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USGS Latest News

Updated Information on Cuba Mineral and Petroleum Resources Released

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 03/31/2015 - 10:40
Summary: Cuba is among the top 10 producers of cobalt and nickel and has significant other mineral and petroleum resources, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey publication

Contact Information:

Steven Fortier ( Phone: 703-648-4920 ); Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-352-3487 );



Cuba is among the top 10 producers of cobalt and nickel and has significant other mineral and petroleum resources, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey publication.

The report and accompanying map highlight the mineral resources available in Cuba, as well as detailing locations of petroleum exploration and development. The map also identifies mines, mineral processing facilities and petroleum facilities as well as information on location, operational status and ownership. It also addresses the current status of mineral industry projects, historical developments and trends of the Cuban economy with an emphasis on mineral industries and the supply of and demand for Cuba’s mineral resources.

“Cuba’s geology is complex, and the country has a variety of mineral commodity and energy resources,” said Steven Fortier, Director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center. “It is important that the public and industry have the latest information on the status of the mineral industry and the potential for natural resource development in Cuba.”

A few key points from the report are:

  • In 2013, Cuba was estimated to be among the world’s top ten producers of cobalt and nickel, which are the country’s leading exports
  • Cuba’s current crude oil and associated natural gas production from onshore and shallow water reservoirs is approximately 50,000 barrels per day of liquids and about 20,000 barrels per day oil equivalent of natural gas
  • In 2013, the value of mining and quarrying activities accounted for 0.6 percent of Cuba’s gross domestic product, compared with 1.4 percent in 2000
  • The value of production from Cuba’s industrial manufacturing sector increased by 88 percent between 1993 and 2013, whereas the sector’s share in the GDP decreased by 3 percent during the same period reflecting economic growth in other sectors of the economy

In 2004, the USGS released an assessment of the hydrocarbons of the North Cuba Basin and its three sub-basins. The total amount of undiscovered technically recoverable resources was estimated to be 9.8 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas, 4.6 billion barrels of crude oil, and 0.9 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. About 70 percent of this oil was estimated to be located no more than 50 to 80 kilometers (km) offshore along the length of the western and northern coasts of the island. To date, deepwater drilling has resulted in no commercially viable oil or gas discoveries. 

Industrial minerals and manufactured industrial mineral products produced in Cuba include ammonia and ammonia byproducts, bentonite, cement, feldspar, high-purity zeolite minerals, gypsum, kaolin (a type of clay), lime, high-grade limestone, marble, sand, sulfuric acid, steel and urea. In 2013, an estimated 4,500 metric tons of zeolites was exported to Europe and other Latin American countries and in 2014 the majority of the country’s ammonium nitrate was intended for export.

In 2014, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment announced 246 development projects for which it sought foreign investment. The petroleum sector offered the greatest number of prospective investment opportunities followed by the manufacturing and mining sectors. In the energy sector, the country is offering joint ventures in petroleum extraction from onshore and offshore blocks and foreign investment opportunities are being offered in biomass and solar energy production and hydroelectric power.

The report ‘Recent trends in Cuba’s mining and petroleum extraction industries’ FS 2015-3032 is available online.

USGS Seeks Proposals for Earthquake Science

USGS Newsroom Technical - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 13:17
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey expects to award up to $7 million in grants for earthquake hazards research in 2016 Applications due May 19, 2015

Contact Information:

Elizabeth Lemersal ( Phone: 703-648-6716 ); Jessica Robertson ( Phone: 703-648-6624 );



The U.S. Geological Survey expects to award up to $7 million in grants for earthquake hazards research in 2016.

“The USGS Earthquake Hazards Program annually provides grants to support research targeted toward improving our understanding of earthquake processes, hazards and risks,” said Bill Leith, USGS Senior Science Advisor for Earthquake and Geologic Hazards. “We seek cutting-edge proposals that will further our efforts to reduce losses from earthquakes, provide more accurate and timely earthquake information and forecasts and better inform the public about earthquake safety.”

Interested researchers can apply online at GRANTS.GOV under funding opportunity number G15AS00037. Applications are due May 19, 2015.

Every year the USGS awards earthquake research grants to universities, state geological surveys and private institutions. Past projects included:

  • trench investigations to better understand the size and age of large earthquakes between Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah;
  • the application of innovative techniques to map seismic hazards near the nation’s capital;
  • exploring the use of rapid and precise GPS recordings to improve earthquake early warning;
  • analysis of the potential for large earthquakes in the Gorgonio Pass, an area of complex faulting east of San Bernardino, California;
  • investigation of recent earthquake activity along major fault lines crossing southeast Alaska; and
  • studies to characterize and understand the causes of potentially induced earthquakes in California, Kansas, Wyoming, Texas, and Ohio.

complete list of funded projects and reports can be found on the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program external research support website.

New Report Indicates Potential for Five Times Known Copper Deposits Yet to Be Found in Central Asia

USGS Newsroom Technical - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 12:25
Summary: A new U.S. Geological Survey report covering major parts of the world’s largest mountain belt in central Asia estimates the existence of about five times as much copper in undiscovered deposits as has been identified to date

Contact Information:

Dave Frank ( Phone: 509-368-3107 ); Leslie  Gordon ( Phone: 650-329-4006
 );



SPOKANE, Wash. — A new U.S. Geological Survey report covering major parts of the world’s largest mountain belt in central Asia estimates the existence of about five times as much copper in undiscovered deposits as has been identified to date. These areas host 20 known porphyry copper deposits, including the world class Oyu Tolgoi deposit in Mongolia that was discovered in the late 1990s.

The results of this new assessment estimate the probability that there may be as many as 97 undiscovered porphyry copper deposits within the assessed permissive tracts, which would represent nearly five times the 20 known deposits. Grade and tonnage models predict estimated resources associated with undiscovered deposits as mean values of 370,000,000 metric tons of copper, 10,000 t of gold, 7,700,000 t of molybdenum, and 120,000 t of silver. These estimated mean tonnages are predictions based on comparisons to known deposits of similar type.

Copper was one of the first metals ever extracted and used by humans, and it has been one of the important materials in the development of civilization. Because of its properties, of high ductility, malleability, and thermal and electrical conductivity, and its resistance to corrosion, copper has become a major industrial metal, ranking third after iron and aluminum in terms of quantities consumed.

USGS scientists worked in collaboration with colleagues in the China Geological Survey, the Centre for Russian and Central Eurasian Mineral Studies, and the Russian Academy of Sciences to complete the assessment. Participants evaluated applicable grade and tonnage models and estimated numbers of undiscovered deposits at different confidence levels for each permissive tract. The estimates were then combined with the selected grade and tonnage models using Monte Carlo simulations to generate probabilistic estimates of undiscovered resources.  Additional resources in extensions of deposits with identified resources were not specifically evaluated.

The full report, USGS SIR 2010-5090-X, “Porphyry Copper Assessment of the Central Asian Orogenic Belt and eastern Tethysides— China, Mongolia, Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and India,” is available online and includes a summary of the data used in the assessment, a brief overview of the geologic framework of the area, descriptions of permissive tracts and known deposits, maps, and tables. A geographic information system database that accompanies this report includes the tract boundaries and known porphyry copper deposits, significant prospects, and prospects. Assessments of overlapping younger rocks and adjacent areas are included in separate reports, which are also available online.

