Share

DGS Annual Report

DGS Annual Report of Programs and Activities.

Click here to download!

USGS Latest News

U.S. Rivers Show Few Signs of Improvement from Historic Nitrate Increases

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 10/28/2015 - 11:21
Summary: During 1945 to 1980, nitrate levels in large U.S. rivers increased up to fivefold in intensively managed agricultural areas of the Midwest, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study

Contact Information:

Edward  Stets ( Phone: 303-541-3048 ); Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



The Maumee River flows through northwest Ohio into Lake Erie. Nitrate concentrations in the Maumee River increased rapidly between 1945 and 1980 as nitrogen inputs from fertilizer and livestock increased. Since 1980, changes in nitrate levels have been much smaller as nitrogen inputs leveled off.(High resolution image)

During 1945 to 1980, nitrate levels in large U.S. rivers increased up to fivefold in intensively managed agricultural areas of the Midwest, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study. In recent decades, nitrate changes have been smaller and levels have remained high in most of the rivers studied. 

The greatest increases in river nitrate levels coincided with increased nitrogen inputs from livestock and agricultural fertilizer, which grew rapidly from 1945 to 1980.  In some urbanized areas along the East and West coasts during the same period, river nitrate levels doubled. Since 1980, nitrate changes have been smaller as the increase in fertilizer use has slowed in the Midwest and large amounts of farmland have been converted to forest or urban land along the East coast. 

"Long-term monitoring of 22 large U.S. rivers provides a rare glimpse into how water quality conditions have changed over the last 65 years," said Edward Stets, lead author of the study. "Although the greatest increases in nitrate concentrations occurred prior to 1980, levels have since remained high in most rivers. Unfortunately, there is no widespread evidence of improving conditions." 

High nitrate levels can lead to the formation of zones of low oxygen in coastal waters, which harms fisheries, recreational use, and ecological habitat, causing major economic impacts. High nitrate levels also pose a threat to drinking-water supplies, sometimes resulting in high water treatment costs, and can harm aquatic life. 

The USGS study, reported in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association, includes rivers flowing into the Great Lakes and coastal waters such as Long Island Sound, Delaware River estuary, Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico. 

Long-term monitoring of water quality is essential to track how changes in land use, climate, and water-quality management actions are impacting both local streams and rivers and valuable commercial and recreational fisheries in estuaries across the Nation. The USGS National Water-Quality Program is working on more detailed analysis of water quality trends within the past 10 to 50 years in small and large rivers across the Nation. 

Information on USGS long-term water-quality monitoring can be accessed online.

Everglades' Alligator Numbers Drop after Dry Years

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 10/28/2015 - 08:04
Summary: Alligators and the Everglades go hand-in-hand, and as water conditions change in the greater Everglades ecosystem, gators are one of the key species that could be affected

Contact Information:

Hardin Waddle ( Phone: 337-266-8671 ); Gabrielle Bodin ( Phone: 337-266-8655 );



Alligators and the Everglades go hand-in-hand, and as water conditions change in the greater Everglades ecosystem, gators are one of the key species that could be affected.

A recent study conducted by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Florida found the number of American alligators observed in the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge dropped following dry years, and then appeared to recover in later non-dry years. The decrease in alligators appeared proportional to the intensity of the dry event. The refuge is located west of Boynton Beach, within the greater Everglades ecosystem.

"Alligator behavior and habitat use is linked to hydrology, and when that hydrology changes, alligator behavior and habitat can change," said USGS research ecologist Hardin Waddle, lead author of the study. "They don’t need it wet all the time, but if dry events increase in frequency and intensity, this could be problematic for alligator numbers in the greater Everglades ecosystem."

Ten years of spotlight night counts in marsh and canals were analyzed to better understand the effect of annual minimum water depth on annual population growth rate. Years were considered dry if they experienced a drop in water level to 6 inches above the marsh surface. At this water level, alligators have difficulty moving around.

Dry conditions can cause male alligators to use up more energy to locate mates, disrupt the ability of females to nest and could result in death due to over-competition for resources and even cannibalism in crowded areas, explained Waddle.

The Everglades is currently one of the world’s largest wetland restoration efforts. The ecosystem, encompassing nearly 4 million acres from near Orlando to the Florida Bay, is threatened by a number of disturbances including changes in hydrology and land use. Much of the remaining areas, including Water Conservation Areas, are now influenced by water management for water supply and flood control. Restoring the natural hydrology to improve ecosystem function is one focus of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

Due to their sensitivity to hydrology, the CERP is using alligator populations to help determine ecosystem response and success of the restoration project. The study results have important implications for helping managers with restoration and water management planning.

