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USGS Latest News

Melting Glaciers Increase the Flow of Carbon to Downstream Ecosystems

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 01/20/2015 - 13:00
Summary: Melting glaciers are not just impacting sea level, they are also affecting the flow of organic carbon to the world’s oceans, according to new research that provides the first ever global-scale estimates for the storage and release of organic carbon from glaciers

Contact Information:

Ryan  McClymont ( Phone: 503-251-3237 ); Katie Bausler ( Phone: 907-796-6530 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska    Melting glaciers are not just impacting sea level, they are also affecting the flow of organic carbon to the world’s oceans, according to new research that provides the first ever global-scale estimates for the storage and release of organic carbon from glaciers. 

The research, published in the Jan. 19 issue of Nature Geoscience, is crucial to better understand the role glaciers play in the global carbon cycle, especially as climate warming continues to reduce glacier ice stores and release ice-locked organic carbon into downstream freshwater and marine ecosystems.

“This research makes it clear that glaciers represent a substantial reservoir of organic carbon,” said Eran Hood, the lead author on the paper and a scientist with the University of Alaska Southeast (Juneau).  “As a result, the loss of glacier mass worldwide, along with the corresponding release of carbon, will affect high-latitude marine ecosystems, particularly those surrounding the major ice sheets that now receive fairly limited land-to-ocean fluxes of organic carbon.”

Polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers cover roughly 11 percent of the Earth’s land surface and contain about 70 percent of Earth’s fresh water. They also store and release organic carbon to downstream environments as they melt.  Because this glacier-derived organic carbon is readily metabolized by microorganisms, it can affect productivity in aquatic ecosystems.

“This research demonstrates that the impacts of glacier change reach beyond sea level rise,” said U.S. Geological Survey research glaciologist and co-author of the research Shad O’Neel. “Changes in organic carbon release from glaciers have implications for aquatic ecosystems because this material is readily consumed by microbes at the bottom of the food chain.”

Due to climate change, glacier mass losses are expected to accelerate, leading to a cumulative loss of nearly 17 million tons of glacial dissolved organic carbon by 2050 — equiva­lent to about half of the annual flux of dissolved organic carbon from the Amazon River.

These estimates are the first of their kind, and thus have high uncertainty, the scientists wrote, noting that refining estimates of organic carbon loss from glaciers is critical for improving the understanding of the impacts of glacier change. The U.S. Department of the Interior Alaska Climate Science Center and USGS Alaska Science Center plan to continue this work in 2015 and beyond with new efforts aimed at studying the biophysical implications of glacier change.

This project highlights ongoing collaboration between academic and federal research and the transformative results that stem from such funding partnerships.  Other institutions involved in the research include Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Florida State University.

The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the USGS Alaska Science Center, and the DOI Alaska Climate Science Center. The Alaska Climate Science Center provides scientific information to help natural resource managers and policy makers respond effectively to climate change.

New Nebraska Maps Feature Trails

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 01/13/2015 - 10:00
Summary: Newly released US Topo maps for Nebraska now feature trails provided to the USGS through a “crowdsourcing” project operated 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 Nebraska now feature trails provided to the USGS through a “crowdsourcing” project operated by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA). Several of the 1,376 new US Topo quadrangles for the state now display trails along with other improved data layers such as map symbol redesign and new road source data.

"As an avid cyclist I look forward to exploring the new US Topo maps for bike trails as I plan my trips," said Jim Langtry, National Map Liaison for Nebraska. "I look forward to the expansion of the trail network and hope this encourages the crowdsourcing effort to add and maintain trails for future updates.  It would be great to see the Cowboy Trail, the nation’s longest rails-to-trail trek along the northern tier of Nebraska, included on the next update. You can hike, bike, or horseback ride a total of 195 miles on the completed trail from Norfolk to Valentine. Enjoy the small towns along the way, beautiful scenery and pristine air on the Cowboy Trail."

For Nebraska residents and visitors who want to explore the rolling “cornhusker” landscape on a bicycle seat, the new trail features on the US Topo maps will come in handy. The data is provided through a partnership with IMBA and MTB Project. During the past two years, the IMBA has been building a detailed national database of mountain bike trails with the aid and support of the MTB Project. 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 that 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.