Appalachian Basin Energy Resources -- A New Look at an Old Basin

USGS Newsroom Technical - Wed, 03/25/2015 - 10:00
Summary: Appalachian coal and petroleum resources are still available in sufficient quantities to contribute significantly to fulfilling the nation’s energy needs, according to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey New Geological Compilation Available for Resource Studies and Land-Use Planning

Contact Information:

Leslie  Ruppert ( Phone: 703-648-6431 ); Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 );



Appalachian coal and petroleum resources are still available in sufficient quantities to contribute significantly to fulfilling the nation’s energy needs, according to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Appalachian basin, which includes the Appalachian coalfields and the Marcellus Shale, covers parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

“The study we conducted is a modern, in-depth collection of reports, cross sections and maps that describe the geology of the Appalachian basin and its fossil fuel resources,” said USGS scientist Leslie Ruppert, the study’s lead editor.

Petroleum resources, including oil and natural gas, remain significant in the Appalachian basin. Although both conventional oil and gas continue to be produced in the Appalachian basin, most new wells in the region are drilled in shale reservoirs, such as the famous Marcellus and Utica Shale, to produce natural gas.

The Appalachian basin contains significant coalbed methane and high-quality, thick, bituminous coal resources although the resource is deeper and thinner than the coal that has already been mined.

Although this volume is not a quantitative assessment of all notable geologic and fossil fuel localities in the Appalachian basin, the selected study areas and topics presented in the chapters pertain to large segments of the basin and a wide range of stratigraphic intervals. This updated geologic framework is especially important given the significance of shale gas in the basin.

This volume discusses the locations of coal and petroleum accumulations, the stratigraphic and structural framework, and the geochemical characteristics of the coal beds and petroleum in the basin, as well as the results of recent USGS assessments of coal, oil and gas resources in the basin. 

Many of the maps and accompanying data supporting the reports in this volume are available from chapter I.1 as downloadable geographic information system (GIS) data files about the characteristics of selected coal beds and oil and gas fields, locations of oil and gas wells, coal production, coal chemistry, total petroleum system (TPS) boundaries and bedrock geology. Log ASCII Standard (LAS) files for geophysical (gamma ray) wireline well logs are included in other chapters. 

USGS is the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas and coal resources of onshore lands and offshore state waters. This study of the Appalachian basin will underpin energy resource assessments and may be found online. To find out more about USGS energy assessments and other energy research, please visit the USGS Energy Resources Program website, sign up for our Newsletter, and follow us on Twitter.

First Round of Lidar BAA Awards Released

USGS Newsroom Technical - Wed, 03/25/2015 - 09:30
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey National Geospatial Program is pleased to announce the first round of awards resulting from the USGS Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP), initially issued on July 18, 2014. (Solicitation Number: G14PS00574)

Contact Information:

Diane Eldridge ( Phone: 703-648-4521 ); Mark Newell ( Phone: 573-308-3850 );



The U.S. Geological Survey National Geospatial Program is pleased to announce the first round of awards resulting from the USGS Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP), initially issued on July 18, 2014. (Solicitation Number: G14PS00574).

The BAA is a publicly accessible process to develop partnerships for the collection of lidar and derived elevation data for 3DEP.  The primary goal of 3DEP is to systematically collect nationwide lidar coverage (ifsar in Alaska) over an 8-year period to provide more than $690 million annually in new benefits to government entities, the private sector and citizens.

3DEP presents a unique opportunity for collaboration between all levels of government to leverage the services and expertise of private sector mapping firms that acquire the data, and to create jobs now and in the future. The USGS, along with other federal, state, local and private agencies, is establishing the collection program to respond to the growing needs for high-quality, three-dimensional mapping data of the United States.

 “We are very excited about the high level interest in the BAA as demonstrated by the number and dollar value of the proposals we received,” said Kevin Gallagher, USGS Associate Director for Core Science Systems.

Current and accurate 3D elevation data are essential to help communities cope with natural hazards and disasters such as floods and landslides, support infrastructure, ensure agricultural success, strengthen environmental decision-making and bolster national security. Lidar, short for light detection and ranging, is a remote sensing detection system that works on the principle of radar, but uses light from a laser. Similarly, interferometric synthetic aperture radar (ifsar) is used to collect data over Alaska.

Federal funds to support this opportunity were provided by the USGS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The USGS is acting in a management role to facilitate planning and acquisition for the broader community, through the use of government contracts and partnership agreements.

The Fiscal Year 2015 Awards offered partnership funding to 29 proposals in 25 States and Territories. The FY15 body of work is expected to result in the influx of more than 95,000 square miles of public domain lidar point cloud data and derived elevation products into the 3DEP program.

More information about 3DEP including updates on current and future 3DEP partnership opportunities is available online.

Map depicts the proposed body of work for 3DEP in Fiscal Year 2015. The BAA awards will add more than 95,000 square miles of 3DEP quality lidar data to the national database. (high resolution image 98 MB)

Media Advisory: Public Invitation: What's the Status of Water in South Dakota?

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 14:15
Summary: Media and the public are invited to attend a free meeting and field trips about South Dakota water issues on April 15 and 16 in Rapid City

Contact Information:

Janet Carter ( Phone: 605-394-3215 ); Dan Driscoll ( Phone: 605-394-3211 );



Media and the public are invited to attend a free meeting and field trips about South Dakota water issues on April 15 and 16 in Rapid City.

The 13th annual Western South Dakota Hydrology Meeting is an opportunity for local reporters, scientists, students and community members to meet and exchange ideas, discuss issues and explore new science related to critical water resources in South Dakota. A poster session and evening social will follow oral presentations on Wednesday, April 15. 

Conference attendees may choose to participate in one of four free, optional field trips on Thursday, April 16. Please register for the conference by April 8 to participate in one of the following field trips: 

  • Post-flood geomorphic conditions in Keough Draw and Ward Draw
  • Barrick Gold Corp and Sanford Lab wastewater treatment plants
  • Rapid City stormwater management practices
  • Belle Fourche Irrigation District operation and water conservation 
What: The 13th annual Western South Dakota Hydrology Meeting will examine key flooding, water-quality, groundwater, surface water and geology issues in South Dakota.

Who: The conference keynote speakers are:
  • Neik Veraart, Vice President for Louis Berger’s Environmental Planning and Resilience practice
  • Robert Hirsch, U.S. Geological Survey research hydrologist and former USGS Chief Hydrologist and Associate Director for Water
  • Robert Harmon, President and CEO of EnergyRM
When: Meeting: Wednesday, April 15, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Poster session and evening social: Wednesday, April 15, 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Optional field trips: Thursday April 16, at various times

Where: Rushmore Plaza Civic Center
444 N. Mount Rushmore Rd., Rapid City  (MAP)

Details: The conference is free for media, the public and students, with an optional $20 lunch. Professional registration fee is $100. For professionals who wish to obtain credit for professional development, credits are available for technical sessions attended.

Register: All attendees are asked to register before April 8 by visiting the conference website or by contacting Janet Carter at 605-394-3215 or jmcarter@usgs.gov  

The annual conference typically draws more than 350 attendees. The preliminary 2015 program is available on the conference website.

The conference is organized by the USGS, South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, South Dakota Engineering Society, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and West Dakota Water Development District. 

For additional information about USGS water-resources studies in South Dakota, please visit the USGS South Dakota Water Science Center website.

