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U.S. Reliance on Nonfuel Mineral Imports Increasing

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 12/17/2015 - 10:00
Summary: Key nonfuel mineral commodities that support the U.S. economy and national security are increasingly being sourced from outside the U.S., according to a new U.S. Geological Survey publication

Contact Information:

Steven M. Fortier ( Phone: 571-386-8587 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



Key nonfuel mineral commodities that support the U.S. economy and national security are increasingly being sourced from outside the U.S., according to a new U.S. Geological Survey publication.

Over the past 60 years, there has been an increase in the number and diversity of nonfuel commodities that the U.S. imports as well as the extent to which the U.S. is import reliant. In 1954, for example, the U.S. was 100 percent import reliant for the supply of eight minerals commodities, meaning all of the supply came from outside of the U.S. By 2014 this number had increased to 19.

“Because the global distribution of mineral reserves and resources is not uniform, the United States has always been import reliant for some mineral commodities. It is important to recognize, however, that import reliance does not necessarily mean that there is a supply risk,” said Steven M. Fortier, Director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center.  “Essentially, the type of commodities imported and the countries from which they are sourced determine risk related to import reliance.”

In addition, the new report also found the geographic distribution of sources has also changed dramatically. In 1954, the sources for imported mineral commodities were dominantly in the Western Hemisphere, with Canada, Mexico and Brazil as major suppliers. While these countries remain major suppliers today, the geographic distribution of mineral commodity import sources had become much more global with many new sources, particularly in Asia, by 1984. This trend has continued. By 2014, China had surpassed Canada as the leading import source, supplying 24 nonfuel mineral commodities, about half of the 47 nonfuel mineral commodities for which the United States was greater than 50 percent net import reliant.

“As the U.S. becomes increasingly reliant on a wide range of mineral resources needed to fuel technological developments that support our economy and national security, it is more important than ever that we continue to monitor and evaluate global changes in supply and demand of these important resources,” said Fortier.

Intersex Prevalent in Black Bass Inhabiting National Wildlife Refuges in Northeast

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 12/17/2015 - 09:00
Summary: Eighty five percent of male smallmouth bass and 27 percent of male largemouth bass tested in waters in or near 19 National Wildlife Refuges in the Northeast U.S. were intersex, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers

Contact Information:

Luke Iwanowicz ( Phone: 304-724-4550 ); Fred Pinkney ( Phone: 410-573-4544 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



Eighty five percent of male smallmouth bass and 27 percent of male largemouth bass tested in waters in or near 19 National Wildlife Refuges in the Northeast U.S. were intersex, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers.

Intersex is when one sex develops characteristics of the opposite sex. It is tied to the exposure of fish to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can affect the reproductive system and cause the development of characteristics of the opposite sex, such as immature eggs in the testes of male fish. Intersex is a global issue, as wild-caught fish affected by endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been found in locations across the world.

Estrogenic endocrine-disrupting chemicals are derived from a variety of sources, from natural estrogens to synthetic pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals that enter the waterways. Examples include some types of birth control pills, natural sex hormones in livestock manures, herbicides and pesticides. 

“It is not clear what the specific cause of intersex is in these fish,” said Luke Iwanowicz, a USGS research biologist and lead author of the paper. “This study was designed to identify locations that may warrant further investigation.  Chemical analyses of fish or water samples at collection sites were not conducted, so we cannot attribute the observation of intersex to specific, known estrogenic endocrine—disrupting chemicals.”

This prevalence of intersex fish in this study is much higher than that found in a similar USGS study that evaluated intersex in black basses in nine river basins in the United States. That study did not include river basins in the Northeast.

"The results of this new study show the extent of endocrine disrupting chemicals on refuge lands using bass as an indicator for exposures that may affect fish and other aquatic species," said Fred Pinkney, a USFWS contaminants biologist and study coauthor. "To help address this issue, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service encourages management actions that reduce runoff into streams, ponds and lakes -- both on and off of refuge lands.”

The journal article, Evidence of estrogenic endocrine disruption in smallmouth and largemouth bass inhabiting Northeast U.S. National Wildlife Refuge waters: a reconnaissance study,” by L.R. Iwanowicz, V.S. Blazer, A.E. Pinkney, C.P. Guy, A.M. Major, K. Munney, S. Mierzykowski, S. Lingenfelser, A. Secord, K. Patnode, T.J. Kubiak, C. Stern, C.M. Hahn, D.D. Iwanowicz, H.L. Walsh, and A. Sperry is available online in Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety.

New Method for Ranking Global Copper Deposits Saves Time and Money

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 12/14/2015 - 12:30
Summary: A new approach to ranking copper resources could result in identifying future supplies of copper while saving both time and money, according to the U.S. Geological Survey

Contact Information:

Michael Zientek ( Phone: 509-368-3105 ); Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 );



A new approach to ranking copper resources could result in identifying future supplies of copper while saving both time and money, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. This technique has been used to evaluate 10 areas of the world where undiscovered copper resources in sedimentary rock could be found. The areas are in addition to five, higher priority areas recently studied by the USGS. 

Ultimately, the results of the assessment indicate that the top three areas in the ranked list are in Namibia and Botswana (Northwest Botswana Rift), Angola (Benguela and Cuanza Basins), and the Middle East (Egypt–Israel–Jordan Rift). The only area in the United States, an area in Montana (Belt-Purcell Basin), is ranked 6th on the list.

“This new approach has the potential to be a real boon in studying mineral deposits,” said USGS scientist Michael Zientek, the study’s lead author. “Not only is it faster and less expensive, it also gives us robust, quantifiable results to help us better direct our focus and resources in studying minerals.”

All 10 of these areas represent possible future sources of supply. Some currently have no significant mineral production. Montana’s Belt-Purcell Basin has only one operating mine in production. The areas are in addition to five, higher priority areas recently studied by the USGS. 

Other areas have been known for some time to have significant copper resources. The Jordan-Israel-Egypt Rift was mined in antiquity and was a major source of copper for bronze-age cultures in the region.

The 10 areas ranked were included because they have a range of data quality and availability, as well as ample access to geologic, tectonic and mineral resource information.

“Copper is one of the critical and strategic minerals of our economy, making it a perfect choice to test this novel approach on,” said Larry Meinert, Program Coordinator for the USGS Mineral Resources Program. “Identifying and understanding our domestic mineral wealth is a vital part of ensuring the security of our supply chain for these resources.”