These new maps replace the first edition US Topo maps for Nebraska 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/

New version of the North Platte, Nebraska US Topo quadrangle: 2014, with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1.2 MB) 1902 historic version of the North Platte, Nebraska US Topo quadrangle at 1;25,000 scale. (high resolution image 1.8 MB)

Oso Landslide Research Paves Way for Future Hazard Evaluations

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 01/12/2015 - 13:00
Summary: VANCOUVER, Wash. — The large landslide that occurred on March 22, 2014 near Oso, Washington was unusually mobile and destructive. The first published study from U.S. Geological Survey investigations of the Oso landslide (named the “SR530 Landslide” by Washington State) reveals that the potential for landslide liquefaction and high mobility are influenced by several factors, and the landslide process at Oso could have unfolded very differently (with much less destruction) if initial conditions had been only subtly different. 

Contact Information:

Carolyn  Driedger ( Phone: 360-993-8907 ); Leslie  Gordon ( Phone: 650-329-4006 );



VANCOUVER, Wash. — The large landslide that occurred on March 22, 2014 near Oso, Washington was unusually mobile and destructive. The first published study from U.S. Geological Survey investigations of the Oso landslide (named the “SR530 Landslide” by Washington State) reveals that the potential for landslide liquefaction and high mobility are influenced by several factors, and the landslide process at Oso could have unfolded very differently (with much less destruction) if initial conditions had been only subtly different. 

A major focus of the research reported this week is to understand the causes and effects of the landslide’s high mobility. High “mobility” implies high speeds and large areas of impact, which can be far from the landslide source area. Because high-mobility landslides overrun areas that are larger than  normal, they present a significant challenge for landslide hazard evaluation. Understanding of the Oso event adds to the knowledge base that can be used to improve future hazard evaluations.

Computer reconstructions of the landslide source-area geometry make use of high-resolution digital topographic (lidar) data, and they indicate that the Oso landslide involved about 8 million cubic meters (about 18 million tons, or almost 3 times the mass of the Great Pyramid of Giza) of material.  The material consisted of sediments deposited by ancient glaciers and in streams and lakes near the margins of those glaciers. The landslide occurred after a long period of unusually wet weather. Prolonged wet weather increases groundwater pressures, which act to destabilize slopes by reducing frictional resistance between sediment particles.

The slope that failed at Oso on March 22, 2014 had a long history of prior historical landslides at the site, but these had not exhibited exceptional mobility.

The area overrun by the March 22 landslide was about 1.2 square kilometers (one-half square mile), mostly on the nearly flat floodplain of the North Fork Stillaguamish River. Additional areas were affected by upstream flooding along the river, which was partially dammed by the landslide. Eyewitness accounts and seismic energy radiated by the landslide indicate that slope failure occurred in two stages over the course of about 1 minute. During the second stage of slope failure, the landslide greatly accelerated, crossed the North Fork Stillaguamish River, and mobilized to form a high-speed debris avalanche. The leading edge of the wet debris avalanche probably acquired additional water as it crossed the North Fork Stillaguamish River. It transformed into a water-saturated debris flow (a fully liquefied slurry of quicksand-like material) that entrained and transported virtually all objects in its path.

Field evidence and mathematical modeling indicate that the high mobility of the debris avalanche was caused by liquefaction at the base of the slide caused by pressures generated by the landslide itself. The physics of landslide liquefaction has been studied experimentally and is well understood, but the complex nature of natural geological materials complicates efforts to predict which landslides will liquefy and become highly mobile.

Results from a suite of computer simulations indicate that the landslide’s liquefaction and high mobility were very sensitive to its initial porosity and water content. Landslide mobility may have been far less if the landslide material had been slightly denser and/or drier. Computer simulations that best fit field observations and seismological interpretations indicate that the fast-moving landslide crossed the entire 1-km-wide river floodplain in about one minute, implying an average speed of about 40 miles per hour.  Maximum speeds were even higher.

Only one individual landslide in U.S. history (an event in Mameyes, Puerto Rico in 1985 that killed at least 129) caused more fatalities than the 43 that occurred in the 2014 landslide near Oso.

The full paper, “Landslide mobility and hazards: implications of the 2014 Oso disaster” by R.M. Iverson et al. is published in the journal, “Earth and Planetary Science Letters” and is freely available online. 