Laboratory Study Shows Future Generations of Fish Affected by Endocrine Disruptor Exposure

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 11:00
Summary: Fish exposed to the endocrine-disrupting chemicals bisphenol A (BPA) or 17a-ethinylestradiol (EE2) in a laboratory have been found to pass adverse reproductive effects onto their offspring up to three generations later, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Missouri

Contact Information:

Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 ); Donald Tillitt ( Phone: 573-876-1866 );



Fish exposed to the endocrine-disrupting chemicals bisphenol A (BPA) or 17a-ethinylestradiol (EE2) in a laboratory have been found to pass adverse reproductive effects onto their offspring up to three generations later, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Missouri.

Aquatic environments are the ultimate reservoirs for many contaminants, including chemicals that mimic the functions of natural hormones. Fish and other aquatic organisms often have the greatest exposures to such chemicals during critical periods in development or even entire life cycles.

Scientists exposed fish to either BPA or EE2 for one week during embryonic development, while subsequent generations were never exposed. Future generations showed a reduced rate of fertilization and increased embryo mortality. The full study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is available online.

“This study shows that even though endocrine disruptors may not affect the life of the exposed fish, it may negatively affect future generations,” said USGS visiting scientist and University of Missouri Assistant Research Professor, Ramji Bhandari. “This is the first step in understanding how endocrine disruptors affect future generations, and more studies are needed to determine what happens in the natural environment.”

There were no apparent reproductive abnormalities in the first two generations of fish, except for two instances of male to female sex reversal in adults of the EE2 exposed generation. Findings show a 30 percent decrease in the fertilization rate of fish two generations after exposure, and a 20 percent reduction after three generations. If those trends continued, the potential for declines in overall population numbers might be expected in future generations. These adverse outcomes, if shown in natural populations, could have negative impacts on fish inhabiting contaminated aquatic environments.

This study examined concentrations of EE2 and BPA that are not expected to be found in most environmental situations. However, concerns remain about the possibility of passing on adverse reproductive effects to future generations at lower levels. At this time, the ability to evaluate mixtures of estrogenic chemicals working jointly is limited. 

The scientists studied BPA and EE2 because they are chemicals of environmental concern and represent different classes of endocrine disrupters. BPA is a chemical used primarily to manufacture polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, but is also an additive in other consumer products. Due to extensive use of these products in daily human life, the accumulation of BPA-containing waste in the environment has been a serious concern and a potential threat to public and wildlife health. EE2 is used in oral contraceptives designed for women, and about 16 – 68 percent of each dose is excreted from the body. As a result, EE2 has been found in aquatic environments downstream of wastewater treatment plants.

For more information on endocrine disruptors visit the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center web page.

New Study Sheds Light on Mammal Declines in Everglades National Park

USGS Newsroom - Fri, 03/20/2015 - 16:10
Summary: Nearly 80 percent of radio-tracked marsh rabbits that died in Everglades National Park in a recent study were eaten by Burmese pythons, according to a new publication by University of Florida and U.S. Geological Survey researchers

Contact Information:

Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-352-3487 ); Robert McCleery ( Phone: 352-846-0566 );



GAINESVILLE, Fla. – – Nearly 80 percent of radio-tracked marsh rabbits that died in Everglades National Park in a recent study were eaten by Burmese pythons, according to a new publication by University of Florida and U.S. Geological Survey researchers.  

A year later, there was no sign of a rabbit population in the study area.  The study demonstrates that Burmese pythons are now the dominant predator of marsh rabbits, and likely other mid-sized animals in the park, potentially upsetting the balance of a valuable ecosystem.

The study provides the first empirical evidence that the Burmese python caused reductions in marsh rabbit populations in the park, supporting previous studies that suggested pythons were a significant factor in declines of many other mid-sized mammals since becoming established there a few decades ago.

The estimated tens of thousands of Burmese pythons now populating the greater Everglades present a low risk to people in the park, according to previous research by USGS and NPS.

Scientists know that invasive pythons prey on native Everglades mammals, but they didn’t have experimental evidence that pythons could cause population declines or local extinction of mammals, said Robert McCleery, a UF assistant professor in wildlife ecology and conservation who led the study.

While a 2012 study showed that as pythons were proliferating, mammals were declining, it did not directly link the two phenomena. “This study does just that,” said Bob Reed, a USGS research herpetologist and study co-author.

“Mammals play an important role in the Everglades ecosystem, and so recovery of mammal populations is closely tied with recovering the overall health and functionality of this ecosystem,” McCleery said.

In most Florida wetlands, it’s easy to detect marsh rabbit populations by searching for their scat, but the researchers could not find evidence of rabbits in the parts of Everglades National Park they studied during intensive surveys prior to conducting their experiment.

In 2012, a group of scientists that included researchers from Davidson College, USGS and UF compared data on mammal populations from the 1990s – before pythons became widespread in Everglades National Park ─ to results of population surveys conducted between 2003 and 2011. The 2012 study found that significant mammalian population declines coincided in space and time with the proliferation of invasive pythons in the Everglades.  

“Previous studies implicated pythons in mammal declines in the Everglades, but those studies were largely correlative,” said Reed. “This new study moves us from correlation to causation in terms of the impact of invasive pythons on native mammals.” 

To conduct the most recent study, researchers found areas outside of the park that supported large and healthy populations of marsh rabbits. They moved 31 marsh rabbits into select areas in the park in two experimental populations. They also put 15 rabbits in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, and captured, collared and released another 49 in Fakahatchee Strand State Park, where they knew there would be few, if any, pythons ─ and used those as control sites. All of the rabbits were equipped with radio-collars so that they could be regularly located.

The researchers radio-tracked the rabbits and found that 77 percent of those that died in the Everglades were eaten by Burmese pythons, and that there was no sign of a rabbit population in the areas where they released them in the park one year later. On the other hand, rabbits remained common at the control site after the experiment. Many animals eat marsh rabbits, but outside the park, they’re most often the victims of bobcats and coyotes.

Furthermore, the warmer and wetter the weather, the more rabbits were consumed by pythons in the park. The researchers suggested this may be because higher water levels allow the pythons to easily swim long distances while searching for food and because they feed more frequently when it’s hot.

Scientists chose to study the pythons’ impacts on marsh rabbit populations because the high reproductive rates of rabbits mean that their populations are typically resilient to predators, McCleery said. The conclusion that pythons are capable of eliminating marsh rabbit populations in Everglades National Park led the authors to suggest that the observed declines in other mid-sized mammal species in the park could also be due to predation by pythons.

The study was published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Academy B. McCleery’s co-authors include UF graduate student Adia Sovie, as well as Robert Reed, Kristen Hart and Margaret Hunter, all research wildlife biologists with the USGS. 

Dive In – Explore Thousands of Coastal and Seafloor Images

USGS Newsroom Technical - Wed, 03/18/2015 - 14:21
Summary: Thousands of photos and videos of the seafloor and coastline—most areas never seen before—are now available and easily accessible online. This is critical for coastal managers to make important decisions, ranging from protecting habitats to understanding hazards and managing land use

Contact Information:

Nadine Golden ( Phone: 831-460-7530 ); Seth Ackerman ( Phone: 508-457-2315 ); Jessica Robertson ( Phone: 703-648-6624 );



Thousands of photos and videos of the seafloor and coastline—most areas never seen before—are now available and easily accessible online. This is critical for coastal managers to make important decisions, ranging from protecting habitats to understanding hazards and managing land use.

Imagery is available through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal.

This USGS portal is unique, due to the sheer quantity and quality of data presented. It is the largest database of its kind, providing detailed and fine-scale representations of the coast. The "geospatial context" is also unique, with maps displaying imagery in the exact location where it was recorded.