The new ranking tool works by taking expert opinions and breaking them into explicit and quantifiable criteria that can then be compared and ranked. Expert opinions are a traditional method of evaluating mineral deposits, but lack transparency. This approach not only brings a level of transparency, but also, as this latest research demonstrates, is straightforward and robust.

This new study is part of a larger Global Mineral Resource Assessment effort to update knowledge of the geologic setting, occurrence, and amount of the Nation’s and World’s copper resources.

A Scientific Investigations Report describing this assessment is online. The USGS provides mineral resource assessments; to stay up to date on all of our mineral resources, follow us on Twitter.

Figure showing the top three ranked areas. Clockwise from the top: Northwest Botswana Rift, Benguela and Cuanza Basins, and the Egypt–Israel–Jordan Rift. (High resolution image)

Climate Past as Prologue for Ponderosa Pines

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 12/14/2015 - 12:30
Summary: Scientists from the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey have reconstructed the recent migration history of ponderosa pine trees in the central Rocky Mountains

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Julio  Betancourt ( Phone: 520-820-0943 );



Scientists from the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey have reconstructed the recent migration history of ponderosa pine trees in the central Rocky Mountains. Their recently published study on the movement of this species, through centuries and across complex terrain, is unprecedented in its methodology and scope. The investigation informs an uncertain climate and ecological future.

Experts project that climate change will force many species to adjust their geographical distributions in the near future, with cascading consequences for biodiversity, conservation biology, and ecosystem services.  Important lessons can be drawn from an understanding of the movement rates and pathways of northward migrations of vegetation that followed the end of the last Ice Age, some of which are still ongoing.

Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), the most widely distributed pine in North America, experienced one of the most rapid and extensive of these post-glacial plant migrations. The eastern race of ponderosa pine (variety scopulorum) spread northward along the Rocky Mountains, starting at its northernmost known distribution in southern New Mexico and Arizona around 13,000 years ago, and reached central Montana only within the last millennium. The western race (variety ponderosa) experienced a parallel but less well-known migration along the Sierra Nevada, eventually mingling with the northernmost populations of the eastern race in the northern Rockies.

The researchers, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, focused their efforts on the northern half of the distribution in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, which they assumed had experienced the most recent spread of ponderosa pine. The study targeted sites where ponderosa grows today in settings suitable for the preservation of fossil packrat middens.  

Packrat middens are rock-hard amalgamations of easily-identified plant and animal remains embedded in crystallized urine, commonly preserved in rock shelters and crevices, and readily datable to within a few decades using radiocarbon analysis. Since the 1960s, several thousand middens found in semi-arid areas from Mexico to Canada have been analyzed to reconstruct vegetation changes over the past 50,000 years. 

The team collected 90 middens spanning the last 11,000 years to pinpoint the arrival of ponderosa pine at each of 14 sites in western South Dakota, northern Wyoming, and west-central Montana. Jodi Norris, a National Park Service ecologist and senior author of the study, likened the fieldwork to “a treasure hunt where you and your science buddies clamber on cliffs looking for packrat leftovers to track the natural spread of a common conifer in the West.” 

A key finding was that the eastern race of ponderosa spread across the region by island hopping a few tens of kilometers at a time to suitable establishment sites, likely aided by seed dispersal via birds. The eastern race colonized many of its northernmost sites, including sites where it now hybridizes with the western race in West-Central Montana, only within the last two millennia.

Norris and her USGS co-authors, Julio Betancourt and Stephen Jackson, used a bioclimatic model for the modern distribution of ponderosa pine to infer that the most recent spread must have been driven by increases in July temperature and precipitation. Future expansion of the ponderosa pine range will largely depend on the nature and pace of climate change in the region (principally warming). Considering other factors such as heavy land use and invasive species, native plant migrations in the future might be more complicated than in the past.

Betancourt cautioned, “Ponderosa pine migration in the past happened sluggishly in fits and starts, tracking the pace of climate variability. But future migration will have to  march to unusually rapid warming, this time disrupted by pervasive land use.  If expansion to increasingly warmer and more suitable sites far to the north is desirable, ponderosa dispersal will have to be assisted by deliberate and strategic planting.”

The research study, authored by Jodi Norris (National Park Service-Flagstaff; Northern Arizona University), Julio Betancourt (USGS-Reston, Va.), and Stephen Jackson (USGS-Tucson), was published online in the Journal of Biogeography.

USGS Reports Large Shifts in Global Primary Tantalum Mining from 2000 to 2014

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 12/10/2015 - 15:53
Summary: The United States is completely reliant on imports of tantalum, which is a commonly used element in electronics, to meet its domestic consumption for economic and national security needs

Contact Information:

Steven M.  Fortier ( Phone: 571-386-8587 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



Reston, VA— The United States is completely reliant on imports of tantalum, which is a commonly used element in electronics, to meet its domestic consumption for economic and national security needs. A new U.S. Geological Survey report illustrates the dramatic change of the international sources of primary mined tantalum over the past 15 years.

Annual mine production of tantalum contained in mined concentrates by country for the years 2000 through 2014 and events that affected mine production.(High resolution image)

Tantalum possesses unique material properties that make it particularly well suited for use as a capacitor in sophisticated electronic circuits in everything from smartphones to defense applications.

Tantalum is named as a “conflict mineral” under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act; this act requires companies that use tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold to perform due diligence on their supply chains to determine whether these materials were sourced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or adjacent countries. Tantalum is also widely viewed as a critical mineral because of the impact a supply disruption could have on important applications in electronic systems. Consequently, it is one of the mineral commodities tracked by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency as part of its mission to maintain the National Defense Stockpile.

As illustrated in the chart below, primary mining of tantalum has undergone a major geographic shift from the year 2000, when supply was dominated by Australia and Brazil, to the current situation where supply is principally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and other African nations. Global supply has migrated from countries characterized by low governance risk, industrial mining practices, and supply chain transparency to countries characterized by high governance risk, artisanal methods, and a lack of supply chain transparency.

Sources of tantalum produced from 2000-2014

"Tantalum occupies a special niche among metals as a result of its position at the nexus between conflict and critical minerals," said Steven M. Fortier, director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center that produced the recent report. “The dramatic shifts in primary mine production of tantalum over the past 15 years is a textbook example of why the USGS plays such an active role in collecting, analyzing and disseminating information on mineral commodities of importance to the U.S. economy and national security.

To learn more about tantalum visit the Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015 webpage.

Continued Decline of the Northern Spotted Owl Associated with the Invasive Barred Owl, Habitat Loss, and Climate Variation

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 12/10/2015 - 13:00
Summary: Northern spotted owl populations are declining in all parts of their range in the Pacific Northwest, according to research published in The Condor.