"Long-term data sets like the one used in this study offer invaluable insight into what is happening in an ecosystem and provide us the knowledge to build flexibility into Everglades restoration and management," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional scientist and study co-author Laura Brandt. "Understanding both annual patterns and long-term trends helps us with water management decisions within the refuge and other natural areas throughout South Florida."

The study can be found online.

Getting Recognized for Volunteer Mapping Efforts

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 10/27/2015 - 09:30
Summary: Volunteers are being recognized and earning custom badges for making significant contributions to the U.S. Geological Survey's ability to provide accurate and timely information to the public. The National Map Corps Updates Recognition Badges!

Contact Information:

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



Badges awarded for submitting edits, stating at the top of the circle and proceeding clockwise, with the points needed for each level: Order of the Surveyor’s Chain (25-49), Society of the Steel Tape (50-99), Pedometer Posse (100-199), Circle of the Surveyor’s Compass (200-499), Stadia Board Society (500-999), Alidade Alliance (1000-1999), Theodolite Assemblage (2000 - 2999), Family of Floating Photogrammetrists (3000-3999) . Flock of Winged Witnesses (4000-4999), Ring of Reconnaissance Rocketeers (5000 – 5999) and Squadron of Biplane Spectators (6000+) Credit: TNMCorps. (High resolution image)

Volunteers are being recognized and earning custom badges for making significant contributions to the U.S. Geological Survey's ability to provide accurate and timely information to the public.  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 and updated US Topo map products.

"Each badge displays classic surveying tools that played a vital role in gathering geographic information in the history of the USGS," said Ricardo Oliveira, TNMCorps student contractor. "After all, our volunteers are modern surveyors working towards a better understanding of the nation’s geographic assets."

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, the increasing number of volunteers have verified, edited, deleted, and created more than 160,000 structures points.  In appreciation for the efforts of these "free" mappers, those who reach certain milestones are celebrated in the form of virtual badges.

The newly designed badges showcase the same classic surveying tools and aerial data collection methods, but have been colorfully updated and highlight a variety of amazing landscapes across the United States. These badges are sure to be proudly displayed by any TNMCorps volunteer.

A second set of badges based on aerial data collection was introduced about a year ago as some extra-energetic volunteers quickly surpassed the first set of badge levels. Currently, there are 11 possible badges that can be earned beginning with the Order of the Surveyor’s Chain (25 points) and ending with the Squadron of Biplane Spectators (6000 + points). As volunteer map editors attain each level, a congratulatory email is sent to the awardee with a description of the badge and encouragement to achieve the next level. With permission, volunteer accomplishments are highlighted on TNMCorps Recognition page, and The National Map Twitter (#TNMCorps).

It is easy to become a USGS TNMCorps volunteer map editor. All you need is access to the internet and a willingness to learn. Visit The National Map Corps for more information.

Ancient Permafrost Quickly Transforms to Carbon Dioxide upon Thaw

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 10/26/2015 - 15:00
Summary: Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and key academic partners have quantified how rapidly ancient permafrost decomposes upon thawing and how much carbon dioxide is produced in the process.&nbsp

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Kim Wickland ( Phone: 303-541-3072 );



General view of a 35-meter-high riverbank exposure of the ice-rich syngenetic permafrost (yedoma) containing large ice wedges along the Itkillik River in northern Alaska. Copyright-free photo courtesy Mikhail Kanevskiy; University of Alaska Fairbanks, Institute of Northern Engineering; 8/13/2011. (High resolution image)

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and key academic partners have quantified how rapidly ancient permafrost decomposes upon thawing and how much carbon dioxide is produced in the process. 

Huge stores of organic carbon in permafrost soils ­­— frozen for hundreds to tens of thousands of years across high northern latitudes worldwide — are currently isolated from the modern day carbon cycle. However, if thawed by changing climate conditions, wildfire, or other disturbances, this massive carbon reservoir could decompose and be emitted as the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane, or be carried as dissolved organic carbon to streams and rivers. 

"Many scientists worldwide are now investigating the complicated potential end results of thawing permafrost," said Rob Striegl, USGS scientist and study co-author. "There are critical questions to consider, such as: How much of the stored permafrost carbon might thaw in a future climate? Where will it go? And, what are the consequences for our climate and our aquatic ecosystems?"

At a newly excavated tunnel operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers near Fairbanks, Alaska, a research team from USGS, the University of Colorado Boulder, and Florida State University set out to determine how rapidly the dissolved organic carbon from ancient (about 35,000 years old) “yedoma” soils decomposes upon soil thaw and how much carbon dioxide is produced. 