Prior to development of the data portal, retrieving this imagery required internal USGS access with specific hardware and software. It was difficult to manage and challenging to share such a large amount of information.

"The USGS has been dedicated to developing a system that allows for convenient communication internally as well as to outside collaborators and the public to access our abundance of coastal and seafloor imagery," said USGS geographer Nadine Golden, who is the Lead Principal Investigator for the USGS portal. "The portal makes it easy for users to discover, obtain and disseminate information."

This portal contains coverage of the seafloor off California and Massachusetts, and aerial imagery of the coastline along the Gulf of Mexico and mid-Atlantic coasts. Additional video and photographs will be added as they are collected, and archived imagery will also be incorporated soon. Areas of future focus include data sets for Washington State’s Puget Sound, Hawaii and the Arctic.

"As part of an ongoing seafloor mapping partnership, Massachusetts has worked with the USGS Woods Hole Science Center to map more than 850 square miles of marine waters and collect extensive video footage and photographs of the seafloor," said Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management Director Bruce Carlisle. "The Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal is a great resource, providing direct and easy access to this imagery. It will support several key elements of the recently updated Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, including habitat characterization and the review of ocean development projects under the plan."

Information in this portal helps create coastal maps and representations of seafloor composition and habitats. It provides references for short- and long-term monitoring of changes to the coast, whether from anthropogenic modifications or natural occurrences. Hurricanes and extreme storms are of particular concern, and USGS imagery helps managers, emergency responders and researchers understand circumstances before, during and after such events. Other critical hazards include coastal flooding and sea-level rise, as well as assessments for earthquake and tsunami awareness.

Data also support coastal and marine spatial planning, including evaluation of sites for renewable ocean energy facilities as well as the development of communities and infrastructure. USGS science helps designate marine protected areas, define habitats, identify needs for ecosystem restoration, and inform regional sediment management decisions.

In total, approximately 100,000 photographs and have been collected as well as 1,000 hours of trackline video covering almost 2,000 miles of coastline. Imagery was taken by video and still cameras towed by boat or from aerial flights.

This effort supports the National Ocean Policy mandate to provide access to federal data resources.

How does it work? Start with the tutorial and then dive in!

In 2013, a successful video and photograph pilot interactive website was launched for the California Seafloor Mapping Program, and this helped build the newly released portal.

Also, check out a new crowdsourcing application called, "USGS iCoast – Did the Coast Change?" This application allows citizen scientists to identify changes to the coast by comparing aerial photographs taken before and after storms.

Learn more about USGS science by visiting the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program website.

Screenshot from the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal. Zooming into an area of interest reveals lines where continuous video footage was acquired and dots where still photographs were taken. Clicking on a segment launches the video in a pop-up window. Photographs appear beside the video, changing as the video passes each point where a photograph was taken. (High resolution image)

Frozen Heat Features USGS Science

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 03/16/2015 - 10:00
Summary: The Gas Hydrates Project at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contributed to a four-year international effort by multiple partners, including the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), to formulate a just-released report entitled, “Frozen Heat: A Global Outlook on Methane Gas Hydrates.&rdquo New International Report on Gas Hydrates Draws Heavily from USGS Expertise

Contact Information:

William F.  Waite ( Phone: 508-457-2346 ); Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 );



The Gas Hydrates Project at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contributed to a four-year international effort by multiple partners, including the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), to formulate a just-released report entitled, “Frozen Heat: A Global Outlook on Methane Gas Hydrates.”

The two-volume report reviews the state-of-the-art in science and technology related to gas hydrates, providing information in a form accessible to policy makers and stakeholders. The USGS Gas Hydrates Project contributed scientific results, editing, and reviews to assist formulation of the report.    

Gas hydrate is a frozen form of gas and water that occurs naturally at moderate pressure and low temperature. These conditions are characteristic of continuous permafrost and marine sediments at water depths greater than ~350 meters (~1150 ft).  Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is the most common gas incorporated into global gas hydrate deposits. Gas hydrate sequesters about 1600 billion metric tons (~1800 billion US tons) of carbon or up to 25% of the global budget of carbon that can move around the earth-ocean-atmosphere system.

“The USGS plays an active leadership role in gas hydrate research nationally and internationally,” said USGS Energy Resources Program Coordinator Brenda Pierce. “Having USGS experts join with other scientists to present current scientific knowledge to a broad audience in this report serves an important part of our outreach mission.” 

The first volume of the report focuses on the history of gas hydrate research and describes how and where gas hydrates form. USGS research featured prominently in this volume, as USGS scientists have studied the formation and occurrence of gas hydrates all over the world, including Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and internationally in countries like Japan, Korea, and India.

Volume I of the report also considers how gas hydrates interact with the environment on a small scale (for example, the link between gas hydrates and deep marine biological communities), and globally (for example, the interplay between gas hydrates and climate).  

“We were pleased to work with U.S. and international partners to contribute scientific expertise to this effort,” said Carolyn Ruppel, Chief of the USGS Gas Hydrates Project. “The report dovetails with our Project’s emphasis on gas hydrates in the natural environment and on the climate and energy resource implications of methane hydrates.”   

Volume 2 discusses gas hydrates as a potential energy resource, including consideration of the technology needed to extract gas from methane hydrates.  USGS scientists have long been active in this research area and participated in tests of methane production from natural gas hydrates in permafrost areas, such as Alaska’s North Slope.

The USGS has a globally recognized research program  studying natural gas hydrates in deepwater and permafrost settings worldwide.  USGS researchers focus on the potential of gas hydrates as an energy resource, the impact of climate change on gas hydrates, and seafloor stability issues.

International Bat Monitoring Research Group Receives

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 03/09/2015 - 10:00
Summary: USGS bat conservation researchers and their partners are being recognized today with the U.S. Forest Service Wings Across the Americas Research Award for their contributions to the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat)

Contact Information:

Suzanna Soileau ( Phone: 406-994-7257 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



USGS bat conservation researchers and their partners are being recognized today with the U.S. Forest Service Wings Across the Americas Research Award for their contributions to the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat). 

The award will be accepted on behalf of USGS contributions to NABat by Anne Kinsinger, USGS associate director for Ecosystems, at the North American Wildlife Resources Conference in Omaha, Nebr.  USGS partners also being recognized are the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bat Conservation International, Bat Conservation Trust, Canadian Wildlife Service, University of California, University of Alberta and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“Research on bats is important not only because they are vital to the well-being of ecosystems, but also it is in the best interest of the economy due to the importance of bats for pest control and pollination of native and agricultural plants,” said Kinsinger. “USGS has focused considerable research on issues threatening the health and well being of bat populations in North America. Our participation in NABat provides valuable scientific information for bat conservation.”

Wings Across the Americas is an international program of the U.S. Forest Service that works with a wide range of partners here in the United States and overseas to conserve habitats and populations of birds, bats, butterflies and dragonflies. The award recognizes outstanding conservation work by U.S. Forest Service and partner agencies.

The novelty of the NABat program is a vision for collaborative monitoring of an imperiled species group with a sound statistical underpinning allowing for species distribution modeling across broad geographic regions. Participating USGS researchers provide specific expertise on statistical survey design, statistical analysis of bat acoustic and colony count data and database development informed by experience with many wildlife species such as bats, birds and amphibians.