Contact Information:

Dawn Childs, USGS ( Phone: 571-643-1922 ); Mark  Floyd, OSU ( Phone: 541-737-0788 );



CORVALLIS, Ore. – Northern spotted owl populations are declining in all parts of their range in the Pacific Northwest, according to research published in The Condor. Based on data from 11 study areas across Washington, Oregon and northern California, a rangewide decline of nearly 4 percent per year was estimated from 1985 to 2013.

Researchers found evidence that the invasive barred owl is playing a pivotal role in the continued decline of spotted owls, although habitat loss and climate variation were also important in some parts of the species range. Barred owls compete with spotted owls for space, food and habitat.

This research indicated that since monitoring began spotted owl populations declined 55-77 percent in Washington, 31-68 percent in Oregon and 32-55 percent in California. In addition, population declines are now occurring on study areas in southern Oregon and northern California that were previously experiencing little to no detectable decline through 2009.

Dr. Katie Dugger, a research biologist at the USGS Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Oregon State University and lead author on the report, said that “This study provides strong evidence that barred owls are negatively affecting spotted owl populations. The presence of barred owls was associated with decreasing spotted owl survival rates in some study areas and spotted owls were disappearing from many of their historical breeding territories as those areas were invaded by barred owls.”

The exception was a small area in California where barred owl removals began in 2009, and where long-term population declines were only 9 percent. Spotted owl populations and survival rates have increased on the latter area since the removal of barred owls started. However, further research on barred owl removal is required in other parts of the spotted owl’s range -- especially in Washington, where barred owl numbers have been high for a long time. 

Additionally, said Dugger, "The amount of suitable habitat required by spotted owls for nesting and roosting is important because spotted owl survival, colonization of empty territories, and number of young produced tends to be higher in areas with larger amounts of suitable habitat, at least on some study areas." 

Relationships between spotted owl populations and climate was complex and variable, but rangewide, the study results suggested that survival of  young spotted owls and their ability to become part of the breeding population increased when winters were drier. This may become a factor in population numbers in the future, given climate change predictions for the Pacific Northwest include warmer, wetter winters.  

The collaborative team of 37 researchers analyzed data from 11 study areas that represented 9 percent of the spotted owl range. During the study, field crews monitored how many owls inhabited different territories, and the yearly survival and reproductive success of banded spotted owls. “This type of collaborative research focused on specific management and conservation objectives provides important information for resource managers and policy decision-makers who manage public resources,” said Eric Forsman, a coauthor on the study at the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.

The paper, “The effects of habitat, climate and barred owls on long-term demography of northern spotted owls,” was published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications and authored by Katie M. Dugger, USGS, Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Oregon State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife; Eric D. Forsman, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station; Alan B. Franklin, USDA APHIS National Wildlife Research Center; Raymond Davis, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region, and 33 others.

Although they do occur in young forests in some areas, northern spotted owls are strongly associated with old forest in most of their range. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern spotted owl as threatened in 1990 because of the declines in old-growth forest habitat throughout its range in Washington, Oregon and northern California. 

 

 

Rapid Algal Bloom Predictions are Possible for Ohio Lakes

USGS Newsroom Technical - Thu, 12/10/2015 - 12:30
Summary: Rapid predictions of harmful algal blooms, or large growths of toxin-producing bacteria in water, can help prevent recreationalists from getting sick at Ohio lakes, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report

Contact Information:

Donna Francy ( Phone: 614-430-7769 ); Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-202-4765 );



Rapid predictions of harmful algal blooms, or large growths of toxin-producing bacteria in water, can help prevent recreationalists from getting sick at Ohio lakes, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report.

Scientists with the USGS and partners made real-time water-quality and environmental measurements at seven recreational areas in Ohio during 2013‒2014. Their goal was to identify factors that could be used in models to quickly predict microcystin levels and provide advisories to swimmers and boaters. Microcystin is the most commonly detected toxin found in freshwater algal blooms. Models are used successfully at Lake Erie beaches as part of the Ohio Nowcast for predicting E. coli concentrations, but have not been tested for algal bloom predictions.

“Algal bloom toxins in water are currently measured in the laboratory, and results take time,” said Donna Francy, the lead USGS scientist for the study. “Utilizing nowcasts to determine when and where a bloom may occur in real-time can better protect people like swimmers and boaters that use and consume water resources.”

These toxic blooms, which sometimes turn water a green or a blue-green color, can be irritating to skin and may affect the human liver and nervous system if consumed. The bacteria that cause algal blooms are cyanobacteria. A cyanobacterial harmful algal bloom, or cyanoHAB, occurs when water conditions like excess nutrients, sunlight, warm temperatures and water levels favor growth of toxin-producing cyanobacteria over other aquatic organisms.  

The scientists collected data and analyzed the results to determine that cyanoHAB nowcasts are feasible in Ohio. Study sites included Ohio State Park beaches at Buckeye Lake, Buck Creek, Deer Creek, East Fork Lake and Maumee Bay State Park; a boater/swim area at Buckeye Lake; and two locally operated beaches in Port Clinton and Bay View. 

“The Ohio Nowcast system for E. coli, operating since 2006, is similar to a weather forecast except that current water-quality conditions instead of future conditions are estimated,” said Francy. “Since a nowcast has worked for E. coli, we decided to try to develop one for cyanoHABs and their associated toxins.”   

The scientists collected weekly to monthly data for two recreational seasons and identified factors that could be used to predict microcystin concentrations at a variety of freshwater sites. Measurements of a pigment called phycocyanin, water clarity, water pH, streamflow from a nearby river and lake level changes over 24 hours were among the best factors to estimate microcystin levels in real-time. Future studies will focus on collecting more frequent data to develop site-specific models to use in cyanoHAB nowcasts. 

A full list of cooperators on the Ohio cyanoHAB nowcast project is available in the USGS report

For more information on water-quality research in Ohio, visit the USGS Ohio Water Science Center website.

New Tool Can Determine the Sources of Mercury Found in the Great Lakes

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 12/10/2015 - 10:00
Summary: For the first time, land and resource managers in the Great Lakes will be able to distinguish between the various sources of mercury in the environment, a toxic chemical of significant concern in the region

Contact Information:

David  Krabbenhoft ( Phone: 608-821-3843 ); Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 );



For the first time, land and resource managers in the Great Lakes will be able to distinguish between the various sources of mercury in the environment, a toxic chemical of significant concern in the region. This is thanks to a new tool that “fingerprints” the mercury, developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

For Lakes Superior and Huron, atmospheric mercury is the dominant form, while in Lakes Erie and Ontario, most mercury comes from industrial activity or runoff from the watersheds of the lakes. Lake Michigan is dominated in some areas by atmospheric mercury, in other areas by industrial activity and in still others by watershed contributions.