Yedoma is a distinct type of permafrost soil found across Alaska and Siberia that accounts for a significant portion of the permafrost soil carbon pool. These soils were deposited as wind-blown silts in the late Pleistocene age and froze soon after they were formed. 

"It had previously been assumed that permafrost soil carbon this old was already degraded and not susceptible to rapid decomposition upon thaw," said Kim Wickland, the USGS scientist who led the team. 

The researchers found that more than half of the dissolved organic carbon in yedoma permafrost was decomposed within one week after thawing. About 50% of that carbon was converted to carbon dioxide, while the rest likely became microbial biomass. 

Map of the northern circumpolar permafrost zone, highlighting the extent of the yedoma permafrost region (indicated in yellow and red). Map image and copyright permission courtesy of Macmillan Publishers Ltd, from NATURE, Schuur et al., 2015, Climate change and the permafrost carbon feedback, doi:10.1038/nature14338, copyright 2015. (High resolution image)

"What this study adds is that we show what makes permafrost so biodegradable," said Travis Drake, the lead author of the research. "Immediately upon thaw, microbes start using the carbon and then it is sent back into the atmosphere." Drake was both a USGS employee and a master’s degree student at the University of Colorado during the investigation. 

The researchers attribute this rapid decomposition to high concentrations of low molecular weight organic acids in the dissolved organic carbon, which are known to be easily degradable and are not usually present at high concentrations in other soils. 

These rates are among the fastest permafrost decomposition rates that have been documented. It is the first study to link rapid microbial consumption of ancient permafrost soil-derived dissolved organic carbon to the production of carbon dioxide.

An important implication of the study for aquatic ecosystems is that dissolved organic carbon released by thawing yedoma permafrost will be quickly converted to carbon dioxide and emitted to the atmosphere from soils or small streams before it can be transported to major rivers or coastal regions. 

This research was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs provided essential support for the investigation. 

Uncovering the Mighty Mississippi's Natural Potential for Nitrogen Removal

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 10/26/2015 - 14:52
Summary: Working throughout the Mississippi River basin, USGS scientists and collaborators from the University of Texas at Austin have established the river’s own potential to decrease its load of nitrate and identified how certain basic river management practices could increase that potential. 

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Jud Harvey ( Phone: 571-420-7616 );



Working throughout the Mississippi River basin, USGS scientists and collaborators from the University of Texas at Austin have established the river’s own potential to decrease its load of nitrate and identified how certain basic river management practices could increase that potential. 

"Increasing nitrogen concentrations, mostly due to the runoff of agricultural fertilizers, in the world's major rivers have led to over-fertilization of waters downstream, diminishing their commercial and recreational values,” said William Werkheiser, USGS associate director for water. “Understanding the natural potential of rivers themselves to remove nitrogen from the water, and boosting that potential, is a promising avenue to help mitigate the problem." 

Beneath all streams and rivers is a shallow layer of sediment that is permeated by water exchange across the sediment surface. This thin region in the sediment beneath and to the side of the stream is referred to by scientists as the "hyporheic" zone, from Greek words meaning "under the flow." 

"We’ve found in previous studies,” said Jesus Gomez-Velez, lead author of the study, “that the flow of stream water through this thin zone of sediment enhances chemical reactions by microbes that perform denitrification, a reaction that removes nitrogen from the aquatic system by converting it to nitrogen gas.” A USGS post-doctoral scientist at the time of the study, Gomez-Velez is now an assistant professor at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. 

The research team determined that, throughout the Mississippi River network, vertical hyporheic exchange (with sediments directly beneath streams and rivers) has denitrification potential that far exceeds lateral hyporheic exchange with bank sediments.

"Rivers with more vertical exchange are more efficient at denitrification, as long as the contact time with sediment is matched with a reaction time of several hours," observed co-author Jud Harvey, the USGS team leader for the study.  

The study findings suggest that managing rivers to help avoid the sealing of streambeds with fine sediments, which decreases hyporheic flow, would help exploit the valuable natural capability of rivers to improve their own water quality.  Other river management and restoration practices that protect permeable river bedforms could also boost efficiency, such as reducing fine sediment runoff to rivers. 

However, typical river channel restoration strategies that realign channels to increase meandering would not be as effective, because a comparatively small amount of water and river nitrate are processed through river banks compared with river beds.  Although not yet tested in the model, allowing natural flooding over river banks onto floodplains may also be an effective means of processing large amounts of river water to remove nitrogen before it reaches sensitive coastal waters. 

