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ASU, USGS Create Sharpest Map Ever of Mars Surface Properties

USGS Newsroom Technical - Tue, 07/15/2014 - 15:11
Summary: TEMPE, Ariz. – A heat-sensing camera designed at Arizona State University has provided data to create the most detailed global map yet of Martian surface properties. The map uses data from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), a nine-band visual and infrared camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. An online version of the map optimized for scientific researchers is also available.

Contact Information:

Robin Fergason ( Phone: 928-556-7034 );



TEMPE, Ariz. – A heat-sensing camera designed at Arizona State University has provided data to create the most detailed global map yet of Martian surface properties. The map uses data from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), a nine-band visual and infrared camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. An online version of the map optimized for scientific researchers is also available.

The new Mars map was developed by Robin Fergason of the U.S. Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, in collaboration with researchers at ASU's Mars Space Flight Facility. The work reflects the close ties between space exploration efforts at Arizona universities and the USGS. 

"We used more than 20,000 THEMIS nighttime temperature images to generate the highest resolution surface property map of Mars ever created," said Fergason, who earned her Ph.D. degree at ASU in 2006. "Now these data are freely available to researchers and the public alike."

Surface properties tell geologists about the physical nature of a planet or moon's surface. Is a particular area coated with dust, and if so, how thick is it likely to be? Where are the outcrops of bedrock? How loose are the sediments that fill this crater or that valley? A map of surface properties lets scientists begin to answer such questions.

The new map uses nighttime temperature images to derive the "thermal inertia" for football field-sized areas of Mars. Thermal inertia is a calculated value that represents how fast a surface heats up and cools off. As night follows day on Mars, loose fine-grain materials such as sand and dust change temperature quickly and thus have low values of thermal inertia. Bedrock has a high thermal inertia because it cools off slowly at night and warms up slowly by day.

"Darker areas in the map have a lower thermal inertia and likely contain fine particles, such as dust, silt or fine sand," said Fergason. “Brighter regions have higher thermal inertia surfaces, consisting perhaps of coarser sand, surface crusts, rock fragments, bedrock or combinations of these materials.”

The designer and principal investigator for the THEMIS camera is Philip Christensen, Regents' Professor of Geological Sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the Tempe campus. Four years ago, Christensen and ASU researchers used daytime THEMIS images to create a global Mars map depicting the planet's landforms, such as craters, volcanoes, outflow channels, landslides, lava flows and other features.

"A tremendous amount of effort has gone into this great global product, which will serve engineers, scientists and the public for many years to come," Christensen said. "This map provides data not previously available and will enable regional and global studies of surface properties. I'm eager to use it to discover new insights into the recent surface history of Mars."

Fergason noted that there's a practical side, too.

"NASA used THEMIS images to find safe landing sites for the Mars Exploration Rovers in 2004 and Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory rover, in 2012," she said. "THEMIS images are now helping to select a landing site for NASA's next Mars rover in 2020."

New Global Geologic Map of Mars

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 07/14/2014 - 11:00
Summary: This new global geologic map of Mars depicts the most thorough representation of the “Red Planet’s” surface. This map provides a framework for continued scientific investigation of Mars as the long-range target for human space exploration.(High resolution image) A new global geologic map of Mars –the most thorough representation of the "Red Planet's" surface – has been published by the U.S. Geological Survey. This map provides a framework for continued scientific investigation of Mars as the long-range target for human space exploration. Understanding the Past to Enable Future Exploration

Contact Information:

James A. Skinner, Jr. ( Phone: 928-556-7043 ); Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 );



This new global geologic map of Mars depicts the most thorough representation of the “Red Planet’s” surface. This map provides a framework for continued scientific investigation of Mars as the long-range target for human space exploration.(High resolution image)

A new global geologic map of Mars –the most thorough representation of the "Red Planet's" surface – has been published by the U.S. Geological Survey. This map provides a framework for continued scientific investigation of Mars as the long-range target for human space exploration.

The new map brings together observations and scientific findings from four orbiting spacecraft that have been acquiring data for more than 16 years. The result is an updated understanding of the geologic history of the surface of Mars – the solar system’s most Earth-like planet and the only other one in our Sun’s “habitable zone.” The new geologic map of Mars is available for download online.

For hundreds of years, geologic maps have helped drive scientific thought. This new global geologic map of Mars, as well as the recent global geologic maps of Jupiter’s moons Ganymede and Io, also illustrates the overall importance of geologic mapping as an essential tool for the exploration of the solar system.

"Spacecraft exploration of Mars over the past couple decades has greatly improved our understanding of what geologic materials, events and processes shaped its surface," said USGS scientist and lead author, Dr. Kenneth Tanaka. “The new geologic map brings this research together into a holistic context that helps to illuminate key relationships in space and time, providing information to generate and test new hypotheses.”

The USGS-led mapping effort reveals that the Martian surface is generally older than previously thought. Three times as much surface area dates to the first major geologic time period - the Early Noachian Epoch - than was previously mapped. This timeframe is the earliest part of the Noachian Period, which ranges from about 4.1 to about 3.7 billion years ago, and was characterized by high rates of meteorite impacts, widespread erosion of the Martian surface and the likely presence of abundant surface water.

The map also confirms previous work that suggests Mars had been geologically active until the present day. There is evidence that major changes in Mars’ global climate supported the temporary presence of surface water and near-surface groundwater and ice. These changes were likely responsible for many of the major shifts in the environments where Martian rocks were formed and subsequently eroded. This new map will serve as a key reference for the origin, age and historic change of geological materials anywhere on Mars.

"Findings from the map will enable researchers to evaluate potential landing sites for future Mars missions that may contribute to further understanding of the planet’s history," said USGS Acting Director Suzette Kimball. "The new Mars global geologic map will provide geologic context for regional and local scientific investigations for many years to come."

The Martian surface has been the subject of scientific observation since the 1600s, first by Earth-based telescopes, and later by fly-by missions and orbiting spacecraft. The Mariner 9 and Viking Orbiter missions produced the first planet-wide views of Mars’ surface, enabling publication of the first global geologic maps (in 1978 and 1986-87, respectively) of a planetary surface other than the Earth and the Moon. A new generation of sophisticated scientific instruments flown on the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft has provided diverse, high quality data sets that enable more sophisticated remapping of the global-scale geology of Mars.

The production of planetary cartographic products has been a focal point of research at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center since its inception in the early 1960s. USGS began producing planetary maps in support of the Apollo Moon landings, and continues to help establish a framework for integrating and comparing past and future studies of extraterrestrial surfaces. In many cases, these planetary geologic maps show that, despite the many differences between bodies in our solar system, there are many notable similarities that link the evolution and fate of our planetary system together.

The project was funded by NASA through its Planetary Geology and Geophysics Program. 

The mission of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center is to serve the Nation, the international planetary science community, and the general public’s pursuit of new knowledge of our solar system. The Team’s vision is to be a national resource for the integration of planetary geosciences, cartography, and remote sensing. As explorers and surveyors, with a unique heritage of proven expertise and international leadership, USGS astrogeologists enable the ongoing successful investigation of the solar system for humankind. For more information, visit Astrogeology Science Center

'Dry Ice' Cause of Gullies on Mars

USGS Newsroom Technical - Thu, 07/10/2014 - 16:00
Summary: Seasonal carbon dioxide frost, not liquid water, is the main driver in forming gullies on Mars today, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey study that relied on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (MRO) repeated high-resolution observations

Contact Information:

Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 );



Seasonal carbon dioxide frost, not liquid water, is the main driver in forming gullies on Mars today, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey study that relied on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (MRO) repeated high-resolution observations.

Martian gullies are landforms typically consisting of steep channels, usually having a recessed head, that feed into a fan of material deposited at the bottom. The discovery of active gullies was first reported in 2000, which generated excitement due to consideration that they might result from action of liquid water. Mars has water vapor and plenty of water ice, but liquid water, a necessity for all known life, has not been confirmed on modern Mars. The new report, published in the journal Icarus, is available online.