A map showing the relative concentrations of mercury sources as identified by the fingerprinting tool. (High resolution image)

“I’ve been involved in mercury research for nearly 28 years,” said USGS scientist Dave Krabbenhoft, the project chief. “Back in the 1980’s, when I first got into this area of research, I dreamed of a tool that could provide geochemical markers of mercury sources.  That dream has now become reality.”

Determining where the mercury comes from is important, because it informs decisions designed to minimize it.  For example, minimizing industrial sources of mercury alone will not be effective if the majority of mercury entering the Great Lakes is from atmospheric mercury.

“One of the surprising things we saw was just how much of the mercury building up in fish was due to atmospheric mercury,” said Krabbenhoft. “This shows that atmospheric mercury needs to be emphasized, even when the sediments in the Lakes show relatively little atmospheric mercury accumulation.”

Although this fingerprinting tool was pioneered for the Great Lakes, it can be applied elsewhere. A very common situation across the United States and elsewhere is the presence of large amounts of mercury that was released during industrialization, so-called legacy mercury. At these sites, resource managers often lack a tool to help them understand whether it is legacy or other sources that substantively contribute to exposures in fish, wildlife and humans today.

“We are very excited to explore the capability of this new tool to inform resource managers and decision makers responsible for managing these challenging situations,” said Krabbenhoft.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element that can have toxic effects on people’s brains, kidneys and lungs. In certain environments, it can also bind with carbon and hydrogen to become methylmercury, which is far more toxic than elemental mercury. In addition, methylmercury can build up in the tissues of fish and other aquatic organisms, resulting in higher doses when people or other animals eat them.

More information about this new tool can be found online. USGS provides information on mercury sources; mercury cycling in the atmosphere, land surface, lakes, streams and oceans; and bioaccumulation and toxicity of mercury. This information helps land and resource managers understand and reduce mercury hazards to people and wildlife.

Restoration Handbook for Sagebrush Steppe Ecosystems, Part 2

USGS Newsroom Technical - Mon, 12/07/2015 - 12:00
Summary: Ecosystem restoration is complex and requires an understanding of how the land, plants, and animals all interact with each other over large areas and over time Landscape Level Restoration Decisions

Contact Information:

Susan Kemp ( Phone: 541-750-1047 ); Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-328-4046 );



CORVALLIS, Ore. — Ecosystem restoration is complex and requires an understanding of how the land, plants, and animals all interact with each other over large areas and over time. Today, the U.S. Geological Survey published part two of a three-part handbook addressing restoration of sagebrush ecosystems from the landscape to the site level.

“Land managers do not have resources to restore all locations because of the extent of the restoration needed and are challenged to meet multiple management objectives, including restoring habitat for wildlife,” said David Pyke, USGS ecologist and lead author of the new USGS Circular. “Focusing restoration efforts on enhancing goals of a functioning landscape is necessary to gain the greatest benefit for sagebrush-steppe ecosystems.”

Part two of the handbook introduces habitat managers and restoration practitioners to a landscape restoration decision tool to assist them in determining landscape objectives, identifying and prioritizing landscape areas where sites for restoration projects might be located, and ultimately selecting restoration sites guided by criteria used to define the landscape objectives.

The tool is structured in five sections, addressed sequentially. Each section has related questions or statements to assist the user in addressing the primary question or statement:

  • Am I dealing with landscape-related restoration issues?
  • What are regional or landscape objectives for restoration?
  • Where are priority landscapes and sites within landscapes for restoration?
  • Prioritize landscapes using a resilience and resistance matrix
  • Monitor and report information on your measurable landscape objectives

“Most restoration projects are conducted at the site or local level,” said Pyke. “But where restoration projects occur influences whether benefits from those projects can be seen at a landscape level. This is especially important for species, such as the greater sage-grouse, whose home range can extend beyond the boundaries of an individual restoration site.”

Pyke noted that greater sage-grouse and sagebrush-steppe habitat is used in the handbook only as an example of landscape restoration. The process presented by this series can be modified and used for other landscape-related restoration issues as well.

Part one of the handbook introduced basic concepts about sagebrush ecosystems, landscape ecology and restoration ecology. Part two helps guide selection of potential sites for restoration from a landscape perspective. Part three will help guide restoration decisions at a selected site.

The handbook was funded by the U.S. Joint Fire Science Program and National Interagency Fire Center, Bureau of Land Management, Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative, USGS and Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, with authors from the USGS, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon State University, Utah State University and Brigham Young University.

Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces in western North America.  Implementation of effective management actions for the benefit of sage-grouse continues to be a focus of Department of the Interior agencies following the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the species is not warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act. 

Estimates of Potential Uranium in South Texas Could Equal Five Years of U.S. Needs

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 12/02/2015 - 13:00
Summary: The potential for almost five years of annual domestic U.S. nuclear fuel requirements may exist in south Texas, according to a new USGS assessment of both identified and undiscovered uranium oxide resources

Contact Information:

Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 ); Susan Hall ( Phone: 303-236-1656 ); Mark Mihalasky ( Phone: 509-368-3118 );



A map of the assessed area in Texas. (High resolution image)

DENVER, CO. — The potential for almost five years of annual domestic U.S. nuclear fuel requirements may exist in south Texas, according to a new USGS assessment of both identified and undiscovered uranium oxide resources. This assessment estimates 60 million pounds of identified, but unmined, uranium resources, and more than 200 million pounds of newly estimated undiscovered resources.

The uranium oxide is located in sandstone formations throughout the South Texas Coastal Plain, which borders the Gulf of Mexico. The area has long been known to contain uranium, and two mines are currently in operation, with a number of companies actively exploring for uranium.

“As the world’s leader in nuclear power, uranium is both a critically and strategically important resource,” said Larry Meinert, program coordinator of the USGS Mineral Resources Program. “Identifying and understanding our domestic mineral wealth is a vital part of ensuring the security of our supply chain for these resources.”

The 60 million pounds of identified uranium resources could, if mined, provide up to one year’s worth of domestic nuclear fuel requirements, based on 2014 requirements. The 200 million pounds of undiscovered resources could, if proven and produced, add another four years of nuclear fuel for the United States, bringing the total potential to about five years of domestic supply.