Conducted by USGS and partners from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and the University of Texas at Austin, the research investigation was recently published in the journal Nature Geoscience

The river corridor includes surface and subsurface sediments beneath and outside the wetted channel. Greater interaction between river water and sediment enhances important chemical reactions, such as denitrification, that improve downstream water quality. (high resolution image) Stream and river water make many excursions through hyporheic flow paths. The metrics in the diagram key denote the number of excursions that water makes through hyporheic flow paths per kilometer of river distance. Vertical exchange though streambed hyporheic flow paths is much more efficient compared with exchange through lateral (stream bank) hyporheic flow paths. Also, hyporheic exchange is less efficient in the Upper Mississippi River sub-basin compared with the Missouri or Ohio sub-basins. The primary reasons for different hyporheic flow efficiencies are differences in river basin slope and sediment textures that permit greater hyporheic flow in some areas compared to others. (high resolution image)

Restoration Handbook for Sagebrush Steppe Ecosystems, Part 1 - Understanding and Applying Restoration

USGS Newsroom Technical - Mon, 10/26/2015 - 12:30
Summary: Heightened interest in advancing sage-grouse conservation has increased the importance of sagebrush-steppe restoration to recover or create wildlife habitat conditions that meet the species’ needs.

Contact Information:

Susan Kemp ( Phone: 541-750-1047 ); Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



Mountain big sagebrush - or Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana - is a sub-species of big sagebrush that is found in primarily at higher elevation and colder, drier sites between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. (High resolution image)

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Heightened interest in advancing sage-grouse conservation has increased the importance of sagebrush-steppe restoration to recover or create wildlife habitat conditions that meet the species’ needs.  Today, the U.S. Geological Survey published part one of a three-part handbook addressing restoration of sagebrush ecosystems from the landscape to the site level.                                                                                         

"Land managers face many challenges in restoring sagebrush-steppe landscapes to meet multiple management objectives," said David Pyke, USGS ecologist and lead author of the new USGS Circular. "Many wildlife species require multiple types of habitat spread over many scales – landscape to local site level. Managers are challenged to know where, when and how to implement restoration projects so they are effective across all these scales."

The new handbook describes a sagebrush-steppe habitat restoration framework that incorporates landscape ecology principles and information on resistance of sagebrush-steppe to invasive plants and resilience to disturbance. This section of the handbook introduces habitat managers and restoration practitioners to basic concepts about sagebrush ecosystems, landscape ecology and restoration ecology, with emphasis on greater sage-grouse habitats.

Six specific concepts covered are:

  • similarities and differences among sagebrush plant communities,
  • plant community resilience to disturbance and resistance to invasive plants based on soil temperature and moisture regimes,
  • soils and the ecology critical for plant species used for restoration,
  • changes that can be made to current management practices or re-vegetation efforts in support of general restoration actions,
  • landscape restoration with an emphasis on restoration to benefit sage-grouse and
  • monitoring effectiveness of restoration actions in support of adaptive management.

"Restoration of an ecosystem is a daunting task that appears insurmountable at first," said Pyke. "But as with any large undertaking, the key is breaking down the process into the essential components to successfully meet objectives. Within the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, restoration is likely to be most successful with a better understanding of how to prioritize landscapes for effective restoration and to apply principles of ecosystem resilience and resistance in restoration decisions."

Pyke noted that the blending of ecosystem realities – such as soil, temperature and moisture – with species-specific needs provides an ecologically based framework for strategically focusing restoration measures to support species of conservation concern over the short and long term.

Part one of the handbook sets the stage for two decision support tools. Part two of the handbook will provide restoration guidance at a landscape level, and part three, restoration guidance at the site level.

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, 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.

Floods in South Carolina Set 17 USGS Streamgage Records

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 10/22/2015 - 15:13
Summary: During the historic October 2015 floods in South Carolina, 17 U.S. Geological Survey streamgages recorded the highest peak streamflow and/or river height (or stage) since those streamgages were installed. An additional 15 USGS streamgages recorded peaks in the top 5 for their periods of record

Contact Information:

Toby Feaster ( Phone: 864-656-6747 ); John Shelton ( Phone: 803-750-6112 ); Vic Hines ( Phone: 813-855-3125 );



During the historic October 2015 floods in South Carolina, 17 U.S. Geological Survey streamgages recorded the highest peak streamflow and/or river height (or stage) since those streamgages were installed. An additional 15 USGS streamgages recorded peaks in the top 5 for their periods of record.

One of these streamgages, located on the Black River at Kingstree, South Carolina, recorded its largest peak in the 87 years it has existed. The streamgage showed that the Black River reached a peak streamflow of 83,700 cubic feet per second and a stage of 22.65 feet. The previous maximum on the Black River occurred on June 14, 1973. Additional annual peak stage data collected by the National Weather Service at the gauge prior to USGS operation indicates this is likely the highest flood since 1893.