"As recently as five years ago, I thought the gullies on Mars indicated activity of liquid water," said USGS scientist Colin Dundas, lead author of the new report. "We were able to get many more observations, and as we started to see more activity and pin down the timing of gully formation and change, we saw that the activity is in winter."

A smaller type of seasonal flow seen on some slopes on Mars may involve liquid water, but is yet to be determined. These flows are called recurring slope lineae (RSL), and are sometimes found within small channels but not systematically associated with larger gullies.

Dundas and collaborators used the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on MRO to examine each of 356 Martian sites with gullies at least twice, beginning in 2006. Thirty-eight of the sites showed activity, such as cutting a new channel segment or adding material to the apron-shaped deposit at the downhill end of a gully. Wherever the timing of before-and-after observations enabled determining the season of gully activity, it was a time too cold for the possibility of melting water-ice, but consistent with seasonal carbon dioxide frost.

"RSL and mass movements in Martian gullies are two distinct types of slope activity,” said Dundas “It's not hard to tell them apart in HiRISE images. The classic Martian gullies are much larger than RSL. Many of them are more the size that you'd call ravines on Earth."

Frozen carbon dioxide, commonly called dry ice, does not exist naturally on Earth, but it is plentiful on Mars. It has been linked to active processes on Mars such as geysers of carbon dioxide gas from springtime sublimation of dry ice, and blocks of dry ice that plow lines on sand dunes by sledding down dunes on cushions of sublimated gas. One mechanism for how carbon dioxide frost might drive gully flows is by gas that is sublimating from the frost, providing lubrication for dry material to flow. Another might be slides due to accumulating weight of seasonal frost buildup on steep slopes.

Work by Dundas and others has previously pointed to winter timing of gully formation on dune and non-dune slopes, with suggested involvement of seasonal changes in frozen carbon dioxide. The new report adds evidence for the changes. The findings also make a new point that the pace of gully formation that has now been documented is swift enough that all of the fresh-appearing gullies seen on Mars can be attributed to current processes. Some earlier hypotheses attributing the gullies to action of liquid water have suggested they formed thousands to millions of years ago when climate conditions were possibly more conducive to Mars having liquid water due to variations in the planet's tilt and orbit. 

Dundas' co-authors on the new report are Serina Diniega of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson.  

"Much of the information we have about gully formation and other active processes on Mars comes from the longevity of MRO and other orbiters,” said Diniega. “This enables repeated observation of sites to examine changes over time." 

Data will appear in an upcoming special issue of Icarus with multiple reports about active processes on Mars, including RSL.

"I like that Mars can still surprise us," Dundas said. "Martian gullies are fascinating features where we can investigate a process that we just don't see on Earth." 

HiRISE is operated by the University of Arizona. The instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project is managed for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, by JPL. 

Visit the USGS Astrogeology Center to learn more.

Visit HiRISE for more information.

Additional information about MRO is available online.

These two images show changes in a gully on Mars, and illustrate that these landforms are evolving rapidly. A rubbly flow (noted by the arrows) has been deposited near the mouth of the channel between the time of the two images. Further up the slope, the channel system has been modified by both erosion and deposition. The timing of such changes is often in winter or early spring, suggesting that they are caused by the carbon dioxide frost that forms in and around most gullies every year. (High resolution image)

Observing Polar Bears from Space

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 07/09/2014 - 15:19
Summary: Scientists have started using satellites to observe, count and track polar bears. USGS scientists and their Canadian collaborators have begun analyzing high-resolution satellite images from a part of the Canadian High Arctic to determine the feasibility of using satellites to study polar bear populations

Contact Information:

Todd Atwood ( Phone: 907-786-7093 ); Chris Trent ( Phone: 703-648-4451 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Monitoring wildlife in the Arctic is difficult. Study areas are cold, barren and often inaccessible. For decades scientists have struggled to study animals, like polar bears, which live in these remote areas. Now researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey have begun testing a new, yet counterintuitive solution – rather then get close to the animals, monitor them from afar. Scientists have started using satellites to observe, count and track polar bears. USGS scientists and their Canadian collaborators have begun analyzing high-resolution satellite images from a part of the Canadian High Arctic to determine the feasibility of using satellites to study polar bear populations. 

“We tested the use of satellite technology from DigitalGlobe to count polar bears by tasking the satellite to collect photos from an area where we were also conducting aerial surveys,” said Dr. Todd Atwood, research leader for the USGS Polar Bear Research Program. “We then analyzed the satellite and aerial survey data separately and found that the abundance estimates were remarkably similar.”

The study, which is led by former USGS scientist and current University of Minnesota researcher Dr. Seth Stapleton, is part of an ongoing effort to identify non-invasive technologies to better understand how polar bears respond to the loss of sea ice due to a warming climate. This study tries to determine the number of polar bears and where they reside on Rowley Island in Nunavut’s Foxe Basin during the ice-free summer. “We selected Rowley as our study site because bear density is high during summer and the flat terrain provides an ideal setting to evaluate the use of satellite imagery,” said Stapleton.

Traditionally, scientists study polar bears by capturing and tagging them or by conducting aerial surveys with low flying aircraft. While these methods provide a wealth of important information, they are disruptive to the animals and are often not possible when dealing with remote locations. “We think satellite technology has the potential to open vast, remote regions of the Arctic to regular monitoring. It has tremendous potential to aid the circumpolar management of polar bears,” said Stapleton. 

The next steps in the research focus on testing the satellites’ ability to detect polar bear populations over larger areas, including sites along coastal Alaska. Using satellite imagery shows incredible promise and provides one more tool for those interested in preserving polar bear populations for future generations.

The ongoing research is part of the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative. The findings from the study are in the most recent issue of PLos ONE.

 

USGS Release: Large Rivers in U.S. are Becoming Less Acidic

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 07/07/2014 - 08:26
Summary: Several large rivers in the U.S. are less acidic now, due to decreasing acidic inputs, such as industrial waste, acid mine drainage, and atmospheric deposition.

Contact Information:

Ethan Alpern ( Phone: 703-648-4406 ); Edward Stets ( Phone: 303-541-3048 );



Several large rivers in the U.S. are less acidic now, due to decreasing acidic inputs, such as industrial waste, acid mine drainage, and atmospheric deposition.

A USGS study showed that alkalinity, a measurement of a river's capacity to neutralize acid inputs, has increased over the past 65 years in 14 of the 23 rivers assessed in the U.S.

Reduced acidity levels were especially common in rivers in the Northeast, such as the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers; the Midwest, such as the Illinois and Ohio Rivers; and the Missouri River in the Great Plains.  

"Long-term monitoring of streamflow and water-quality is essential to track how changes in climate and land use are impacting rivers and how riverine inputs may impact valuable commercial and recreational fisheries in estuaries across the Nation," said William Werkheiser, associate director for water. "Increasing alkalinity levels in large rivers across the country since 1945 is a positive trend."

Acidification of U.S. rivers in the early part of the 20th century was mostly associated with these acid inputs, which reduced the alkalinity of some rivers and caused them to become more acidic.

Increased alkalinity concentrations in large rivers draining a variety of climate and land-use types in this country are an indicator of recovery from acidification.

By looking at changes in multiple chemicals, scientists conducting the study found that the alkalinity increases were due to decreasing acidic inputs. The reasons for decreased acidic inputs have been diverse and include greater regulation of industrial emissions and waste treatment and increased use of agricultural lime.

"This study shows us that our cumulative management actions over the last half century have reduced acidity levels in U.S. rivers," said lead author Edward Stets, research ecologist at the USGS.  "Acidification of rivers that empty into estuaries can adversely impact shell-bearing organisms such as oysters and crabs."

This study was published in the journal Science for the Total Environment. Information on USGS long-term water-quality monitoring can be accessed at the National Water-Quality Assessment Program page.