NABat was developed in conjunction with specialists from other agencies, universities and NGOs in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Mexico in response to growing concerns over threats to bats from continuing and emerging stressors including habitat loss and fragmentation, white-nose syndrome, wind energy development and climate change.  There are currently no national programs to monitor and track bat populations in North America, and NABat seeks to assist in development of such programs that will provide managers and policy makers with the information they need to effectively manage bat populations, detect early warning signs of population declines and estimate extinction risk.

Efforts to date include four workshops and discussions supported by the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives National Council and the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis to develop a national monitoring program. These workshops were attended by scientists and researchers from multiple agencies including FWS, USGS, USFS, NPS, University of Calgary and the Canadian Wildlife Service.  In addition, the framework for NABat entitled “A Plan for a North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat)” will be published in May 2015.

USGS recipients of the Wings Across the Americas award include FORT scientists Laura Ellison, Tom Stanley, Brian Cade, Paul Cryan and Sara Oyler-McCance; NOROCK scientists Kathryn M. Irvine and Steve Corn; UMESC scientist Wayne Thogmartin; Patuxent scientists John Sauer and Matthew Clement; NPWRC scientist Douglas Johnson; NWHC scientist Robin Russell; and CSU Cooperative Research Unit scientist William Kendall.  

 

What Happens to the Water? Assessing Water Quality in Areas with Hydraulically Fractured Oil and Gas Wells

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 13:25
Summary: More data and research are necessary to best understand the potential risks to water quality associated with unconventional oil and gas development in the United States, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey study.

Contact Information:

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



More data and research are necessary to best understand the potential risks to water quality associated with unconventional oil and gas development in the United States, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey study.

“We mined the national water-quality databases from 1970 - 2010 and were able to assess long-term trends in only 16 percent of the watersheds with unconventional oil and gas resources,” said Zack Bowen, USGS scientist and principal author of the article that appears in American Geophysical Union’s Water Resources Research. “There are not enough data available to be able to assess potential effects of oil and gas development over large geographic areas.”

There is not a national water-quality monitoring program in place that focuses on oil and gas development, so existing national water-quality databases and data on hydraulic fracturing were used to assess water-quality trends in oil and gas areas. The study found no widespread and consistent trends in water quality, such as chloride and specific conductance, in areas where unconventional oil and gas wells are prevalent. The amount of water-quality samples, where they are located and the varying constituents that are measured are limiting factors in existing national databases. 

Hydraulic fracturing is presently the primary stimulation technique for oil and gas production in low-permeability, unconventional resource reservoirs. Comprehensive, published and publicly available information regarding the extent, location and character of hydraulic fracturing and potential effects on regional or national water quality in the United States is scarce. More information can be found on the USGS frequently asked questions on hydraulic fracturing.  

Plenty of Potash, but Some Regions Lack Low Cost Sources for Crop Production

USGS Newsroom Technical - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 08:14
Summary: While the earth contains enough potash to meet the increased global demand for crop production  and U.S. supplies are likely secure, some regions lack potash deposits needed for optimal food crop yields

Contact Information:

Diane Noserale ( Phone: 703-648-4333 ); Greta Orris ( Phone: 520-670-5583 );



While the earth contains enough potash to meet the increased global demand for crop production  and U.S. supplies are likely secure, some regions lack potash deposits needed for optimal food crop yields. According to a recent USGS global assessment of potash resources, the costs of importing potash long distances can limit its use and imports are subject to supply disruptions.

“Global scarcity is not the issue with potash – transportation costs are,” said USGS scientist Greta Orris, who led the assessment. “We chose to assess potash because it is used primarily for fertilizer and with the increasing global population, the need for agricultural lands to be increasingly productive will continue,” said Orris. 

The U.S. imports more than 80 percent of the potash it uses, mostly from the Elk Point Basin in Saskatchewan, Canada. The Elk Basin is the world’s largest source of potash, having provided at least 20 percent of the world’s potash supply for nearly 40 years. 

The U.S. produces potash from deposits in Utah and New Mexico. While production from the Michigan basin recently ceased, a large potash resource exists there.  Production and development of resources in Michigan have been hindered by low potash prices, dated production equipment, and poor transport infrastructure amongst other factors. A significant potash resource in Arizona has also been identified, but resources in other states tend to be relatively small.

This global assessment, which includes a summary report and accompanying database, is the most complete, up-to-date, GIS-based, global compilation of information on known and potential potash resources from evaporite sources. The database includes more than 900 known potash deposits with measured resources. It also outlines 84 tracts throughout the world where undiscovered future resources might be found. 

“A significant finding of this assessment is that there appears to be little to no potential to develop potash mines in either China or India, where large populations create the need for highly productive agricultural land, which in turn requires large amounts of appropriate fertilizers,” said Orris. “High import costs have resulted in lower usage of potash fertilizers than commonly seen in the U.S., and the potential for the land to be less productive.”

Potash includes a variety of minerals, ores, or processed products that contain potassium, one of three primary plant nutrients essential for growing food crops and biofuels. Modern agriculture requires large quantities of potassium so crop production is adequate to feed a growing population as arable land acreage becomes more limited. While potassium can be derived from other sources, conventional potash deposits – those formed by evaporation -- are the only cost- effective source for large quantities of potassium needed for high-yield agriculture.

The known deposits include location, geology, resource, production and other descriptive information. Potash-bearing basins may host tens of millions to more than 100 billion metric tons of potassium. Examples include Elk Point Basin in Canada, the Pripyat Basin in Belarus, the Solikamsk Basin in western Russia, and the Zechstein Basin in Germany.

The biggest potash producers are Canada, Russia, Belarus, and Israel. In addition to China and India, other areas lacking conventional deposits include much of Africa, Australia, and South America.

For the 84 tracts, the quantities of undiscovered resources are not estimated in this report. Instead, the tracts are classified into six categories that rank their potential to provide potash resources in 25 to 50 years based on known resources in the tract, level of available information, and whether geologic or other deficiencies, such as lack of water, power, or other infrastructure, could prevent or delay development of deposits. Potash tracts that may have potash deposits in production within the next five years include those in Ethiopia and the Republic of Congo.

More information on global and domestic potash, including demand, production, and uses is available from the USGS.

Wildlife Researchers to Give Public Close-Up, Real-Time View of Big Game Fieldwork

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 13:00
Summary: Seeking insights to help moose, elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep populations, researchers from the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Geological Survey and other partners will spend much of March capturing animals on their winter ranges in western and southern Wyoming

Contact Information:

Chad Baldwin, UWYO ( Phone: 307-766-2929 ); Matthew  Kauffman, USGS ( Phone: 307-766-6404 );



LARAMIE, WY — Seeking insights to help moose, elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep populations, researchers from the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Geological Survey and other partners will spend much of March capturing animals on their winter ranges in western and southern Wyoming.

Members of the public will have an opportunity to closely follow the work.

As scientists did during deer captures earlier this winter, researchers with the UW-headquartered Wyoming Migration Initiative (WMI) and personnel from Game and Fish plan to live-tweet the approximately three weeks of research activity and provide Facebook posts about the animal captures multiple times a day.

The tweets will be by WMI Director Matt Kauffman, a UW professor and U.S. Geological Survey scientist. Game and Fish biologists and wardens collaborating on these studies also will tweet from @wgfd. All updates will use the hashtags #wyodeer, #wyomoose, #wyoelk and #wyosheep. Included in the tweets will be maps and data graphics from the forthcoming “Atlas of Wildlife Migration,” a partnership effort with the University of Oregon InfoGraphics Lab cartographers. The USGS, tweeting from @usgs and @USGSCoopUnits, will help promote the discussion to a broader national audience.