"This was absolutely an historic flood for South Carolina," said John Shelton, the USGS hydrologist who oversaw the agency’s field response and gauging operations in South Carolina. "Throughout the event we continued to monitor our network of about 170 real-time streamgages, and we sent dozens of teams out in the field to verify what we were seeing. Fortunately, we have quite a few long-standing streamgages in South Carolina, so we can put these floods into historical context."

One of the longest-running streamgages in South Carolina is the one on the Congaree River in Columbia, with annual records back to 1892 and even flood information for 1852. That means that there are 123 years of record to place the October 2015 floods into perspective.

The USGS streamgage on the Congaree River at Columbia peaked at 185,000 cubic feet per second at a peak stage of 31.8 feet on October 4, 2015. When compared to the historical flood record, this peak ranks eighth out of 123 years of record with the peak of record being 364,000 cubic feet per second at a peak stage of 39.8 feet on August 27, 1908. 

However, the October 2015 flood on the Congaree River is the highest since April 8, 1936, when the river peaked at 231,000 cubic feet per second at a peak stage of 33.3 ft.

For comparison, an Olympic-sized swimming pool contains 88,000 cubic feet, so the October 4, 2015, peak on the Congaree River at Columbia would fill a little over two Olympic-sized swimming pools every second.

Throughout the entire flood, the USGS deployed nearly 100 people who collected almost 250 distinct streamflow measurements in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia; deployed and recovered storm-tide sensors and Rapid-Deployment Gauges; and flagged and determined the elevation of close to 600 high-water marks in support of response and recovery missions for FEMA.  The effort, led by the USGS South Atlantic Water Science Center, which has offices in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia, was supported by teams from other USGS offices in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.

A total of 8 streamgages were destroyed or damaged during the floods in South Carolina, with five replaced with Rapid-Deployment Gauges within hours of the gauge outage.

In South Carolina, the teams made about 140 streamflow measurements at about 86 real-time streamgages to verify or update existing information on streamflow at that site. This information, along with a comparison of historic peak flows or stages and a chronology of major flood events in South Carolina since 1893, is available in a new USGS report entitled "Preliminary Peak Stage and Streamflow Data at Selected USGS Streamgaging Stations for the South Carolina Flood of October 2015."

New Model Improves Predictions for How Climate Change Will Affect Fish Habitat

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 10/21/2015 - 08:58
Summary: A new approach by U.S. Geological Survey scientists to modeling water temperatures resulted in more realistic predictions of how climate change will affect fish habitat by taking into account effects of cold groundwater sources.

Contact Information:

Craig Snyder ( Phone: 304-724-4468 ); Nathaniel Hitt ( Phone: 304-724-4463 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



A new approach by U.S. Geological Survey scientists to modeling water temperatures resulted in more realistic predictions of how climate change will affect fish habitat by taking into account effects of cold groundwater sources.

The study, recently published in the journal Ecological Applications, showed that groundwater is highly influential but also highly variable among streams and will lead to a patchy distribution of suitable fish habitat under climate change.  This new modeling approach used brook trout, but can be applied to other species that require coldwater streams for survival.

"One thing that has been missing from other models is the recognition that groundwater moderates the temperature of headwater streams," said Nathaniel Hitt, a fish biologist and study coauthor. "Our paper helps to bring the effects of groundwater into climate change forecasts for fish habitat."

Climate change models predict that summer air temperatures will increase between 2.7 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit in the eastern United States over the next 50 to 100 years. Such increases in air temperatures will increase water temperatures of streams and rivers and pose a significant threat to fish like brook trout that have low resistance to warming water temperatures. 

Brook trout are an important cultural and recreational species with specific restoration outcomes identified in the new Chesapeake Bay Agreement.

However, how these global and regional predictions regarding a changing climate translate to water temperatures in specific streams or stream reaches, a process called “downscaling”, remains an important and challenging question for scientists and natural resource managers.

Previous efforts to downscale global and regional estimates of air temperature change down to water temperatures in individual streams and river networks have relied on the assumption that the exchange of heat between the water and the surrounding air is the primary driver of water temperature within an individual section of a stream. However, the exchange of heat between cold groundwater and warmer surface water can also be very important, especially in headwater streams where the volume of water is relatively small.

"Our models help improve the spatial resolution of climate change forecasts in headwater streams," said Craig Snyder, a USGS research ecologist and lead author of the study. "This work will assist conservation and restoration efforts by connecting climate change models to places that matter for stream fishes."