U.S. nuclear power plants generate about 19 percent of the Nation’s electricity. In 2014 alone, these plants purchased 53 million pounds of uranium oxide to meet their needs, and U.S. nuclear capacity is expected to increase.

The United States has more nuclear plants than any other country, but imports more than 90 percent of the uranium used in those plants.

“This study highlights the breadth of USGS science related to complex issues associated with the mineral and energy resources lifecycle,” said Jon Kolak, acting program coordinator for the USGS Energy Resources Program.  “The USGS provides impartial information to help resource managers, policymakers, the public, and others balance the need for adequate and reliable mineral and energy supplies against the potential effects of resource development and use on the landscape.” 

This new study is part of a larger USGS effort to update knowledge of the geologic setting, occurrence, and amount of the Nation’s uranium resources. 

The USGS collaborated with the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology on the South Texas assessment. Nuclear power requirements and electricity production are tabulated by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

A fact sheet describing this assessment is online.  The USGS provides both energy resource assessments and mineral resource assessments. To stay up to date on all of our energy and mineral resources research, follow us here:

New Remote Sensing Handbook Published

USGS Newsroom Technical - Tue, 12/01/2015 - 12:20
Summary: A newly published, three-volume “Remote Sensing Handbook” is a comprehensive coverage of all remote sensing topics written by over 300 leading global experts.

Contact Information:

Prasad Thenkabail ( Phone: 928-556-7221 ); Leslie  Gordon ( Phone: 650-329-4006 );



A newly published, three-volume “Remote Sensing Handbook” is a comprehensive coverage of all remote sensing topics written by over 300 leading global experts. With 82 chapters, and more than 2000 pages, the handbook is a reference for every remote sensing student, professor, scientist, professional practitioner and expert. The technical handbook includes up-to-date examples of successful projects and case studies, and explains in detail, state-of-the-art space-borne, air-borne and ground-based remote-sensing systems.

The “Remote Sensing Handbook” was edited by Dr. Prasad S. Thenkabail of the U.S. Geological Survey. Thenkabail, an international expert in remote sensing and Geographic Information Systems, described the handbook as, “a complete knowledge base about the evolution and history of remote-sensing science over last 50 years, the current state-of-the-art of its science and technology, and a future vision for the field.”

Volume one of the Remote Sensing Handbook, “Remotely Sensed Data Characterization, Classification, and Accuracies” describes the utility, methods and models used in analyzing a wide array of remotely-sensed data from a wide array of space-borne to ground-based platforms, and discusses various applications in depth. Leading experts on global geographic coverage, study areas, and various satellites and sensors contributed to this handbook.

Volume two of the Handbook, “Land Resources Monitoring, Modeling, and Mapping with Remote Sensing” provides a comprehensive theoretical and practical coverage of remote sensing applied to land resources, including vegetation and biomass, croplands, rangelands, phenology and food security, forests, biodiversity, ecology, habitats, land use/land cover, carbon, and soils.

Volume three, “Remote Sensing of Water Resources, Disasters, and Urban Studies” is an extensive and comprehensive coverage of myriad topics pertaining to water resources, disasters, and urban areas such as hydrology, water resources, water use, water productivity, floods, wetlands, snow and ice, nightlights, geomorphology, droughts and drylands, disasters, volcanoes, fire, and smart cities.

The three-volume Remote Sensing Handbook is available from the publisher or your local bookseller.

USGS Projects Large Loss of Alaska Permafrost by 2100

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 11/30/2015 - 13:35
Summary: Using statistically modeled maps drawn from satellite data and other sources, U.S. Geological Survey scientists have projected that the near-surface permafrost that presently underlies 38 percent of boreal and arctic Alaska would be reduced by 16 to 24 percent by the end of the 21st century under widely accepted climate scenarios

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Bruce  Wylie ( Phone: 605-594-6078 );



Using statistically modeled maps drawn from satellite data and other sources, U.S. Geological Survey scientists have projected that the near-surface permafrost that presently underlies 38 percent of boreal and arctic Alaska would be reduced by 16 to 24 percent by the end of the 21st century under widely accepted climate scenarios. Permafrost declines are more likely in central Alaska than northern Alaska. 

Northern latitude tundra and boreal forests are experiencing an accelerated warming trend that is greater than in other parts of the world.  This warming trend degrades permafrost, defined as ground that stays below freezing for at least two consecutive years. Some of the adverse impacts of melting permafrost are changing pathways of ground and surface water, interruptions of regional transportation, and the release to the atmosphere of previously stored carbon. 

“A warming climate is affecting the Arctic in the most complex ways,” said Virginia Burkett, USGS Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change. “Understanding the current distribution of permafrost and estimating where it is likely to disappear are key factors in predicting the future responses of northern ecosystems to climate change.” 

In addition to developing maps of near-surface permafrost distributions, the researchers developed maps of maximum thaw depth, or active-layer depth, and provided uncertainty estimates.  Future permafrost distribution probabilities, based on future climate scenarios produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), were also estimated by the USGS scientists.  Widely used IPCC climate scenarios anticipate varied levels of climate mitigation action by the global community. 

These future projections of permafrost distribution, however, did not include other possible future disturbances in the future, such as wildland fires. In general, the results support concerns about permafrost carbon becoming available to decomposition and greenhouse gas emission. 

The research has been published in Remote Sensing of Environment.  The current near-surface permafrost map is available via ScienceBase.

Current probability of near-surface permafrost in Alaska. Future scenarios. (High resolution image)

Piping Plovers Losing Breeding Habitat to Wetland Drainage

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 11/19/2015 - 11:30
Summary: Piping plovers, a federally threatened species of shorebirds, are likely losing wetland breeding habitat in the Great Plains as a result of wetland drainage, climate change or both, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study

Contact Information:

Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-202-4765 );



Piping plovers, a federally threatened species of shorebirds, are likely losing wetland breeding habitat in the Great Plains as a result of wetland drainage, climate change or both, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study.

“Our findings suggest that if drainage continues, there will be continued declines in the amount of breeding habitat for piping plovers at wetlands in the Great Plains,” said Lisa McCauley, who led the study as a USGS postdoctoral student and currently works at The Nature Conservancy. “Managers can use information from our study to better restore and conserve valuable wetland ecosystems for the protection of this species.”

The USGS scientists analyzed piping plover survey data from 1979 to 2011 for 32 wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota. They found that consolidation drainage, or the drainage of smaller wetlands into another wetland—typically for agricultural purposes—results in fewer and fuller wetlands with less shoreline nesting space for piping plovers.