WMI’s Facebook page is at www.facebook.com\migrationinitiative. Game and Fish is at www.facebook.com/WyoGFD. The photos, videos, updates and Twitter feed will be posted to a dedicated WMI webpage, www.migrationinitiative.org/capturelivetweetmarch2015.

“Capture and GPS-collar efforts are the primary tools researchers use to study these iconic animals and their movements,” Kauffman says. “Wyomingites care deeply about these herds and the habitats they occupy, so it’s a great opportunity for us to give them, and people beyond Wyoming, a closer view of how and why we are doing this research.”

“Many of these studies have been ongoing for several years in remote and hard-to-access areas of Wyoming. They are used to make important decisions about wildlife management,” says Game and Fish Communications Director Renny MacKay. “Social media allow us to give the public a new look at this valuable research.”

The eight studies that are part of this month’s field work are: 

  • Elk migrations into and out of Yellowstone National Park have been of interest for decades, and new GPS radio collar technology has advanced the mapping of these routes. The Wiggins Fork herd is the last gap in a detailed ecosystem-wide map of Yellowstone’s elk migrations. To fill that gap, researchers will capture and collar elk north of Dubois starting the week of March 2.
  • Nutrition and behavioral response of moose to beetle-killed forest in the Snowy Mountains. The mountain pine beetle epidemic has transformed forested habitats in this range, with uncertain consequences for one of Wyoming's newest moose herds. Moose will be captured and collared March 5-9 between Centennial and Saratoga to assess nutrition and population growth, and to compare current moose movements to those from a pre-beetle kill study conducted in 2004-05.
  • Researchers will capture deer March 10 near Pinedale to evaluate how habitat conditions and human disturbance affect fat levels of deer wintering on and near one of the largest natural gas fields in Wyoming.
  • The nutritional dynamics of the famous Wyoming Range mule deer herd. The March 11 deer capture near Big Piney will continue to look at how many deer this range can support. The next step will be to track fawns to measure survival and cause of mortality.
  • It is unknown how drought affects mule deer as they migrate -- and forage -- from low-elevation winter ranges to mountain summer ranges. This March 12-13 capture between Kemmerer, Cokeville and Evanston will help shed light on whether warming influences summer forage quality, and ultimately the survival and reproduction of migrants.
  • The March 14-15 capture near Rock Springs aims to help advance the understanding of the benefits of migration and guide management and conservation of a spectacular 150-mile deer migration from the Red Desert north of Rock Springs to summer ranges in northwest Wyoming.
  • This March 18 capture of elk between Baggs and Saratoga in the Sierra Madre Mountains is part of an assessment of elk movements before, during and after massive tree fall caused by mountain pine beetles.
  • The interaction of nutrition and disease in bighorn sheep. Pneumonia in bighorn sheep continues to affect their population dynamics, yet it is unknown how ecological conditions affect susceptibility to disease. The March 19-21 capture of bighorns from three herds near Jackson, Dubois and Cody will investigate how nutrition interacts with disease to affect bighorn populations.

Kauffman says the WMI research team -- which also includes UW’s big game nutrition expert, Kevin Monteith; Western EcoSystems Inc. researcher Hall Sawyer; and Yale University biologist Arthur Middleton -- will provide information on the objectives of each study, and what has been learned from ongoing research, through photos, short video interviews, maps and graphics. They’ll also tweet links to existing papers, reports, news articles, interviews, YouTube videos and other information relevant to each study.

Funding for these projects is made possible through extensive collaborations among state and federal managers, sportsmen’s groups, nongovernmental organizations and private foundations. Additional partner details will be shared through Twitter and Facebook as the work progresses.

The public -- and other groups interested in the research -- are encouraged to add comments via Twitter or Facebook throughout the roughly three-week research effort.

 

Science-Based Mitigation Techniques Benefit Greater Sage-Grouse

USGS Newsroom - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 15:25
Summary: Greater sage-grouse nests found in natural gas development areas where mitigation actions were taken to minimize development impacts had slightly higher nest survival than similar areas where such actions were not taken, according to research by U.S. Geological Survey and others

Contact Information:

Carol Schuler ( Phone: 541-750-1031 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



CORVALLIS, Ore. — Greater sage-grouse nests found in natural gas development areas where mitigation actions were taken to minimize development impacts had slightly higher nest survival than similar areas where such actions were not taken, according to research by U.S. Geological Survey and others.

This site-scale study, conducted in a coal-bed methane area of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, showed that enhanced mitigation efforts somewhat increased the probability of at least one sage-grouse egg hatching per nest in a particular nesting season.  

Mitigation techniques are actions taken to avoid, minimize or offset the impacts of human activities on an ecosystem or a species, such as minimizing sagebrush removal and using remote monitoring of wells to reduce vehicle traffic.

The article, co-authored by the Big Horn Environmental Consultants, Boise State University, and USGS and published in the journal Wildlife Biology, looks at the application of science-based on-site mitigation techniques and sage-grouse nest survival in the Intermountain West.

“High nest survival is critical to the species’ continued existence,” said USGS emeritus scientist and co-author Dr. Mark Fuller. “These are ground-nesting birds that produce on average 6-10 eggs each year. Their nests are vulnerable to predation and other factors, making it difficult for the greater sage-grouse populations to maintain numbers.”

From 2008 to 2011, scientists monitored 296 greater sage-grouse nests in a coal-bed methane development where Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, applied mitigation measures above and beyond base mitigation measures to determine if these measures would reduce negative impacts to greater sage-grouse.  The base mitigation measures are required by the BLM in its 2003 Environmental Impact Statement for the Powder River Basin.

Over a 362-square-mile area, researchers measured nest survival in areas where the enhanced mitigation measures were applied, areas where only base techniques were used and in relatively unaltered areas without oil and gas development. Nest survival was determined by the evidence of at least one successfully hatched egg per nest, a standard measurement in avian scientific studies.  Multiple studies have shown that poor nest survival rates can dramatically limit population growth in sage-grouse. Key findings include:

  • Estimated nest survival rates were highest in unaltered areas with no oil or gas development (64 percent), next highest in areas where enhanced mitigation techniques were used (59 percent), and lowest in areas where base mitigation practices were used (54 percent).
  • Of the mitigation measures implemented, piping discharge water to a treatment facility instead of constructing an on-site reservoir for produced waters had the greatest positive benefit on sage-grouse nest survival. Retention reservoirs result in direct habitat loss, may facilitate the spread of sage-grouse predators, and increase habitat for mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus, thus expanding sage-grouse exposure to this disease.
  • Reducing surface disturbance, particularly sagebrush removal, was also an important factor in nest success. The importance of sagebrush cover to sage-grouse nest survival is well known.

“In asking the question, does on-site mitigation reduce impacts of development on greater sage-grouse, we found that properly targeted mitigation can benefit greater sage-grouse nest survival in energy development areas,” said Chris Kirol, a research biologist with Big Horn Environmental Consultants and lead author of the study. “However, we also found that nests located in areas outside of energy development had the highest survival rates. Our results can help inform future adaptive management and greater sage-grouse conservation efforts in sagebrush habitat affected by energy development.”