Training International Volcano Scientists and Saving Lives Worldwide

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 07/02/2014 - 18:00
Summary: Scientists and technicians who work at volcano observatories in 11 countries are visiting the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory this week to learn techniques for monitoring active volcanoes

Contact Information:

Janet Babb, USGS ( Phone: 808-967-8844 ); Darcy Bevens, CSAV ( Phone: 808-430-0612 );



HAWAII ISLAND, Hawaiʻi — Scientists and technicians who work at volcano observatories in 11 countries are visiting the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory this week to learn techniques for monitoring active volcanoes.

The International Training Program in Volcano Hazards Monitoring is designed to assist scientists from other nations in attaining self-sufficiency in monitoring volcanoes and reducing the risks from eruptions. Field exercises on Kilauea and Mauna Loa Volcanoes allow students to observe and operate a variety of instruments, and classroom instruction at the Observatory provides students the opportunity to interpret data, as well as plan a monitoring network for their home volcanoes. U.S. scientists are providing training on monitoring methods, data analysis and interpretation, and volcanic hazard assessment, and participants are taught about the use and maintenance of volcano monitoring instruments. Participants learn about forecasting events, responding rapidly during volcanic crises, and how to work with governing officials and the news media to save lives and property.

Organized by the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, with support from the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa and the joint USGS-U.S. Agency for International Development Volcano Disaster Assistance Program, the annual program has been training foreign scientists for 24 years. This year’s class includes 16 volcano scientists from Chile, Colombia Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Italy, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea.

“Hawaiian volcanoes offer an excellent teaching opportunity because our volcanoes are relatively accessible, they're active, and USGS staff scientists can teach while actually monitoring volcanic activity," said the USGS’s HVO Scientist-in-Charge, Jim Kauahikaua. “The small investment we make in training international scientists now goes a long way toward mitigating large volcanic disasters in the future.”

“Providing training in volcano hazards assessment and monitoring is by far the most cost effective strategy for reducing losses and saving lives for those developing nations exposed to high volcanic hazards risks,” said CSAV Director Donald Thomas. “The goal of our course is to provide our trainees with an understanding of the technologies that can be applied to an assessment of volcanic threats as well as how to interface with their respective communities to increase awareness of how to respond to those threats.”

“The training program directly benefits the United States, through international exchange of knowledge concerning volcanic eruptions, and it serves as an important element in our country’s humanitarian assistance and science diplomacy programs around the world,” said the USGS’s VDAP Chief, John Pallister. 

The international participants are learning to use both traditional geological tools and the latest technology. To anticipate the future behavior of a volcano, basic geologic mapping brings an understanding of what a volcano is capable of doing, how frequently it has erupted in the past, and what kind of rocks, and ash it produces. Using Geographic Information Systems, the students learn to predict lava flow paths, conduct a vulnerability assessment, and tabulate the predicted costs associated with the damage from a lava flow. Participants are trained in the emerging field of infrasound monitoring, which is critical for rapidly detecting volcanic explosions and/or rift zone eruptions, as well as basic seismological fundamentals, and a survey of pre-eruptive seismic swarms at various volcanoes around the world. Monitoring and modeling deformation of a volcano focuses on different techniques from traditional leveling methods to GPS and satellite-based radar.

Providing critical training to international scientists began at HVO, leading to the creation of CSAV to continue the legacy. Since 1990, almost 200 scientists and civil workers from 29 countries have received training in volcano monitoring methods through CSAV. USGS’s HVO continues to provide instructors and field experiences for the courses, and VDAP has a long-term partnership with CSAV, providing instructors and co-sponsoring participants from countries around the world. 

Carbon Storage in U.S. Eastern Ecosystems Helps Counter Greenhouse Gas Emissions Contributing to Climate Change

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 06/25/2014 - 16:33
Summary: On the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today released a new report showing that forests, wetlands and farms in the eastern United States naturally store 300 million tons of carbon a year (1,100 million tons of CO2 equivalent), which is nearly 15 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions EPA estimates the country emits each year or an amount that exceeds and offsets yearly U.S. car emissions Interior Releases Report on Anniversary of President’s Climate Action Plan; New Visualization Tool Helps Land Managers Make Smart, Informed Landscape-Level Decisions

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Anne-Berry Wade ( Phone: 703-648-4483 );



WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today released a new report showing that forests, wetlands and farms in the eastern United States naturally store 300 million tons of carbon a year (1,100 million tons of CO2 equivalent), which is nearly 15 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions EPA estimates the country emits each year or an amount that exceeds and offsets yearly U.S. car emissions. 

In conjunction with the national assessment, today USGS also released a new web tool, which allows users to see the land and water carbon storage and change in their ecosystems between 2005 and 2050 in the lower 48 states.  This tool was called for in the President’s Climate Action Plan.  

“Today we are taking another step forward in our ongoing effort to bring sound science to bear as we seek to tackle a central challenge of the 21st century – a changing climate,” said Secretary Jewell.  “This landmark study by the U.S. Geological Survey provides yet another reason for being good stewards of our natural landscapes, as ecosystems play a critical role in removing harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that contributes to climate change.” 

With today’s report on the eastern United States, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has completed the national biological carbon assessment for ecosystems in the lower 48 states – a national inventory of the capacity of land-based and aquatic ecosystems to naturally store, or sequester, carbon, which was called for by Congress in 2007. 

Together, the ecosystems across the lower 48 states sequester about 474 million tons of carbon a year (1,738 million tons of CO2 equivalent), comparable to counter-balancing nearly two years of U.S. car emissions, or more than 20 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions EPA estimates the country emits each year.

The assessment shows that the East stores more carbon than all of the rest of the lower 48 states combined even though it has fewer than 40 percent of the land base.  Under some scenarios, USGS scientists found that the rate of sequestration for the lower 48 states is projected to decline by more than 25 percent by 2050, due to disturbances such as wildfires, urban development and increased demand for timber products.

“What this means for the future is that ecosystems could store less carbon each year,” said USGS Acting Director Suzette Kimball. “Biological sequestration may not be able to offset greenhouse gas emissions nearly as effectively when these ecosystems are impaired.”

Forests accounted for more than 80 percent of the estimated carbon sequestered in the East annually, confirming the critical role of forests highlighted in the Administration’s climate action initiative.

USGS scientists have been building the national assessment since a 2007 congressional mandate in the Energy Independence and Security Act.  The first report, on the Great Plains, was released in 2011, the second report, on the Western United States, was released in 2012.  Reports on Alaska and Hawaii are expected to be completed in 2015.   

Biological carbon storage – also known as carbon sequestration – is the process by which carbon dioxide (CO2) is removed from the atmosphere and stored as carbon in vegetation, soils and sediment.  The USGS inventory estimates the ability of different ecosystems to store carbon now and in the future, providing vital information for land-use and land-management decisions.  Management of carbon stored in our ecosystems and agricultural areas is relevant both for mitigation of climate change and for adaptation to such changes.

The area studied for the eastern U.S. carbon assessment was defined by similarities in ecology and land cover. The study area extends eastward from the western edge of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi floodplains, across the Appalachian Mountains, to the coastal plains of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The major ecosystems USGS researchers evaluated were terrestrial (forests, wetlands, agricultural lands, shrublands and grasslands), and aquatic (rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters).

MAJOR FINDINGS ON BIOLOGICAL CARBON STORAGE

IN THE EASTERN UNITED STATES

 U.S. Geological Survey, June 2014

Major Findings: Current Eastern Carbon Storage (between 2001 and 2005)

●     The eastern U.S., with just under 40 percent of the land in the lower 48 states, stores more carbon than the rest of the conterminous United States.

●     Forests, which occupy about half the land in the East, accounted for more than 80 percent of the region’s estimated carbon sequestered annually. They are the largest carbon-storing pools, and have the highest rate of sequestration of the different ecosystem types.