According to the study, the probability of plover presence was 99.6 percent greater for wetlands located in undrained watersheds when compared to wetlands where 10 percent of the watershed was drained.

Piping plovers breed on wetland or reservoir shorelines and river sandbars in the northern Great Plains of the United States and Canada. Climate varies across this area, so when river or reservoir shorelines are flooded, unflooded prairie wetlands can provide habitat and vice versa. Consolidation drainage contributes to habitat loss for plovers by making wetlands fuller and shorelines smaller.

Like consolidation drainage, the fate of plover habitat is also tied to potential changes in climate. If precipitation increases in this region, the amount of wetland habitat for plovers could continue to decline. 

“High and stable water levels resulting from consolidation drainage threaten biodiversity, wildlife habitat and flood storage in the northern Great Plains,” said Michael Anteau, a USGS scientist and team leader for the project. “This work on a federally listed species provides managers with a more complete view of ecosystem services affected by consolidation drainage.”

For more information on USGS ecosystems research in the Prairie Pothole Region, please visit the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center website.

 

US Topo Maps Reach Milestone

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 11/19/2015 - 09:30
Summary: With the release of new US Topo maps for Illinois and South Dakota, the USGS has completed the second, three-year cycle of revising and updating electronic US Topo quadrangles. This means that since late 2009, the USGS has published nearly every map in the conterminous U.S., twice Updated Illinois and South Dakota maps completes second National Map revision cycle

Contact Information:

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



With the release of new US Topo maps for Illinois and South Dakota, the USGS has completed the second, three-year cycle of revising and updating electronic US Topo quadrangles. This means that since late 2009, the USGS has published nearly every map in the conterminous U.S., twice.

“The USGS and NGP are proud of our history and legacy of topographic mapping in the US,” said Mike Tischler, director of the USGS National Geospatial Program. “This latest cycle of US Topo production is a testament to the professionalism and capability of our staff and keeps that legacy alive. We've revised more than 110,000 maps in the last six years to include higher quality data across the country, and have been able to deliver those maps in an easy to use format to suit the diverse needs of our users. While reaching the end of the second-cycle is an important achievement, we look forward to the next cycle of US Topo production, and investigating emerging technologies to better serve the needs of the country.”

In the past 12 months, the production staff of the NGP has updated, revised and loaded 18,767 US Topo quads covering 18 states. That equates to the assembly, inspection and loading of nearly 75 maps per working day. Additionally, the staff created more than 635 new 1:24,000 scale maps for Alaska, as part of the Alaska Mapping Initiative. All of the new US Topo maps are digital and offered for free download, as the USGS no longer prints topographic maps using traditional printing technologies.

Other improvements to the state maps in the second-cycle include the inclusion of National Scenic Trails, “crowdsourced” trail data from the International Mountain Bike Association, increased parcel land data (PLSS), and most recently, trail data from the U.S. Forest Service.

The complete new map sets for Illinois and South Dakota join Maine, Alabama, Arizona, Nebraska, Nevada, Missouri, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Wyoming, and Florida  as revised states for fiscal year 2015.

All of these new US Topo maps replace the first edition US Topo maps and are available for no-cost file download from The National Map, the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website , and several other USGS applications.

The first three-year production cycle ended in September 2012, and the second cycle ended in September 2015.

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.

Find more information on US Topo maps online.

This graphic represents the planned US Topo map production schedule for the next three- year revision cycle. The US Topo project repackages data from national GIS (geographic Information system) databases as traditional maps, primarily for the benefit of non-GIS users. Unlike traditional topographic maps, US Topo maps are mass-produced from secondary sources, on a programmed refresh cycle, using the best available data at the time of production. (high resolution image 1.96 MB) As a result of the inclusion of selected National Scenic Trail data on the US Topo maps, 13 state map series now feature National Scenic Trails, and more will be added in the coming months. These trails have been established by Congress 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 63.6 KB)

Estimates of Undiscovered Copper in Middle East Ten Times Current World Production

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 11/18/2015 - 10:00
Summary: More than 180 million metric tons of undiscovered copper resources may be found in an area of the Middle East that covers Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, western Pakistan and southwestern Afghanistan, according to a recent assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey

Contact Information:

Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 ); Jane Hammarstrom ( Phone: 703-648-6165 );



More than 180 million metric tons of undiscovered copper resources may be found in an area of the Middle East that covers Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, western Pakistan and southwestern Afghanistan, according to a recent assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey. This estimate is ten times the current annual world production for copper.

This region, the site of the ancient Tethys Sea, has a long history of mining copper, producing 420,000 metric tons in 2011 alone.  

“In an area known more for its oil, there’s a bounty of a mineral both critically and strategically important to the world’s economy,” said Larry Meinert, Program Coordinator of the USGS Mineral Resources Program. “Copper plays a vital role in all parts of our lives, from our coinage to musical instruments to our high-end electronics.”

This copper assessment is a synthesis of available information about where copper mineral deposits are known and suspected in the Earth’s crust and estimates of amounts of copper that may be present in undiscovered deposits. This assessment is part of a broader effort at assessing global mineral resources. Global totals of copper are estimated to be about 3,600 million metric tons of undiscovered resources.  

Copper is an important resource in the United States. In 2014, the United States consumed about 1.8 million metric tons of copper, while global consumption tallied about 20 million metric tons.

The United States currently has about 35 million metric tons of copper reserves, with an estimated 550 million metric tons in estimated undiscovered resources. The country with the largest reserves is Chile, with 209 million metric tons of reserves in 2014.

Copper plays a significant role in many parts of the U.S. economy. Its more common uses are in power generation and transmission, as well as electronics, such as smartphones. It’s also prominent in automobiles, with the average car containing nearly a mile of copper wiring.  

Some of copper’s less-known but still important roles are its use in frequently touched surfaces (such as brass doorknobs), where copper’s antimicrobial properties reduce the transfer of germs and disease.  It’s also used quite extensively in alloys with other metals, such as the brass in musical instruments or the copper-nickel alloy used to prevent barnacles from attaching to ship hulls.  

This assessment can be found online. The USGS Mineral Resources Program delivers unbiased science and information to understand mineral resource potential, production, consumption, and how minerals interact with the environment. To keep up-to-date on USGS mineral research, follow us on Twitter!