The study is available online:  Snyder, C.D., N.P. Hitt, and J.A. Young. 2015. Accounting for groundwater in stream fish thermal habitat responses to climate change. Ecological Applications 25:1397-1419.

A Century of Induced Earthquakes in Oklahoma?

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 10/20/2015 - 15:51
Summary: The rate of earthquakes has increased sharply since 2009 in the central and eastern United States, with growing evidence confirming that these earthquakes are primarily caused by human activity, namely the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells

Contact Information:

Donyelle Davis ( Phone: 626-202-2393
 );



Cimmarron River bed operations in Cushing Oil Field, Oklahoma, Looking Southwest. Creek County, Oklahoma. December 2, 1915. Panorama in two parts. / USGS archive Photo. (High resolution image)

The rate of earthquakes has increased sharply since 2009 in the central and eastern United States, with growing evidence confirming that these earthquakes are primarily caused by human activity, namely the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells.  A new study by the U.S Geological Survey released today presents evidence that, in addition to these recent earthquakes, most of the larger earthquakes in Oklahoma in the past century may likely have been induced by industrial activities.

This study explores the especially high rates of activity in Oklahoma, the background rate of natural earthquakes in the state and how much the earthquake rate has varied through the 20th century.  

"In Oklahoma, seismicity rates since 2009 far surpass previously observed rates at any time during the 20th century," said Susan Hough, USGS seismologist and lead author of the study.  "Several lines of evidence further suggest that most of the significant earthquakes in Oklahoma during the 20th century may also have been induced by oil production activities. Deep injection of waste water, now recognized to potentially induce earthquakes, in fact began in the state in the 1930s."

The study uses archival reports at the Library of Congress and drill permit records showing the location of wells from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to track how wastewater injection evolved over time, with an increase around 1950 due to a rise in secondary oil recovery in response to  increasing depletion of fields.

"Waste water injection has a strong correlation to the increase in earthquakes," said Morgan Page, USGS seismologist and co-author of the study. "The results further demonstrate that, while the rates seen in recent years are unprecedented, induced earthquakes are likely nothing new in Oklahoma."

Oil production in Oklahoma has been going on for over 100 years.  Some activities related to oil production, particularly disposal of wastewater in deep injection wells, are known to potentially cause earthquakes.  Prior to the 2011 magnitude 5.7 Prague, Oklahoma earthquake, the largest historical earthquake in the area was the 1952 magnitude 5.7 El Reno earthquake, which the study concludes was likely induced by activities related to oil production near Edmond, Oklahoma. 

The complete research paper, "A Century of Induced Earthquakes in Oklahoma?" by Susan E. Hough and Morgan Page was released online in the journal Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

Arctic Mammals May Face Shrinking Habitat from Climate Warming

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 10/19/2015 - 13:00
Summary: A new scientific study predicts that some of Alaska’s mammal species will respond to future climate warming by concentrating in northern areas such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska

Contact Information:

Andrew Hope ( Phone: 785-477-1876 ); Paul  Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



Meadow vole rests in its habitat. (High resolution image)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A new scientific study predicts that some of Alaska’s mammal species will respond to future climate warming by concentrating in northern areas such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska. If true, for many species, this would be a significant northward shift into tundra habitats where they are currently absent.

“Small mammal species such as shrews and voles, and larger species like wolverine and marmots have been in Alaska for many thousands of years and have responded to past climate cycles just as they are responding to the current warming trend,” said Dr. Andrew Hope, lead author of the study and former researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Since these mammals experienced past climate cycles, we were able to interpret signatures of population level responses to those climate events recorded in their DNA, and then also use that information to predict likely shifts in animal distributions throughout Alaska into the future,” said Hope.

Researchers that participated in the study with Hope examined at total of 28 mammal species including those from both northern tundra and relatively more southern boreal forest habitats. The scientists determined the northern movement by looking at current geographic distribution of the animals, coupled with their historical range, and then interpreted from genetic signatures of response to past climate changes to predict where they will likely be found in 2050 and 2080.   

Hope worked on the project with researchers from the USGS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the City College of New York, the University of Nevada-Reno, and the University of New Mexico. The study leveraged genetic data collected over the past several decades in multiple laboratories.

“This approach allowed us to examine the consistency among predicted changes to mammal distributions and determine if there are differences in management implications across regions," said David Payer, chair of the Arctic Landscape Conservation Cooperative and a co-author of the study. 

This study highlights the value of analyzing many species associated with discrete ecological communities that each share different evolutionary histories.

Hope conducted the research as a post-doctoral fellow at the USGS.    

The study was published in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecosphere.

Visit the USGS Alaska Science Center for more information.