●     Wetlands, including coastal ones, which comprise only about 9 percent of the land cover in the region studied, account for nearly 13 percent of the region’s estimated annual carbon storage. They also have the second-highest rate of sequestration of all ecosystem types. Nutrients and sediments in rivers and streams flowing from terrestrial environments contribute significantly to the storage of carbon in eastern coastal sediments and deep ocean waters.

●     In contrast, carbon dioxide is emitted from the surface of inland water bodies (rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs), equal to about 18 percent of the recent annual carbon sequestration rate of terrestrial ecosystems in the East.

●     Agricultural areas cover about 31 percent of the East, and account for only 4 percent of the region’s annually sequestered carbon.  

●     Grasslands and shrublands, as well as other types of land, contained just 1.1 percent or less of the region’s carbon.

Major Findings: Projected Changes in Eastern Carbon by 2050

●     The eastern United States is projected to continue to be a carbon sink (absorbs more carbon than it emits) through 2050, increasing the carbon stored by as much as 37 percent.  However, the rate of sequestration is projected to slow by up to 20 percent, primarily because of decreases in the amount of forest cover.

●     Land use is projected to continue to change in the future; landscape changes are projected to be between 17 and 23 percent by 2050 under different scenarios. These changes, primarily the result of demands for forest products, urban development and agriculture, could affect the future potential storage capacity of the region’s ecosystems and other lands because future carbon stocks are inextricably linked to land-use practices and changes.  

●     The area projected to experience the most change – about 30 percent -- is the southeastern United States, primarily because of conversion of land from forests to agricultural and urban land.

●     By 2050, coastal carbon storage could increase by 18 to 56 percent.  Land-use changes could increase nutrient and sediment flow from urban and agricultural lands (which presents a separate challenge), but this would also increase the amount of carbon stored in coastal areas.                                                                

For more information on the assessment, visit HERE. Watch a short video on the assessment HERE.

Visit the web tool HERE. Watch a tutorial on how to use the web tool HERE.

Read some FAQs on the Eastern Carbon Report

Visualize This: Carbon Storage Tool for Now and the Future

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 06/25/2014 - 11:00
Summary: Announced on the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan (310 KB PDF; page 16 - Providing a Toolkit for Climage Resilience), a new “Land Carbon Viewer” allows users to see the land carbon storage and change in their ecosystems between 2005 and 2050 in the lower 48 states

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Brad Reed ( Phone: 703-648-4564 );



NOTE TO REPORTERS: A step-by-step video demonstration on using the tool is available online.

RESTON, Va.— Announced on the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan (310 KB PDF; page 16 - Providing a Toolkit for Climage Resilience), a new “Land Carbon Viewer” allows users to see the land carbon storage and change in their ecosystems between 2005 and 2050 in the lower 48 states.

The Land Carbon Viewer Website, developed by U.S. Geological Survey in collaboration with the University of California-Berkeley, is based on the national biological carbon assessment for ecosystems, completing the carbon inventory for the lower 48.

The new Land Carbon Viewer will give the public access to the national inventory of the capacity of land-based ecosystems to naturally store, or sequester, carbon. Researchers used the data on ecosystem carbon storage, or sequestration, in the national assessment to build maps, graphs and text for the land carbon viewer.

The resulting products will help land and resource planners and policy makers easily see how much carbon is sequestered in the different land types in their regions now, and up to 2050, under various land-use and climate scenarios. The tool also allows users to download data in their particular areas or ecosystems of interest.

“The new Land Carbon Viewer demonstrates how the Interior Department can significantly contribute to the U.S. effort to establish a national carbon inventory and tracking system as part of the President’s Climate Action Plan,” said Suzette Kimball, acting USGS director.  “USGS is committed to taking the next step, which is to make this approach useful for specific sites and situations.  Incorporating carbon science directly into management planning is critical to ensure sound land use and land management decisions that will affect future generations.”

The USGS mapped how much carbon is sequestered in ecosystems using streamgage, soil and natural-resource inventory data, remote sensing techniques, and computer models. Based on the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s ecoregion map, the USGS Land Carbon Viewer shows the lower 48 divided into 16 ecoregions defined by similarities in ecology and land cover. The ecosystems examined are terrestrial (forests, wetlands, agricultural lands, shrublands and grasslands), and aquatic (rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters).

For example, the Southeastern USA Plains Ecoregion is the largest ecoregion in the eastern United States, and users can explore the baseline (2001-2005) and future (2006-2050) carbon storage in different kinds of ecosystems using three different IPCC carbon emission scenarios combined with economic models:

●      Moderate population growth, high economic growth, rapid technical innovation and balanced energy use,

●      Continuous population growth, uneven economic and technical growth, and carbon emissions triple through the 21st century, and

●      High economic growth, a population that peaks by mid-century and then declines, a rapid shift toward clean energy technologies, and a CO2 concentration that approximately doubles by 2100.

“The new USGS Land Carbon Viewer allows decision-makers to view and explore various ecoregions, and download data over their area of interest,” said Suzette Kimball.  “The resulting products will help land and resource planners and policy makers easily see how much carbon is sequestered in the different land types in their regions now, and up to 2050, under various land-use and climate scenarios.”

Among the many benefits of ecosystems and farmlands to society, these areas also store, or sequester, biological carbon. Biological carbon sequestration is the process by which carbon dioxide (CO2) is removed from the atmosphere and stored as carbon in vegetation, soils and sediment. Such storage reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Since a 2007 congressional mandate in the Energy Independence and Security Act, USGS scientists have been building a national inventory of the capacity of land-based ecosystems to store carbon naturally, information vital for science-based land use and land management decisions are expected to be completed in 2015.

NOAA, Partners Predict an Average 'Dead Zone' for Gulf of Mexico; Slightly Above-average Hypoxia in Chesapeake Bay

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 06/24/2014 - 14:05
Summary: Scientists are expecting an average, but still large, hypoxic or "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico this year, and slightly above-average hypoxia in the Chesapeake Bay

Contact Information:

Ben Sherman ( Phone: 202-253-5256 ); Michael Woodside ( Phone: 615-837-4706 ); Ethan Alpern ( Phone: 703-648-4406 );



NOTE:  Link to the Maryland Department of Natural Resourses was changed in the 10th paragraph. (6/25/14)

Scientists are expecting an average, but still large, hypoxic or "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico this year, and slightly above-average hypoxia in the Chesapeake Bay.  

NOAA-supported modeling is forecasting this year's Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone to cover an area ranging from about 4,633 to 5,708 square miles (12,000 to 14,785 square kilometers) or about the size of the state of Connecticut.

While close to averages since the late 1990s, these hypoxic zones are many times larger than what research has shown them to be prior to the significant human influences that greatly expanded their sizes and effects.  

The Gulf of Mexico prediction is based on models developed by NOAA-sponsored modeling teams and individual researchers at the University of Michigan, Louisiana State University, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences/College of William and Mary, Texas A&M University, and the U.S. Geological Survey,  and relies on nutrient loading estimates from the USGS. The models also account for the influence of variable weather and oceanographic conditions, and predict that these can affect the dead zone area by as much as 38 percent.  

A second NOAA-funded forecast, for the Chesapeake Bay, predicts a slightly larger than average dead zone in the nation's largest estuary. The forecast predicts a mid-summer low-oxygen hypoxic zone of 1.97 cubic miles, an early-summer oxygen-free anoxic zone of 0.51 cubic miles, with the late-summer oxygen-free anoxic area predicted to be 0.32 cubic miles. Because of the shallow nature of large areas of the estuary the focus is on water volume or cubic miles, instead of square mileage as used in the Gulf.

The Chesapeake Bay prediction is based on models developed by NOAA-sponsored researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, University of Michigan, and again relies on nutrient loading estimates from USGS.

