal, below normal, normal, above normal, much above normal, and high). The timely availability of these streamflow indicators is vital to water managers and the general public, as the easily-recognized indicators constitute a direct link between hydrological field information and the assessment of risks. 

NAWW displays streamflow conditions in Canada for about 1000 real-time flow stations with more than 20 years of continuous streamflow records selected from three different data sources: the Water Survey of Canada (~ 850), Centre d'expertise hydrique du Québec (~ 100), and Alberta Environment (~ 60). Streamflow conditions in the United States are shown for roughly 8000 real-time flow stations. The data on the website are updated hourly; daily statistics are updated quarterly. 

The publishing of the NAWW website marks another milestone achieved through the cooperation between USGS and WSC.

Subsidence in Southern Colorado Linked to Gas Production and Earthquakes

USGS Newsroom Technical - Wed, 10/29/2014 - 11:00
Summary: New radar observations show significant ground subsidence near the Colorado-New Mexico border in the area where a magnitude 5.3 earthquake struck in August, 2011. The analysis supports the idea that earthquakes in this region may be triggered by waste-water disposal.

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 );



New radar observations show significant ground subsidence near the Colorado-New Mexico border in the area where a magnitude 5.3 earthquake struck in August, 2011. The analysis supports the idea that earthquakes in this region may be triggered by waste-water disposal.

In a recent study published in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey used satellite radar observations (interferometric synthetic aperture radar, or InSAR) to show that there is significant vertical deformation, or ground subsidence, in the Raton Basin, likely caused by methane and water withdrawal from coal beds. Also, there is no evidence for shallow volcanic activity throughout the observation period.

Alternatively, the August, 2011, earthquake occurred close to several wastewater disposal wells during times when injection was occurring. Aspects of the earthquake rupture, including the location of slip, the style of faulting and the statistics of the 2011 earthquake aftershock sequence, suggest that the earthquake was likely caused by a slip on a naturally stressed fault that was triggered by the fluid disposal.

The InSAR analysis provides a new method of looking at earthquake location and dimensions, allowing USGS and other scientists to further explore relationships between fluid extraction and injection, induced seismicity, local geology and hydrological systems. The satellite data also provide a check on the seismological observations that are most commonly used to analyze induced seismicity, and allow scientists to explore deformation that does not produce seismic signals.

New Maine Maps Feature National Scenic Trails

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 10/27/2014 - 10:00
Summary: Newly released US Topo maps for Maine now feature segments of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.)

Contact Information:

Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 ); Matt Robinson ( Phone: 304-535-4010 ); Larry Moore ( Phone: 303-202-4019 );



Newly released US Topo maps for Maine now feature segments of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.).  Several of the 715 new US Topo quadrangles for the state now display parts of the A.T. along with other improved data layers. 

“Located within a day’s drive of 2/3rds of the U.S. population and open year-around to all visitors, the Appalachian Trail is America’s most readily accessible long-distance footpath,” said Matt Robinson, National Park Service GIS Specialist for the A.T. “Having its route accurately depicted on these new US Topo maps just makes it even more accessible to all who wish to explore this great resource.” 

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a public footpath that traverses more than 2,100 miles of the Appalachian mountains and valleys between Katahdin, Maine (northern terminus), and Springer Mountain, Georgia (southern terminus). It winds through scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands along this ancient mountain range. With more than 99% of the A.T.’s corridor on Federal or State land, it is the longest continuously marked, maintained, and publicly protected trail in the United States.

The USGS partnered with the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to incorporate the trail data onto the Maine US Topo maps. This NST joins the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail the North Country National Scenic Trail and the Pacific Crest 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 Maine and are available for free download from The National Map and the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website.

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) 1951 USGS legacy topographic map of the Monson West (Maine) quadrangle, 1:62,500 scale. (high resolution image)
2014 US Topo map of Maine, Monson West quadrangle with orthoimage layer turned on. (high resolution image)

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.