Map shows land management status, ecoregions, and predictions for changes in small mammal biodiversity through time based on all 28 species. Lands highlighted in the map include the Arctic Network of National Parks administered by the National Park Service (NPS; square), Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (administered by the USFWS; circle) and National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A; administered by the BLM; triangle). Biodiversity predictions were based on Last Interglacial (LIG), Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), current (Now), 2050s, and 2070s climate projections. The color gradient reflects areas of low (blue) to high (red) species richness. . (High resolution image)

Grass Carp Eggs Compromised by Settling on Streambeds

USGS Newsroom Technical - Thu, 10/15/2015 - 14:10
Summary: Grass carp egg survival is compromised when they settle on streambeds and are potentially covered by sediments, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey. It has been long assumed that the eggs of Asian carps, including grass carp, must be carried in the water current in order to hatch successfully, but no previous scientific studies have proven that theory. 

Contact Information:

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



Grass carp egg survival is compromised when they settle on streambeds and are potentially covered by sediments, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey. It has been long assumed that the eggs of Asian carps, including grass carp, must be carried in the water current in order to hatch successfully, but no previous scientific studies have proven that theory. 

This information is critical in helping resource managers mitigate effects of an Asian carp invasion. Results can be used to improve models that help predict where and when carp might successfully reproduce. Findings support the idea of engineering settling zones as a potential control mechanism. The full report is available online.

"Many assessments of the potential for Asian carp invasion are based on the assumption that if eggs fall to the sediment, they die," said USGS scientist Duane Chapman. "This study constitutes the first actual evidence that falling to the sediment is detrimental to Asian carp eggs, allowing scientists more confidence in predicting where these fish could reproduce."

Using sand, the effects of varying sediment levels on grass carp eggs were tested at different developmental states and temperatures. Survival was low in the partial burial (5–10 percent) and very low (0–4 percent) in the full burial treatment. In treatments where eggs rested on the sediment surface but had no sediment over them, survival was higher (15-35 percent) but, as in all treatments with settled eggs, hatching was severely delayed compared to eggs suspended by current.  Many settled eggs lived until the end of the three separate study periods but did not hatch. Deformities, such as missing heads and heart conditions, occurred at high rates in the partial and full burials.

This study was supported by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. For more information visit the USGS Great Lakes Restoration Initiative website.

 

Birds in the Bakken: Oil Development Can Affect Critical Habitat

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 10/14/2015 - 14:00
Summary: Many grassland bird species in the Bakken shale region, including some seriously declining populations, are displaced from their habitats as a result of oil and gas development, according to new U.S. Geological Survey research

Contact Information:

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



Many grassland bird species in the Bakken shale region, including some seriously declining populations, are displaced from their habitats as a result of oil and gas development, according to new U.S. Geological Survey research.

During 2012-2014, USGS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists studied Bakken grassland sites in northern North Dakota containing oil well pads, which are the gravel surfaces that house all oil extraction infrastructures. Overall, grassland birds avoided areas within 150 meters, or about 492 feet of gravel roads, 267 meters (about 876 feet) of single-bore well pads and 150 meters of pads with more than one well. These results suggest that detrimental effects of oil extraction on habitat extend considerably beyond the immediate oil well sites.

"Quantifying environmental degradation caused by oil development is a critical step in understanding how to better mitigate harm to valuable wildlife populations," said USGS scientist Sarah Thompson, the lead author of the report. "Our findings can help managers and developers determine the best locations for future infrastructure." 

The study focused on sites developed with unconventional methods, such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The most commonly detected species were the grasshopper sparrow, Savannah sparrow, clay-colored sparrow, bobolink, chestnut-collared longspur, western meadowlark, brown-headed cowbird, Baird's sparrow, Sprague's pipit and red-winged blackbird.

Specific findings include:

  • Individual species showed varying tolerance for oil wells.
  • Reduced population densities of the Baird’s sparrow, chestnut-collared longspur and grasshopper sparrow were observed as far as 550 meters from single-bore wells, which were the farthest distances surveyed.
  • Clay-colored sparrows and brown-headed cowbirds were tolerant of oil-related infrastructure.
  • Sprague’s pipit, which is a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act, showed reduced density within 350 meters of single-bore wells.

"Our findings suggest that reducing new road construction, concentrating wells along developed corridors, combining numerous wells on multi-bore pads and placing wells near existing roads could help minimize loss of suitable habitat for birds," Thompson said.

The Bakken oil-producing regions of North Dakota, Montana and Canada are home to a particularly high density and diversity of grassland bird species that are declining across North America. For more information on USGS ecosystem research in the Bakken, please visit the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center website.