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico affects nationally important commercial and recreational fisheries and threatens the region's economy. The Chesapeake Bay dead zones, which have been highly variable in recent years, threaten a multi-year effort to restore the water and habitat quality to enhance its production of crabs, oysters, and other important fisheries.

Hypoxic (very low oxygen) and anoxic (no oxygen) zones are caused by excessive nutrient pollution, primarily from human activities such as agriculture and wastewater, which results in insufficient oxygen to support most marine life and habitats in near-bottom waters. Aspects of weather, including wind speed, wind direction, precipitation and temperature, also affect the size of dead zones.

"We are making progress at reducing the pollution in our nation's waters that leads to 'dead zones,' but there is more work to be done," said Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "These ecological forecasts are good examples of the critical environmental intelligence products and tools that NOAA provides to interagency management bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay Program and Gulf Hypoxia Task Force.  With this information, we can work collectively on ways to reduce pollution and protect our marine environments for future generations."

Later this year, researchers will measure oxygen levels in both bodies of water. The confirmed size of the 2014 Gulf hypoxic zone will be released in late July or early August, following a mid-July monitoring survey led by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. The final measurement in the Chesapeake will come in October following surveys by the Chesapeake Bay Program's partners from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

USGS nutrient-loading estimates for the Mississippi River and Chesapeake Bay are used in the hypoxia forecasts for the Gulf and Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake data are funded with a cooperative agreement between USGS and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. USGS also operates more than 65 real-time nitrate sensors in these two watersheds to track how nutrient conditions are changing over time.

For the Gulf of Mexico USGS estimates that 101,000 metric tons of nitrate flowed down the Mississippi River into the northern gulf in May 2014, which is less than the 182,000 metric tons in last May when stream flows were above average. In the Chesapeake Bay USGS estimates that 44,000 metric tons of nitrogen entered the bay from the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers between January and May of 2014, which is higher than the 36,600 metric tons delivered to the Bay during the same period in 2013.

"The USGS continues to conduct long-term nutrient monitoring and modeling" said William Werkheiser, USGS associate director for water. "This effort is key to tracking how nutrient conditions are changing in response to floods and droughts and nutrient management actions."

The research programs supporting this work are authorized under the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act, known as HABHRCA, which was recently amended and reauthorized earlier this month through 2018.

Reservoirs Affect the Movement of Carbon in Large Rivers of the Central and Western United States

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 06/16/2014 - 12:47
Summary: A recent study conducted by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Biogeosciences found that a combination of climate and human activities (diversion and reservoirs) controls the movement of carbon in two large western river basins, the Colorado and the Missouri Rivers

Contact Information:

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



A recent study conducted by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and published in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Biogeosciences found that a combination of climate and human activities (diversion and reservoirs) controls the movement of carbon in two large western river basins, the Colorado and the Missouri Rivers. 

Rivers move large amounts of carbon downstream to the oceans. Developing a better understanding of the factors that control the transport of carbon in rivers is an important component of global carbon cycling research. 

The study is a product of the USGS John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis and the USGS Land Carbon program. 

Different downstream patterns were found between the two river systems. The amount of carbon steadily increased down the Missouri River from headwaters to its confluence with the Mississippi River, but decreased in the lower Colorado River. The differences were attributed to less precipitation, greater evaporation, and the diversion of water for human activities on the Colorado River.

For upstream/headwater sites on both rivers, carbon fluxes varied along with seasonal precipitation and temperature changes. There was also greater variability in the amount of carbon at upstream sites, likely because of seasonal inputs of organic material to the rivers. Reservoirs disrupted the connection between the watershed and the river, causing carbon amounts downstream of dams to be less variable in time and less responsive to seasonal temperature and precipitation changes. 

The study presents estimates of changes in the amount of carbon moving down the Colorado and Missouri Rivers and provides new insights into aquatic carbon cycling in arid and semi-arid regions of the central and western U.S, where freshwater carbon cycling studies have been less common. This work is part of an ongoing effort to directly address the importance of freshwater ecosystems in the context of the broader carbon cycle. In the future, changing hydrology and warming temperatures will increase the importance of reservoirs in carbon cycling, and may lead to an increase in Greenhouse Gas Emissions that contribute to global warming, but may also increase the amount of carbon buried in sediments.  

Austin Coal-Tar Sealant Ban Leads to Decline in PAHs

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 06/16/2014 - 11:00
Summary: The 2006 prohibition on the use of coal-tar-based pavement sealants in Austin, Texas, has resulted in a substantial reduction in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey

Contact Information:

Peter Van Metre ( Phone: 512-927-3506 ); Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 );



The 2006 prohibition on the use of coal-tar-based pavement sealants in Austin, Texas, has resulted in a substantial reduction in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Pavement sealant is a black, shiny substance sprayed or painted on the asphalt pavement of parking lots, driveways and playgrounds to increase the longevity of the underlying asphalt pavement and enhance its appearance. Pavement sealants that contain coal tar have extremely high levels of PAHs compared to asphalt-based pavement sealants and other urban PAH sources such as vehicle emissions, used motor oil and tire particles. PAHs are an environmental health concern because several are probable human carcinogens and they are toxic to fish and other aquatic life.

In 2006, Austin became the first jurisdiction in the United States to ban the use of coal-tar sealants. USGS scientists evaluated the effect of the ban on PAH concentrations in lake sediments by analyzing trends in PAHs in sediment cores and surficial bottom sediments collected in 1998, 2000, 2001, 2012 and 2014 from Lady Bird Lake, a reservoir on the Colorado River in central Austin. Average PAH concentrations in the lower part of the lake have declined 58 percent since the ban, reversing a 40-year upward trend. The full study, reported in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology, is available online.

“Identifying contaminant trends in water and sediment is key to evaluating the effect of environmental regulations, and provides vital information for resource managers and the public,” said lead USGS scientist Dr. Peter Van Metre.

Results of the USGS study support the conclusions of previous studies that coal-tar sealants are a major source of PAHs to Lady Bird Lake and to other lakes in commercial and residential settings. A sediment core collected by the USGS from Lady Bird Lake in 1998 was part of a study of 40 lakes from across the United States that used chemical fingerprinting to determine that coal-tar sealants were, on average, the largest contributor of PAH to the lakes studied. Chemical fingerprinting of sediment collected for the new study indicates that coal-tar-based sealant continues to be the largest source of PAHs to Lady Bird Lake sediment, implying that PAH concentrations should continue to decrease as existing coal-tar-sealant stocks are depleted.

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

Human Activities Increase Salt Content in Many of the Nation's Streams

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 06/16/2014 - 09:18
Summary: Concentrations of dissolved solids, a measure of the salt content in water, are elevated in many of the Nations streams as a result of human activities, according to a new USGS study

Contact Information:

Ethan Alpern ( Phone: 703-648-4406 ); David Anning ( Phone: 928-556-7139 );



Concentrations of dissolved solids, a measure of the salt content in water, are elevated in many of the Nations streams as a result of human activities, according to a new USGS study. Excessive dissolved-solids concentrations in water can have adverse effects on the environment and on agricultural, domestic, municipal, and industrial water users.

Results from this study provide a nation-wide picture of where dissolved-solids concentrations are likely to be of concern, as well as the sources leading to such conditions.

“This study provides the most comprehensive national-scale assessment to date of dissolved solids in our streams,” said William Werkheiser, USGS Associate Director for Water. “For years we have known that activities, such as road de-icing, irrigation, and other activities in urban and agricultural lands increase the dissolved solids concentrations above natural levels caused by rock weathering, and now we have improved science-based information on the primary sources of dissolved-solids in the nation’s streams.”

The highest concentrations are found in streams in an area that extends from west Texas to North Dakota. Widespread occurrences of moderate concentrations are found in streams extending in an arc from eastern Texas to northern Minnesota to eastern Ohio. Low concentrations are found in many states along the Atlantic coast and in the Pacific Northwest.