A map of the area covered in the assessment. Figure Credit: USGS (High resolution image)

Collect Points - Get The Patch

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 11/18/2015 - 09:00
Summary: Using crowdsourcing techniques, the USGS project known as The National Map Corps (TNMCorps) encourages volunteer “citizen scientists” to collect manmade structure data such as police stations, schools, hospitals and cemeteries, in an effort to provide more precise and authoritative spatial data for the USGS web-based mapping portal known as The National Map The USGS National Map Corps will award special edition patches for volunteers contributing 2,016 points between GIS Day 2015 and GIS Day 2016

Contact Information:

Elizabeth McCartney ( Phone: 573-308-3696 ); Mark Newell ( Phone: 573-308-3850 );



The image shows one of many possible badge designs. The final design will be selected in the coming months.(High resolution image)

Using crowdsourcing techniques, the USGS project known as The National Map Corps (TNMCorps) encourages volunteer “citizen scientists” to collect manmade structure data such as police stations, schools, hospitals and cemeteries, in an effort to provide more precise and authoritative spatial data for the USGS web-based mapping portal known as The National Map.

In celebration of these common passions and in honor of GIS Day and International Map Year, TNMCorps is encouraging volunteers to edit 2,016 features between GIS Day 2015 and GIS Day 2016. Each of those submitted edits are worth a point. Volunteers who contribute 2,016 edits and thus earning 2,016 points between November 18, 2015 and November 16, 2016 will be awarded with a special edition collectable embroidered patch.

“We’re excited about this ambitious challenge to our current and new National Map Corps members,” said Julia Fields, Deputy Director of the USGS National Geospatial Program, “and we are looking forward to seeing the patches on backpacks and jackets!”

Volunteer map editors are a fundamental component of TNMCorps and are critical to the success of the project. The project started in 2012, and since that time, an increasing number of volunteers have verified, edited, deleted, and created more than 160,000 structures points. 

Volunteering for TNMCorps is a great way for folks to get involved in building maps for their communities and the nation. Volunteers not only increase their geographic knowledge through the process, they make a significant contribution to the nation’s wealth of publicly available geographic information. TNMCorps volunteers are some of the many individuals who share a passion for geography, cartography and collaborative mapping initiatives.

"Having a patch to display my contribution to The National Map would be the perfect incentive for me to reach 2,016 submissions,” said Mattson Fields, a volunteer patch designer. “What a great way to break the ice and introduce The National Map Corps to friends and acquaintances."

All you need is access to the internet and willingness to learn. If you are interested in becoming a Volunteer Map Editor and/or participating in this initiative, please visit The National Map Corps for more information.

Follow progress and updates at The National Map Twitter #TNMCorps, @gisday, @mapyear

Cause of Deadly Disease in Snakes Identified

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 11/17/2015 - 10:00
Summary: The fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola is the definitive cause of the skin infections in snakes known as snake fungal disease, or SFD, according to U.S. Geological Survey research published today in the journal mBio

Contact Information:

Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-526-6694 ); Gail  Moede Rogall ( Phone: 608-270-2438 );



The fungus Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola is the definitive cause of the skin infections in snakes known as snake fungal disease, or SFD, according to U.S. Geological Survey research published today in the journal mBio

Wild snakes are valuable because they consume pests that damage agricultural crops, prey on rodents that can carry disease and serve as food for many predatory animals. However, some snake populations in the midwestern and eastern United States have declined since 2006 as a result of SFD, which produces thickened skin, ulcers and blisters. New USGS research provides the first direct evidence that O. ophiodiicola causes SFD, documents how the disease progresses and reveals how snakes respond to the infection.

“The loss of certain snake species in eastern North America could have widespread negative impacts on ecosystems,” said Jeffrey Lorch, a USGS National Wildlife Health Center scientist and the lead author of the study. “Pinpointing the SFD-causing fungus can help conserve snake populations threatened by this disease.”

The scientists infected eight healthy captive-bred corn snakes with O. ophiodiicola in the laboratory. Within days after exposure to the fungus, all snakes developed swelling followed by lesions identical to those observed in wild snakes with SFD. These lesions contained the same fungus to which the animals were exposed. Snakes that were not infected in the laboratory did not develop lesions and did not harbor O. ophiodiicola.

Most snakes responded to the fungus by repeatedly molting 15 to 20 days after exposure, but the disease caused potentially lethal behaviors that could increase their risk for predation or starvation in the wild. For example, infected snakes rested in exposed areas of their cages and some snakes were reluctant to eat. The uninfected snakes acted normally.

“These behaviors are uncharacteristic of healthy snakes and demonstrate how SFD can put snakes at risk in the wild,” Lorch said. “Climate change could promote growth of O. ophidiodiicola and hinder recovery from SFD because snake immunity is highly dependent on environmental conditions.”

O. ophiodiicola has consistently been found on snakes with SFD, but this new study is the first to prove that the fungus is the actual cause of the disease. The USGS has confirmed SFD in at least seven species of snakes in nine states: Illinois, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

For more information on SFD, please visit the USGS National Wildlife Health Center website.

USGS Seeks National Ground-Water Monitoring Network Proposals

USGS Newsroom Technical - Mon, 11/16/2015 - 10:34
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey will award up to $2 million in cooperative agreements to support participation in the National Ground-Water Monitoring Network (NGWMN) in 2016.&nbsp

Contact Information:

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



The U.S. Geological Survey will award up to $2 million in cooperative agreements to support participation in the National Ground-Water Monitoring Network (NGWMN) in 2016. 

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

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

Interested agencies may apply online at GRANTS.GOV under funding opportunity number G16AS00008. Applications will be accepted from November 16, 2015 through January 19, 2016. 

Two webinars are scheduled to review the application package and answer any question about the opportunity. These are scheduled for December 1st at 2 pm EST and December 8th at 1 pm EST. Registration for the webinars is required. After your registration is accepted, you will receive meeting information. You may register for the webinars at:

December 1st
https://usgs.webex.com/usgs/j.php?RGID=r3e8551da16b8fd2f966ca1fab6e577bb

December 8th
https://usgs.webex.com/usgs/j.php?RGID=re7d637eb23fa127b87846fcc85ccca9d

 

Understanding how Pharmaceuticals in the Environment Affect Fish

USGS Newsroom Technical - Fri, 11/13/2015 - 12:29
Summary: Fish health may be affected by pharmaceuticals in treated wastewater released into streams and other water bodies, according to a recent laboratory and field study by the Aquatic Toxicology Laboratory at St. Cloud State University and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Results Show Impacts to both Juveniles and Adults

Contact Information:

Heiko  Schoenfuss, SCSU ( Phone: 320-308-3130 ); Dana  Kolpin, USGS ( Phone: 319-358-3614 );



Fish health may be affected by pharmaceuticals in treated wastewater released into streams and other water bodies, according to a recent laboratory and field study by the Aquatic Toxicology Laboratory at St. Cloud State University and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). This research is published in a special edition of Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry related to pharmaceuticals in the environment.