Sagebrush habitat is increasingly being developed for oil and gas resources, and land managers face complex challenges in balancing energy demands with conservation measures for sagebrush-dependent species such as the greater sage-grouse. Agencies responsible for managing sagebrush habitat and greater sage-grouse populations encourage the use of adaptive management measures, such as science-based mitigation during oil and gas development and operations. Adaptive management is an approach for improving resource management by learning from and incorporating previous management outcomes into present plans.

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

Study Reveals Recent Geologic History of Roanoke River Floodplain

USGS Newsroom Technical - Fri, 02/20/2015 - 10:04
Summary: After surveying and analyzing centuries of evidence in the floodplain of the lower Roanoke River, USGS researchers, along with colleagues from the universities of Wisconsin and North Carolina, have developed a highly accurate estimate of sediment deposition amounts along the course of the river over three timescales — annual, decadal, and centennial Findings can inform scenarios of sea level rise

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Cliff Hupp ( Phone: 703-648-5207 );



After surveying and analyzing centuries of evidence in the floodplain of the lower Roanoke River, USGS researchers, along with colleagues from the universities of Wisconsin and North Carolina, have developed a highly accurate estimate of sediment deposition amounts along the course of the river over three timescales — annual, decadal, and centennial. 

The investigators used a range of techniques, including evidence from clay pads, tree-rings, and pollen analyses, at numerous locations (58 transects, 378 stations) and employed GIS technology to model sediment deposition rates and characteristics to gain insight into the sediment dynamics of the Roanoke, one of the largest river flood plains on the mid-Atlantic coast. 

The scientists found that sediment deposition rates from AD 1725 to 1850 were an order of magnitude higher than present deposition rates and still affect the sediment dynamics of today. These high rates have been attributed to land clearance and poor agricultural practices during and after the colonial period. This legacy sediment deposition formed high banks upstream and the large, wide levees found along the middle reaches of the river. 

Furthermore, dam operations, most notably the Kerr Dam completed in 1953, have reduced deposition on natural levees but facilitated backswamp deposition. A GIS-model of current river dynamics indicates that little sediment presently reaches Albemarle Sound because it is trapped on the floodplain, generally benefitting lower floodplain ecosystems and mitigating the transport of excess nutrients to coastal marine systems. 

The study findings highlight the important role played by landscape alteration, including post-Colonial forest clearance and dam emplacement, in controlling modern sediment dynamics. The use of multiple techniques to determine sediment deposition rates should improve capabilities of developing accurate sediment budgets along different reaches of the river. In turn, this will aid predictions of the response of the river and associated habitats to changing sea level.  

The research was recently published in the journal Geomorphology.

 

Coping with Earthquakes Induced by Fluid Injection

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 02/19/2015 - 14:15
Summary: A paper published today in Science provides a case for increasing transparency and data collection to enable strategies for mitigating the effects of human-induced earthquakes caused by wastewater injection associated with oil and gas production in the United States

Contact Information:

Susan  Garcia ( Phone: 650-346-0998 ); Leslie  Gordon ( Phone: 650-329-4006 );



MENLO PARK, Calif.— A paper published today in Science provides a case for increasing transparency and data collection to enable strategies for mitigating the effects of human-induced earthquakes caused by wastewater injection associated with oil and gas production in the United States.  The paper is the result of a series of workshops led by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey in collaboration with the University of Colorado, Oklahoma Geological Survey and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, suggests that it is possible to reduce the hazard of induced seismicity through management of injection activities.

Large areas of the United States that used to experience few or no earthquakes have, in recent years, experienced a remarkable increase in earthquake activity that has caused considerable public concern as well as damage to structures. This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes.

Instead, the increased seismicity is due to fluid injection associated with new technologies that enable the extraction of oil and gas from previously unproductive reservoirs. These modern extraction techniques result in large quantities of wastewater produced along with the oil and gas. The disposal of this wastewater by deep injection occasionally results in earthquakes that are large enough to be felt, and sometimes damaging. Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.  

“The science of induced earthquakes is ready for application, and a main goal of our study was to motivate more cooperation among the stakeholders — including the energy resources industry, government agencies, the earth science community, and the public at large — for the common purpose of reducing the consequences of earthquakes induced by fluid injection,” said coauthor Dr. William Ellsworth, a USGS geophysicist. 

The USGS is currently collaborating with interested stakeholders to develop a hazard model for induced earthquakes in the U.S. that can be updated frequently in response to changing trends in energy production.

“In addition to determining the hazard from induced earthquakes, there are other questions that need to be answered in the course of coping with fluid-induced seismicity,” said lead author of the study, USGS geophysicist Dr. Art McGarr. “In contrast to natural earthquake hazard, over which humans have no control, the hazard from induced seismicity can be reduced. Improved seismic networks and public access to fluid injection data will allow us to detect induced earthquake problems at an early stage, when seismic events are typically very small, so as to avoid larger and potentially more damaging earthquakes later on.”

“It is important that all information of this sort be publicly accessible, because only in this way can it be used to provide the timely guidance needed to reduce the hazard and consequences of induced earthquakes,” said USGS hydrologist and co-author of the paper, Dr. Barbara Bekins.  

A Decade of Change in America's Arctic: New Land Cover Data Released for Alaska

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 02/18/2015 - 13:15
Summary: The latest edition of the National Land Cover Dataset (NLCD 2011) for Alaska is now publicly available

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Collin  Homer ( Phone: 605-594-2714 );



The latest edition of the National Land Cover Dataset (NLCD 2011) for Alaska is now publicly available.

The extensive NLCD database continues to add to our understanding of where land cover change has occurred across the Nation over time.  Derived from carefully calibrated, long-term observations of Landsat satellites, NLCD data are used for thousands of applications such as best practices in land management, indications of climate change, determining ecosystem status and health, and assessing spatial patterns of biodiversity.

“Recognizing that ​land cover is ​changing ​rapidl​y​ in the high latitudes of the Arctic, it is vital that we have the clearest view of ​the spatial and temporal patterns associated with those changes,” said Suzette Kimball, acting Director of the U.S. Geological Survey.  “As the Arctic becomes more accessible to human endeavors, understanding changes in land cover becomes critical in both using and preserving Alaska’s precious resources.” 

For Alaska, this database is designed to provide ten-year cyclical updating of the state's land cover and associated changes. Based on Landsat satellite imagery taken in 2011, the data describe the land cover of each 30-meter cell of land in Alaska and identifies which ones have changed since the year 2001. Nearly six such cells - each 98 feet long and wide - would fit on a football field. 

The updated information tells an objective 10-year land cover change story for Alaska. With a decade of change information available, resource managers, researchers, planners in government and industry —anyone who wishes to investigate the topic — can better understand the trajectory of land cover change patterns and gain insight about land cover change processes.

By far the greatest Alaska change across this decade has been the conversion of forests to shrub and grasslands, primarily as a result of wild land fire. Other land cover categories that have experienced losses from 2001-2011 include perennial ice and snow and wetlands.

NLCD is constructed by the 10-member federal interagency Multi‑Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium (MRLC). This on-going 20 year collaboration of MRLC demonstrates an exemplary model of cooperation among government entities that combine resources to efficiently provide digital land cover for the Nation.  Their teamwork in producing the NLCD not only significantly advances land cover science and data, but saves taxpayer money.

Land cover is broadly defined as the biophysical pattern of natural vegetation, agriculture, and urban areas. It is shaped by both natural processes and human influences. NLCD 2011 products provide 20 classes of land cover in Alaska and also define the degree of surface imperviousness in urban areas (usually composed of concrete, asphalt, stone, and metal — widely recognized as a key indicator of environmental quality in urban areas).