The total amount of dissolved solids delivered to all of the Nation’s streams is about 270 million metric tons annually, of which about 71% comes from weathering of rocks and soil, 14% comes from application of road deicers, 10% comes from activities on agricultural lands, and 5% comes from activities on urban lands.

All water naturally contains dissolved solids as a result of weathering processes in rocks and soils. Some amount of dissolved solids is necessary for agricultural, domestic, and industrial water uses and for plant and animal growth, and many of the major ions are essential to life and provide vital nutritional functions. Elevated concentrations, however, can cause environmental and economic damages. For instance, estimated damages related to excess salinity in the Colorado River Basin exceed $330 million annually.

“This study applied statistical modeling to understand the sources and transport processes leading to dissolved-solids concentrations observed in field measurements at over 2,500 water-quality monitoring sites across the Nation,” said David Anning, USGS lead scientist for the study. “This new information was then used to estimate contributions from different dissolved-solids sources and the resulting concentrations in unmonitored streams, thereby providing a complete assessment of the Nation’s streams.”

The study determined that in about 13 percent of the Nation’s streams, concentrations of dissolved solids likely exceed 500 mg/L, which is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s secondary, non-enforceable drinking water standard. Many of these streams are found in a north-south oriented band stretching from west Texas to North Dakota.

While this standard provides a benchmark for evaluating predicted concentrations in the context of drinking-water supplies, it should be noted that it only applies to drinking water actually served to customers by water utilities.

An online, interactive decision support system provides easy access to the national-scale model describing how streams receive and transport dissolved solids from human sources and weathering of geologic materials. The decision support system can used to evaluate combinations of reduction scenarios that target one or multiple sources and see the change in the amount of dissolved solids transported downstream waters.

The dissolved-solids model was developed by the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program, which provides information about water-quality conditions and how natural features and human activities affect those conditions. Information on modeling applications, data, and documentation can be accessed online.

Through the Eyes of a Polar Bear

USGS Newsroom - Fri, 06/06/2014 - 10:38
Summary: ANCHORAGE— The first "point of view" video from a polar bear on Arctic sea ice has just become available courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey. Scientists applied video camera collars to four female polar bears on the sea ice north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska this past April and are releasing the first clips of footage that provide unique insight into the daily lives of the bears.

Contact Information:

Anthony Pagano ( Phone: 907-538-2399 ); Paul  Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



ANCHORAGE— The first "point of view" video from a polar bear on Arctic sea ice has just become available courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey. Scientists applied video camera collars to four female polar bears on the sea ice north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska this past April and are releasing the first clips of footage that provide unique insight into the daily lives of the bears.

"We deployed two video cameras in 2013, but did not get any footage because the batteries weren’t able to handle the Arctic temperatures,” said Dr. Todd Atwood, research leader for the USGS Polar Bear Research Program. “We used different cameras this year, and we are thrilled to see that the new cameras worked."

The video collars were deployed as part of a new study to understand how polar bears are responding to sea ice loss from climate warming. The study, led by USGS research biologist and University of California Santa Cruz PhD student Anthony Pagano, is taking a close look at polar bear behaviors and energetics. 

Scientists with the USGS have been studying polar bear movement and habitat use for decades using radio and satellite telemetry, mostly used to determine a polar bear’s location. New video collars allow scientists to link the location data from the collar with the actual behavior recorded by the cameras.

Although these collars were only on for about 8-10 days, scientists can start to understand the activity patterns of polar bears, for example how often they eat, hunt, rest, walk, and swim and how these behaviors may be affected by sea ice conditions and other variables. Ultimately, this information will help scientists examine the energetic rates and nutritional demands of these animals and the potential effects of declining sea ice conditions,” said Pagano. 

This ongoing research is part of the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative. This research is also relevant to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Polar Bear Recovery Team of which the USGS is a member. The team is drafting the Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan, which will meet requirements of both the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. The required plan, when finalized, will guide activities for polar bear conservation in response to the 2008 determination that the polar bear is a threatened species due to the ongoing loss of sea ice habitat from global climate-change.

Discover the Northwest with Revised Montana Maps

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 06/04/2014 - 09:00
Summary: Just in time to explore the great outdoors this summer, newly designed US Topo maps covering Montana are now available online for free download

Contact Information:

Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 ); Lance Clampitt ( Phone: 406-994-6919 ); Bob  Davis ( Phone: 573-308-3554 );



Just in time to explore the great outdoors this summer, newly designed US Topo maps covering Montana are now available online for free download.

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 release. 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 Montana (2,913 maps) replacing the first edition US Topo maps for the state. 

 “Users in Montana will appreciate improvements in the US Topo product, including the availability of  Forest Service trails, and vegetation cover (green tint), as well as updated structures data through a partnership with the State,” said Lance Clampitt, USGS Geospatial Liaison for Montana. “It is very exciting to see the cooperative work between the State of Montana, Montana State Library (MSL) and the USGS in using the best available source data to make the US Topo maps.”

The MSL is using the USGS mapping and crowd-sourcing program, known as The National Map Corps to collect and update new structures data for US Topo map revisions.  “This new product will be beneficial to the citizens of Montana as well as numerous recreational users that visit the state each year,” Clampitt continued. “The added capability to use the US Topo maps on mobile devices is also very exciting for our outdoor enthusiast.  We look forward to seeing these improvements on the 2014 release for the Treasure State.”  

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. More than 700 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 from a new contractor 

The previous versions of US Topo maps for Montana, published in 2011, can still be downloaded from USGS web sites. Also, scanned images of the entire USGS map library of 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 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 Dewey, Montana area with image layer turned on (1:24,000 scale). (high resolution image 1.1 MB) Scan of 1893 USGS topographic map of the Dewey, Montana area from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection (1:250,000 scale). (high resolution image 1.9 MB)

Ultra-violet Light Works as Screening Tool for Bats with White-nose Syndrome.

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 05/29/2014 - 10:00
Summary: Scientists working to understand the devastating bat disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) now have a new, non-lethal tool to identify bats with WNS lesions —ultraviolet, or UV, light. Scientists discover a non-destructive yet effective way to screen bats in hibernation for white-nose syndrome

Contact Information:

Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 ); Carol Meteyer ( Phone: 703-648-4057 ); David Blehert ( Phone: 608-270-2466 );



Scientists working to understand the devastating bat disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) now have a new, non-lethal tool to identify bats with WNS lesions —ultraviolet, or UV, light.

If long-wave UV light is directed at the wings of bats with white-nose syndrome, it produces a distinctive orange-yellow fluorescence. This orange-yellow glow corresponds directly with microscopic skin lesions that are the current “gold standard” for diagnosing white-nose syndrome in bats.

“When we first saw this fluorescence of a bat wing in a cave, we knew we were on to something,” said Greg Turner from Pennsylvania Game Commission, who has been using this technique since 2010. “It was difficult to have to euthanize bats to diagnose WNS when the disease itself was killing so many. This was a way to get a good indication of which bats were infected and take a small biopsy for testing rather than sacrifice the whole bat.”

Millions of bats in the United States have died from the fungal disease called White nose syndrome which is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus (Geomyces) destructans (Pd). White-nose syndrome was first seen in New York during the winter of 2006. Since then, the disease has spread to 25 US states and 5 Canadian provinces.

A significant problem in studying WNS has been the unreliability of visual onsite inspection when checking for WNS in bats during hibernation; the only way to confirm presence of disease was to euthanize the bats and send them back to a laboratory for testing.

“Ultraviolet light was first used in 1925 to look for ringworm fungal infections in humans,” said Carol Meteyer, USGS scientist and one of the lead authors on the paper. “The fact that this technique could be transferred to bats and have such remarkable precision for indicating lesions positive for Pd invasion is very exciting.”

To test the UV light’s effectiveness, bats with and without white-nose syndrome in North America were tested by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center, first using UV light, then using traditional histological techniques to verify the UV light’s accuracy.