This study looked for effects from nine individual pharmaceuticals, as well as varying mixtures of these chemicals, on both juvenile and adult fathead minnows. The selected pharmaceuticals and corresponding exposure levels for the laboratory experiments were guided by previous USGS research.

”Exploring the effects of multiple pharmaceuticals in mixtures at concentrations previous measured in the environment provided for immediate relevance of the study,” said St. Cloud State University scientist Heiko Schoenfuss, the lead author of the study. “The pharmaceuticals studied are highly prescribed and have been found in the environment in previous studies, including by our USGS co-authors.”

Prior USGS research has also documented the release of pharmaceuticals is greater in areas where local sources of pharmaceuticals, such as medicinal manufacturers, may contribute a disproportionately larger amount of pharmaceuticals to wastewater treatment plants. In addition, one of the wastewater treatment plants receiving waste from pharmaceutical manufacturing was also used for the field component of this research.

Fathead minnows were used as they are a common laboratory model for studies of this kind and are also an ecologically important species that can be found throughout North America. The minnows were exposed to both individual pharmaceuticals and mixtures of these chemicals in a laboratory setting as well as to treated wastewater at a wastewater treatment plant to represent a real world setting.

“Including the field exposures was an important part of this study,” said USGS scientist Dana Kolpin, one of the study’s co-authors. “Our research documented that effects observed in the field are not always easily reconciled by laboratory studies because of the full complexity of real-world conditions. Because of this, it’s crucial to include a wide variety of conditions and organism life stages when assessing the effects of pharmaceuticals on aquatic ecosystem health.”

A comprehensive suite of symptoms of adverse health effects across minnow life stages were assessed for this study. Juvenile fathead minnows exposed to the pharmaceuticals suffered from reduced growth and altered escape behavior. This means that, when faced with a threat, the minnows did not escape as efficiently as they normally would, potentially increasing the chances they would be eaten and that could ultimately translate to population level effects.

Interestingly, adult females and males were found to react differently to pharmaceutical exposures. Adult females generally experienced an increase in relative liver size compared to control females, suggesting that the liver is reacting to the influx of pharmaceuticals.

Meanwhile, adult males exposed to the pharmaceuticals had a variety of reactions. Most did not defend their nests as rigorously as those that were not exposed to the pharmaceuticals. The males exposed to wastewater treatment plant effluent in the field component of this research ended up producing a chemical known as plasma vitellogenin, a protein associated with egg production in females and is an indicator of feminization of male fish.

The following pharmaceutical chemicals were studied:

  1. Hydrocodone: an opioid pain reliever
  2. Methadone: an opioid pain reliever
  3. Oxycodone: an opioid pain reliever
  4. Tramadol: an opioid agonist pain reliever
  5. Methocarbamol: a muscle relaxant
  6. Fluoxetine: an antidepressant
  7. Paroxetine: an antidepressant
  8. Venlafaxine: an antidepressant
  9. Temazepam: a sleep aid

The paper describing the results of this study in detail can be found in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, and is part of a long-term effort to understand the fate and effects of contaminants of emerging concern and to provide water-resource managers with objective information that assists in the development of effective water management practices.

To learn more about the study, please see our science feature. To learn more about USGS environmental health science, please visit the USGS Environmental Health website and sign up for our GeoHealth Newsletter.

Storage and Treatment of Liquid Waste from Landfills DoesnÂ’t Remove All Contaminants, Including Pharmaceuticals

USGS Newsroom Technical - Thu, 11/12/2015 - 18:17
Summary: New research from the U.S. Geological Survey details that even after the storage and/or treatment of leachate – liquid waste that moves through or drains from a landfill − it can still contain a multitude of chemicals and reflects the diverse nature of residential, industrial, and commercial waste discarded into landfills in the United States

Contact Information:

Heidi Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Dana Kolpin ( Phone: 319-358-3614 );



Examples of treated and stored liquid waste samples collected for this study. An onsite landfill leachate storage lagoon. (high resolution image)

Manhole access as leachate leaves a landfill and enters a sewer that pipes leachate to a wastewater treatment plant. (high resolution image)

New research from the U.S. Geological Survey details that even after the storage and/or treatment of leachate – liquid waste that moves through or drains from a landfill − it can still contain a multitude of chemicals and reflects the diverse nature of residential, industrial, and commercial waste discarded into landfills in the United States.

The paper, authored by USGS scientist Jason Masoner and colleagues, appears in the latest edition of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and confirms what goes into landfills via human disposal isn’t necessarily trash’s final resting place.

This national-scale study collected and analyzed treated and stored liquid waste samples from 22 landfills across the United States looking for 190 contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) including pharmaceuticals, hormones, household products, and industrial chemicals and follows a previously published USGS landfill study that assessed leachate prior to any storage and/or treatment (i.e. untreated liquid waste).

"The importance of moving our landfill research from examining untreated liquid waste to treated and stored liquid waste is that the treated product provides a much better understanding of chemical concentrations that are actually being put into the environment by landfills," said Masoner. "Such input pathways include discharge to streams, seepage into groundwater, diversion to wastewater treatment plants, and even onsite spraying or irrigation."

Treated and stored liquid waste samples contained 101 of the 190 CECs analyzed for this study, with such CECs being found in every leachate sample collected with as many as 58 chemicals detected in a single sample. Observed concentrations ranged from as low as 2 parts per trillion (ng/L) for estrone (natural hormone) to as high as 17,200,000 ng/L for bisphenol A (chemical with a wide variety of uses such as in plastics and thermal paper).

A detailed comparison of CEC concentrations between landfills that were included in both USGS studies (i.e. untreated liquid waste versus treated and stored liquid waste) found that levels of CECs were significantly less in treated and stored liquid waste compared to untreated liquid waste samples. Nevertheless, treated and stored liquid waste still contained a complex mixture of CECs with the largest levels exceeding 1,000,000 ng/L.

"This research is the first step in understanding environmental exposures to contaminants originating from liquid wastes in landfills," said Mike Focazio, coordinator for the USGS Toxics Substances Hydrology Program.

Map showing states where final leachate was sampled from 22 landfills in 2011 and 2012.  (high resolution image)