The range and spatial accuracy of this information have made it essential to thousands of users,  enabling managers of public and private lands, urban planners, agricultural experts, and scientists with many different interests (for instance, climate, invasive species or hydrogeography) to identify critical characteristics of the land and patterns of land cover change. The data informs many fields of environmental investigation, from monitoring forests to modeling water runoff in urban areas.

NLCD 2011 products were released for the conterminous U.S. last year; products for Hawaii and Puerto Rico will be released later this year. NLCD data can be downloaded free of charge at the MRLC website

Learn more

Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium (MRLC)

USGS Land Change Science

USGS Land Cover Institute

These three panels from the National Land Cover Database depict land cover change in the vicinity of Fairbanks, AK, from 2001 to 2011. The left panel shows the status of the land cover in 2001 (forests in green, shrublands in brown, wetlands in blue and urban in red) The middle panel shows the updated land cover in 2011 and the right panel shows areas where change occurred over this 10 years. This change was caused by a wildfire which converted large areas of forests to shrub and grasslands (shades of light brown in the right panel). Approximately one million acres burn across Alaska each year. (High resolution image)

Conowingo Dam Above 90 Percent Capacity For Sediment Storage

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 02/18/2015 - 10:28
Summary: The Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River is at about 92 percent capacity for sediment storage according to new U.S. Geological Survey research

Contact Information:

Michael Langland ( Phone: 717-730-6953 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



The full report is available online

The Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River is at about 92 percent capacity for sediment storage according to new U.S. Geological Survey research.

Since the dam’s construction in 1929, sediment and nutrients have been building up behind it, being released periodically downriver and into the Chesapeake Bay, especially during high flow events.

“Storage capacity in Conowingo Reservoir continues to decrease, and ultimately that means more nutrients and sediment will flow into the Bay,” says Mike Langland, a USGS scientist and author of the study. “Understanding the sediments and nutrients flowing into the Bay from the Susquehanna River is critical to monitoring and managing the health of the Bay.”

Previous research has shown that having excess nutrients in the Bay depletes the water of oxygen needed to maintain healthy populations of fish, crabs, and oysters.  Additionally, the nutrients, along with sediment, cloud the water, disturbing the habitat of underwater plants crucial for aquatic life and waterfowl.

At full sediment-storage capacity, the Conowingo Reservoir will be about one-half filled with sediment, with the remainder--about 49 billion gallons--flowing water.  That amount of sediment could fill approximately 265,000 rail cars, which if lined up would stretch more than 4,000 miles.

The Susquehanna River is the largest tributary to Chesapeake Bay and transports about half of the total freshwater input to the Bay, along with substantial amounts of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus.

Measuring the capacity of the dam to hold sediments and nutrients contributes to an improved understanding of factors that influence the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Three hydroelectric dams and their associated reservoirs on the lower Susquehanna River have been impacting sediment and nutrient transport since construction in the early 1900’s. Previous USGS studies have shown the two upstream reservoirs have reached their sediment storage capacity and the most downstream dam and reservoir, the Conowingo, was also losing its ability to trap nutrients and sediment from reaching the Chesapeake Bay. A 2012 USGS report revealed that, even though the Conowingo reservoir had not yet reached its maximum storage capacity, it had begun to lose its phosphorus and sediment-trapping ability, with increasing amounts going into the Bay.

Due to the concerns about increasing nutrient and sediments loads flowing into the Bay, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working with several partners, will soon be releasing ,the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment. The study suggests several sediment-management options for the reservoirs on the Lower Susquehanna River and indicated additional monitoring and research are needed to support management decisions.

The long-term analysis (1900-2012) conducted for this new USGS study reported here revealed how past practices affected sediment transport in the Susquehanna River Basin.

The USGS study, in addition to providing the current estimate of sediment capacity also provides a longer-term (100 years) analysis of sediment flowing into the reservoirs.

Sediment loads transported over the past 100 years in the Susquehanna River into the reservoirs have decreased from 8.7 million tons per year in the early part of the 20th century to the current level of about 3.5 million tons. The declines of sediment into the reservoirs since the 1950s are most likely related to introduction of soil conservation practices, land reverting back to forest, and better management of stockpiled coal piles.

Since construction of Conowingo Dam was completed in 1929, an average 70 percent of the transported sediment reaching the upper Chesapeake Bay is from the Susquehanna watershed. The additional 30 percent of the sediment is being scoured, or removed from sediment deposited in the reservoirs.

From 1929 through 2012, approximately 470 million tons of sediment was transported down the Susquehanna River into the reservoir system.  Of that number, approximately 290 million tons were trapped behind dams in the reservoirs, and approximately 180 million tons were transported to Chesapeake Bay. The reservoirs are continuously losing their ability to trap sediment and more is flowing into the Bay.

Information from this report and new partner studies will be used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program and the state partners in considering options to reduce nutrient and sediment loads to help meet the requirements of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.

The study, Sediment Transport and Capacity Change in Three Reservoirs, Lower Susquehanna River Basin, Pennsylvania and Maryland, 1900–2012 Open-File Report 2014-1235 is available online.

Additional information on USGS Susquehanna results and Chesapeake Studies can be found online.

Show Me New Data for Show-Me State Maps

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 02/18/2015 - 09:30
Summary: Newly released US Topo maps for Missouri now feature selected trails and other substantial updates. The data for the trails is provided to the USGS through a nation-wide “crowdsourcing” project managed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA)

Contact Information:

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



Newly released US Topo maps for Missouri now feature selected trails and other substantial updates. The data for the trails is provided to the USGS through a nation-wide “crowdsourcing” project managed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA). Several of the 1,196 new US Topo quadrangles for the state now display public trails along with additional improved data layers such as public land survey information, map symbol redesign and new road source data.

"The US Topo maps are widely used and appreciated by many state and local agencies," said Shelley Silch, The National Map liaison for Missouri and Illinois. "The addition of numerous trials to the new state US Topo quadrangles is a great advancement, as Missouri has been named the 'best trails state" by American Trails." 

For Missouri residents and visitors who want to explore the rolling Ozark landscape on a bicycle seat or by hiking, the new trail features on the US Topo maps will come in handy. During the past two years the IMBA, in a partnership with the MTB Project, has been building a detailed national database of mountain bike trails. This activity allows local IMBA chapters, IMBA members, and the public to provide trail data and descriptions through their website.  MTB Project and IMBA then verify the quality of the trail data provided, ensure accuracy and confirm the trail is legal.  This unique crowdsourcing venture has increased the availability of trail data available through The National Map mobile and web apps, and the revised US Topo maps.

Another important addition to the new Missouri US Topo maps is the inclusion of Public Land Survey System data. PLSS is a way of subdividing and describing land in the US. All lands in the public domain are subject to subdivision by this rectangular system of surveys, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

These new maps replace the first edition US Topo maps for Missouri and are available for free download from The National Map, the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website , or several other USGS applications.

To compare change over time, scans of legacy USGS topo maps, some dating back to the late 1800s, can be downloaded from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection

For more information on US Topo maps: http://nationalmap.gov/ustopo/

Updated 2015 version of the Weldon Spring, Missouri quadrangle with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 2.5 MB) Vintage 1903 quadrangle covering the O’Fallon, Missouri area from the USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection. 1:25,000 scale (high resolution image 3.3 MB) Updated 2015 version of Weldon Spring quadrangle with orthoimage turned off to better see the trail network. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1.8 MB)