USGS Seismologist Lucy Jones to Receive Prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 10/07/2015 - 16:51
Summary: To honor groundbreaking earthquake research by U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Dr. Lucile “Lucy” Jones, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will present Jones with the prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal (Sammies) at an awards ceremony this evening at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium Secretary Jewell will present award at ceremony tonight

Contact Information:

Arlene Compher ( Phone: 703-648-4282 );



To honor groundbreaking earthquake research by U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Dr. Lucile “Lucy” Jones, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will present Jones with the prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal (Sammies) at an awards ceremony this evening at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.

USGS Estimates 21 Million Barrels of Oil and 27 Billion Cubic Feet of Gas in the Monterey Formation of the San Joaquin Basin, California

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 10/06/2015 - 12:00
Summary: The Monterey Formation in the deepest parts of California’s San Joaquin Basin contains an estimated mean volumes of 21 million barrels of oil, 27 billion cubic feet of gas, and 1 million barrels of natural gas liquids, according to the first USGS assessment of continuous (unconventional), technically recoverable resources in the Monterey Formation

Contact Information:

Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 ); Chris Schenk ( Phone: 303-236-5796 );



The Monterey Formation in the deepest parts of California’s San Joaquin Basin contains an estimated mean volumes of 21 million barrels of oil, 27 billion cubic feet of gas, and 1 million barrels of natural gas liquids, according to the first USGS assessment of continuous (unconventional), technically recoverable resources in the Monterey Formation.

“Understanding our domestic oil and gas resource potential is important for many reasons, including helping policy makers to make informed decisions about energy policy, leasing of federal lands, and impact on other resources such as water,” said Vito Nuccio, Acting USGS Energy Resources Program Coordinator. “That’s why the USGS maintains a strong oil and gas assessment team whose goal is to assess new domestic and global areas and continually update previous assessments as warranted.”

The volume estimated in the new study is small, compared to previous USGS estimates of conventionally trapped recoverable oil in the Monterey Formation in the San Joaquin Basin. Those earlier estimates were for oil that could come either from producing more Monterey oil from existing fields, or from discovering new conventional resources in the Monterey Formation.

The area of the potential continuous accumulation assessed in this study is limited to where the Monterey Formation is deeply buried, thermally mature, and thought to be generating oil.

The assessment team concluded that most of the petroleum that has originated from shale of the Monterey Formation in the assessment area has migrated from the source rock, so there is probably relatively little recoverable oil or gas remaining there, and most exploratory wells in the deep basin are unlikely to be successful.  

Geological data from more than 80 older wells that penetrated the deep Monterey Formation indicate that retention of oil or gas in the Monterey Formation shale source rock is poor, probably because of natural fracturing, faulting, and folding.

The oil and gas readily migrates from the deep Monterey Formation to fill the many shallower conventional reservoirs in the basin, including some in fractured Monterey Formation shale, and accounts for the prolific production there.

Although the data suggest that there is apparently not a large volume of unconventional oil and gas resources in the Monterey in the deep part of the basin, there are still substantial volumes of additional conventional oil and gas resources oil in the Monterey Formation in the shallower conventional traps in the San Joaquin Basin, as indicated by earlier assessments.

In 2003, USGS conducted an assessment of conventional oil and gas in the San Joaquin Basin, estimating a mean of 121 million barrels of oil recoverable from the Monterey. In addition, in 2012, USGS assessed the potential volume of oil that could be added to reserves in the San Joaquin Basin from increasing recovery in existing fields. The results of that study suggested that a mean of about 3 billion barrels of oil might eventually be added to reserves from Monterey reservoirs in conventional traps, mostly from a type of rock in the Monterey called diatomite, which has recently been producing over 20 million barrels of oil per year.

The estimate of undiscovered continuous oil in the deep Monterey ranges from 3 million to 53 million barrels (95 percent to 5 percent probability, respectively). The estimate of natural gas ranges from 5 to 72 billion cubic feet (95 percent to 5 percent probability, respectively), and the estimate of natural gas liquids ranges from 0 to 3 million barrels (95 percent to 5 percent probability, respectively).

These new estimates are for technically recoverable oil and gas resources, which are those quantities of oil and gas producible using currently available technology and industry practices, regardless of economic or accessibility considerations.

USGS is the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources of onshore lands and offshore state waters. The USGS Monterey Formation assessment was undertaken as part of a nationwide project assessing domestic petroleum basins using standardized methodology and protocol.

The new assessment of the Monterey Formation in the San Joaquin Basin 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.

A map showing the extent of the San Joaquin Basin, as well as the location of the two assessment units of the Monterey Formation that were included. (High resolution image)