In the USGS lab testing, 98.8 percent of bats with the orange-yellow fluorescence tested positive for white-nose syndrome, whereas 100 percent of those that did not fluoresce tested negative for the disease. Targeted biopsies showed that pinpoint areas of fluorescence coincided with the microscopic wing lesions that are characteristic for WNS.

Researchers in the Czech Republic then tested the UV light-assisted biopsy technique in the field, using it to collect small samples from areas of bat wing that fluoresced under UV light. In this study, 95.5 percent of wing biopsies that targeted areas of fluorescence were microscopically positive for WNS lesions, while again 100 percent of bats that did not fluoresce were negative for WNS.

Combining research from two continents demonstrates that UV diagnostics might be applicable worldwide with great sensitivity and specificity in detecting WNS.

“Moreover, the technique hurts the animal minimally and bats fly away after providing data for research,” said Natalia Martinkova from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. “This makes UV fluorescence an ideal tool for studying endangered species.”

This effort included partners in the USFWS, state and federal biologists, the Czech Science Foundation, and the National Speleological Society of the USA.

This research article, “Nonlethal Screening of Bat-wing Skin with the Use of Ultraviolet Fluorescence to Detect Lesions Indicative of White-Nose Syndrome,” was recently published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases. More information may be found on USGS research on white-nose syndrome here.

Hurricane Sandy Impacts Did Not Contribute to Subsequent Storm Flooding

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 05/27/2014 - 11:00
Summary: Flooding in coastal areas bordering Great South Bay, N.Y. and Barnegat Bay, N.J. caused by winter storms that occurred following Hurricane Sandy was not influenced by changes Sandy made to barrier islands or other bay features, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study Study looks at Great South Bay and Barnegat Bay

Contact Information:

Alfredo Aretxabaleta ( Phone: 508-457-2204 ); Bradford Butman ( Phone: 508-457-2212 ); Neil Ganju ( Phone: 508-457-2252 );



WOODS HOLE, Mass. —Flooding in coastal areas bordering Great South Bay, N.Y. and Barnegat Bay, N.J. caused by winter storms that occurred following Hurricane Sandy was not influenced by changes Sandy made to barrier islands or other bay features, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study.

The study of Barnegat Bay and Great South Bay looked at data from November 2012 to October 2013, when winter storms brought water levels in these bays to among the 20 highest storm water levels reached from October 2007- October 2013.

“The frequent and extreme high-water levels caused by storms in these two bays in the months after Hurricane Sandy led to perceptions the mainland was more vulnerable to flooding,” said USGS oceanographer and coauthor of the study Neil Ganju. “This study shows that changes to bay features caused by Hurricane Sandy did not influence these post Sandy storm water levels.”

Hurricane Sandy caused extreme floods along portions of the northeast coast of the U.S. and cut new inlets across barrier islands in New Jersey and New York. Scientists investigated whether Hurricane Sandy had in some way reduced the protection provided by the barrier islands and the bays, leaving the mainland more vulnerable to flooding.

The study compared water level measurements made at stations within Great South Bay and Barnegat Bay to ocean water levels before and after Hurricane Sandy. Both are back barrier bays -- bodies of water behind barrier islands and connected to the ocean through one or more inlets.

“Changes in water levels in the back-barrier bays are primarily caused by ocean water levels driving water into or out of the bays through inlets,” said USGS oceanographer and lead author of the study Alfredo Aretxabaleta.  “The study showed that most of the ocean water level fluctuations caused by storms make their way into the bays, while only a fraction of tidal fluctuations do.”

The results showed that alterations to the barrier, inlet, and bay systems caused by Hurricane Sandy did not influence the high water levels caused by storms from November 2012 to October 2013. None of these post-Sandy storms opened new inlets or caused overtopping of the protective dunes and barrier beach systems. Both before and after Sandy, about 80 percent of storm surge—a temporary rise in water level caused by an offshore storm’s winds or low pressure—made its way into the back barrier bays, whereas only about 20 percent of the tidal fluctuations do. This suggests that whether the same storm occurred before or after Hurricane Sandy, the water level in the bays would be the same.   

“While the existing barrier island and inlet system shields the mainland to a great extent from the daily tides, most of the storm surge, and all long-term changes in water level, such as those resulting from sea level rise, reach the mainland” said USGS oceanographer and coauthor Bradford Butman. “These results will inform coastal communities and planners how water levels in back-barrier bays respond to ocean fluctuations.”

Several studies related to Hurricane Sandy recovery, restoration and rebuilding efforts, many of which are funded by Disaster Relief Appropriations Act 2013, are currently underway.

“The USGS is committed to providing the science foundation for federal, state, and local authorities to build more resilient communities,” said John Haines, coordinator of the USGS’ Coastal and Marine Geology Program. “This is one of many studies the USGS is doing to understand the effects of Hurricane Sandy and to evaluate the vulnerability of the coast and its communities to future storms.”

The study, “Water-level response in back-barrier bays unchanged following Hurricane Sandy,” by Aretxabaleta, A.L., Butman, B., and Ganju, N.K., is in the Geophysical Research Letters journal and available online.

Climate Change Accelerates Hybridization between Native and Invasive Species of Trout

USGS Newsroom - Sun, 05/25/2014 - 12:00
Summary: Scientists have discovered that the rapid spread of hybridization between a native species and an invasive species of trout in the wild is strongly linked to changes in climate

Contact Information:

Suzanna Soileau ( Phone: 406-994-7257 ); Clint Muhlfeld ( Phone: 406-600-9686 );



BOZEMAN, Mont. – Scientists have discovered that the rapid spread of hybridization between a native species and an invasive species of trout in the wild is strongly linked to changes in climate.

In the study, stream temperature warming over the past several decades and decreases in spring flow over the same time period contributed to the spread of hybridization between native westslope cutthroat trout and introduced rainbow trout – the world’s most widely introduced invasive fish species –across the Flathead River system in Montana and British Columbia, Canada.

Experts have long predicted that climate change could decrease worldwide biodiversity through cross-breeding between invasive and native species, but this study is the first to directly and scientifically support this assumption. The study, published today in Nature Climate Change, was based on 30 years of research by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Montana, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Hybridization has contributed to the decline and extinction of many native fishes worldwide, including all subspecies of cutthroat trout in western North America, which have enormous ecological and socioeconomic value.  The researchers used long-term genetic monitoring data coupled with high-resolution climate and stream temperature predictions to assess whether climate warming enhances interactions between native and nonnative species through hybridization.

“Climatic changes are threatening highly prized native trout as introduced rainbow trout continue to expand their range and hybridize with native populations through climate-induced ‘windows of opportunity,’ putting many populations and species at greater risk than previously thought,” said  project leader and USGS scientist Clint Muhlfeld. “The study illustrates that protecting genetic integrity and diversity of native species will be incredibly challenging when species are threatened with climate-induced invasive hybridization.”

Westslope cutthroat trout and rainbow trout both spawn in the spring and can produce fertile offspring when they interbreed. Over time, a mating population of native and non-native fish will result in only hybrid individuals with substantially reduced fitness because their genomes have been infiltrated by nonnative genes that are maladapted to the local environment. Thus, protecting and maintaining the genetic integrity of native species is important for a species’ ability to be resilient and better adapt to a rapidly changing climate.  

Historical genetic samples revealed that hybridization between the two fish species was largely confined to one downstream Flathead River population. However, the study noted, over the past 30 years, hybridization rapidly spread upstream, irreversibly reducing the genetic integrity of native westslope cutthroat trout populations. Genetically pure populations of westslope cutthroat trout are known to occupy less than 10 percent of their historical range.

The rapid increase in hybridization was highly associated with climatic changes in the region. From 1978 to 2008 the rate of warming nearly tripled in the Flathead basin, resulting in earlier spring runoff, lower spring flooding and flows, and warming summer stream temperatures. Those locations with the greatest changes in stream flow and temperature experienced the greatest increases in hybridization. 

Relative to cutthroat trout, rainbow trout prefer these climate-induced changes, and tolerate greater environmental disturbance. These conditions have likely enhanced rainbow trout spawning and population numbers, leading to massive expansion of hybridization with westslope cutthroat trout.

“The evolutionary consequences of climate change are one of our greatest areas of uncertainty because empirical data addressing this issue are extraordinarily rare; this study is a tremendous step forward in our understanding of how climate change can influence evolutionary process and ultimately species biodiversity,” said Ryan Kovach, a University of Montana study co-author.

Overall, aquatic ecosystems in western North America are predicted to experience increasingly earlier snowmelt in the spring, reduced late spring and summer flows, warmer and drier summers, and increased water temperatures – all of which spell increased hybridization between these species.

The article, published in Nature Climate Change, is titled “Invasive hybridization in a threatened species is accelerated by climate change” and can be viewed at the following website.  Its authors are Clint Muhlfeld, U.S. Geological Survey; Ryan Kovach, University of Montana; Leslie Jones, U.S. Geological Survey; Robert Al-Chokhachy, U.S. Geological Survey; Matthew Boyer, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Robb Leary, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Winsor Lowe, University of Montana; Gordon Luikart, University of Montana; and Fred Allendorf, University of Montana.

This study was supported by the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative, the Interior Department’s Northwest Climate Science Center, the National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center, National Science Foundation, and Bonneville Power Administration.   

More information about impacts and prevention of invasive species and hybridization can be found on the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center website

Genetic Analysis Reveals Fish Eggs Found in Upper Mississippi River are not Asian Carp

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 05/22/2014 - 14:00
Summary: Scientists have extracted DNA from fish eggs found in northern sections of the Upper Mississippi River and have determined that the eggs and larvae are not from Asian carp

Contact Information:

Dave Ozman ( Phone: 303-202-4744 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



Scientists have extracted DNA from fish eggs found in northern sections of the Upper Mississippi River and have determined that the eggs and larvae are not from Asian carp.  Genetic analysis instead shows that the fish eggs collected in the summer of 2013 likely belong to a native North American species in the same family as carp.  All Asian carp species are considered invasive species and belong to the cyprinid fish family.  

To confirm visual identification of the eggs’ species, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey genetically tested 41 of the 65 eggs and larvae that were collected from the Upper Mississippi River (Pool 9 and Pool 11) in Wisconsin and Iowa.  DNA sequences successfully obtained from 17 eggs revealed that they were similar to those of other cyprinid fishes and did not come from Asian carp.  The one exception was an egg collected from Pool 19 in southern Iowa, which had been visually identified as an Asian carp, and was later genetically confirmed by the USGS as a grass carp, one of the four Asian carp species.  

“What we have learned from this research is that non-Asian carp cyprinid eggs in the northern portions of the Upper Mississippi can closely resemble Asian carp eggs in size and shape,”  said Leon Carl, USGS Midwest Region Director.  “These findings underscore the importance of using genetic testing to confirm the results of visual identification.” 

Researchers were surprised to learn that the large eggs from Pools 9 and 11 belonged to other species in the cyprinid family rather than to Asian carp species.  Such findings are contrary to previously published work that had established that non-Asian carp cyprinids indigenous to the Midwest have considerably smaller eggs compared to the invasive carp that were the focus of the study. 

Detailed visual analysis of the eggs’ size and shape earlier this year indicated that they were consistent with the eggs of Asian carp species and led scientists to believe that invasive carp may have successfully spawned in this northern portion of the Upper Mississippi.  Given the seriousness of the Asian carp spread northward, USGS scientists alerted partners and the general public about that potential in March and decided to pursue genetic testing to confirm the visual findings.

Scientists emphasized that the recent genetic data will modify their application of visual identification methods to distinguish fish eggs and larvae collected in the Upper Mississippi River. The difficulty USGS scientists had in genetically testing the eggs suggests that researchers and managers studying or monitoring Asian carp reproduction in North America should consider separately preserving, for genetic analysis, a subset of collected embryos to confirm visual identification. 

USGS researchers will continue efforts to gain a better understanding of how egg size, location of eggs within the river and flow conditions may help to identify those habitats important to reproduction of native and non-native cyprinids including Asian carp.  Understanding habitat requirements will assist in the development of methods to control invasive Asian carp.

Revised North Dakota, Delaware and Maryland Maps Feature New Design

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 05/22/2014 - 09:30
Summary: 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 Newly designed US Topo maps covering North Dakota, Delaware and Maryland 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. 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 North Dakota (1,402 maps), Delaware (38 maps) and Maryland (213 maps), replacing the first edition US Topo maps for those states.

 "This US Topo map update will be quite popular with users in our state, where rapid changes accompanying the oil boom are impacting a large area,” said Steve Shivers, the USGS Geospatial Liaison for North Dakota. “The three year revision cycle is invaluable in keeping up with these changes. Improvements on the maps will be quite useful to recreational users and developers, who will also enjoy the new capabilities to use the US Topo map data on mobile devices.”

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. More than 400 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 from a new contractor

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 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 Keedysville, Maryland area, with ortho image turned on . (high resolution image 1.3 MB) 1894 USGS 30 minute (1:250,000 –scale) quadrangle of the Harpers Ferry, Maryland area. (high resolution image 1.7 MB)

Global Platinum-Group Resources Estimated at More than 150K Metric Tons

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 05/15/2014 - 09:00
Summary: The first-ever inventory and geological assessment of known and undiscovered platinum-group element (PGE) resources estimates that more than 150,000 metric tons of PGEs may exist in the two southern African countries that produce most of the global supply of these critical elements.

Contact Information:

Mike Zientek ( Phone: 509-368-3105 ); Diane Noserale ( Phone: 703-648-4333 );



The first-ever inventory and geological assessment of known and undiscovered platinum-group element (PGE) resources estimates that more than 150,000 metric tons of PGEs may exist in the two southern African countries that produce most of the global supply of these critical elements.

The USGS study identifies 78K metric tons of known PGE resources in South Africa and Zimbabwe and estimates 75K metric tons in PGE resources that may be present, but are undiscovered. This is more than 20 times the total tonnage produced since the 1920s when PGE mining began in these countries.

The U.S. is 90 percent reliant on imports of PGEs which are essential for cleaning automobile exhaust, for manufacturing glass, fertilizer, high-octane fuel, and a variety of chemicals, including cancer fighting drugs. They are widely used in jewelry and electronics such as hard drives, circuitry, and cell phones. PGEs could play a crucial role in fuel cell technology to produce clean energy for cars, homes, and businesses.

The identified resources will meet global demand for many decades, given current growth rates and with supplies also coming from recycling, according to the study. About 90 percent of PGEs in the Earth occur in limited areas of only three countries: South Africa’s Bushveld Complex, Zimbabwe’s Great Dyke, and Russia’s Norilsk region.

“The potential global PGE supply is nearly double what we understood from previous studies, but the geographic concentration of the world’s resources in a few locations leaves the supply of this critical resource open to short-term disruptions,” said USGS Mineral Resources Program Coordinator Larry Meinert. “The supply will more likely be affected in the short term by social, environmental, political and economic factors than from depletion from mining. This finding is consistent with previous studies of known PGE resources and with other studies that characterize future supplies of mineral resources that are critical to the nation,” said Meinert.

For example, water and energy supply shortages, which are common in southern Africa, could result in sudden PGE supply disruptions and may limit the recoverability of resources using advanced methods.

Increased population and higher standards of living have doubled global demand for PGEs in only 20 years. The global net demand for PGEs in 2012 was approximately 470 metric tons.

The USGS Mineral Resources Program delivers unbiased science and information to understand mineral resource potential, production, consumption, and how minerals interact with the environment.

Graph showing the amounts of PGE and minor gold in three major areas compared with the rest of the world. (High resolution image 1.2 MB)