Oso landslide simulation screen shot. (High resolution image) (Video)

[Access images for this release at: <a href="http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2015_01_12" _mce_href="http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2015_01_12">http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2015_01_12</a>]

By Bike, Foot or Hoof: New Arizona Maps Feature Trails

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 01/07/2015 - 10:00
Summary: Newly released US Topo maps for Arizona now feature mountain bike trails, segments of the Arizona National Scenic Trail and Public Land Survey System data

Contact Information:

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



Newly released US Topo maps for Arizona now feature mountain bike trails, segments of the Arizona National Scenic Trail and Public Land Survey System data.  Several of the 1,880 new US Topo quadrangles for the state now display these selected new features along with other improved data layers.

“Having recently returned to Arizona, I am excited to re-explore our state using the new USGS Arizona Topo maps,” said Curtis Pulford, Arizona State Cartographer.  “Detailed topographic maps are one of the best ways I know to visualize the terrain one is planning to examine.  All who use these will appreciate the newly updated reference features, such as BLM Public Lands Survey System, roadways, schools, fire and police stations, post offices, and hospitals.   Mountain bikers will appreciate the addition of International Mountain Biking Association trails.  And the addition of the 817 mile, border to border, Arizona National Scenic Trail will be an outstanding resource for nature enthusiasts, hikers and equestrians.” 

For Arizona residents and visitors who want to explore the landscape on a bicycle seat, the new mountain bike trails will come in handy. The mountain bike trail data is provided through a partnership with the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) and MTB Project. During the past two years, the IMBA has been building a detailed national database of mountain bike trails with the aid and support of the MTB Project. 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 that the trail is legal.  This unique “crowdsourcing” project has allowed availability of mountain bike trail data though mobile and web apps, and the revised US Topo maps.

National Scenic Trail enthusiasts can now find the “Arizona Trail” on new US Topo map segments. The Arizona National Scenic Trail stretches more than 800 miles from the Mexican border to Utah to connect deserts, mountains, canyons, wilderness, history, communities and people.  Rugged, wild and challenging, this trail showcases Arizona’s diverse vegetation, wildlife, scenery, and historic and prehistoric sites in a way that provides a unique and unparalleled Arizona experience.

“For more than 20 years the Arizona Trail Association’s members have been creating, maintaining, and mapping the Arizona National Scenic Trail,” said Aaron Seifert, GIS Director for the Arizona Trail Association. “Since the trail was designated as a National Scenic Trail in 2009 and completed in 2011, it is very exciting to display the entire trail on the new set of US Topo maps for many more to discover the diverse landscape of Arizona from this amazing trail.”

The USGS partnered with the U.S. Forest Service and the Arizona Trail Association to incorporate the trail data onto the Arizona US Topo maps. This NST joins the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail the North Country National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail as being featured on the new US Topo quads. The USGS hopes to eventually include all National Scenic Trails in The National Map products.

Another important addition to the new Arizona US Topo maps in the inclusion of Public Land Survey System. 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 Arizona 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/

New (2014) Black Canyon City, Arizona US Topo quadrangle with orthoimage turn on. (1:24,000 scale). (high resolution image 1.3 MB) Historical USGS topographic map of the Prescott, Arizona area (1887). !:250,000 scale. (high resolution image 1.6 MB) Zoom of the Black Canyon City, Arizona, US Topo quadrangle. The Blank Canyon Trail (BCT) is denoted by a dashed line on the left side of the graphic. (high resolution image 1.2 MB)

Fewer Large Earthquakes in 2014

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 01/07/2015 - 09:00
Summary: While the number of large earthquakes fell to 12 in 2014, from 19 in 2013, several moderate temblors hit areas relatively new to seismicity, including Oklahoma and Kansas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey

Contact Information:

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



While the number of large earthquakes fell to 12 in 2014, from 19 in 2013, several moderate temblors hit areas relatively new to seismicity, including Oklahoma and Kansas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Worldwide, 11 earthquakes reached magnitude 7.0-7.9 and one registered magnitude 8.2, in Iquique, Chile, on April 1. This is the lowest annual total of earthquakes magnitude 7.0 or greater since 2008, which also had 12.

Earthquakes were responsible for about 664 deaths in 2014, with 617 having perished in the magnitude 6.1 Ludian Xian, Yunnan, China, event on August 3, as reported by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Deadly quakes also occurred in Chile, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, and the United States.

A magnitude 6.0 quake struck American Canyon, California (South Napa) in the early hours of August 24, triggering more than 41,300 responses via the USGS Did You Feel It? website. One woman died from her injuries 12 days later. This temblor also represents northern California’s strongest earthquake since the October 1989 Loma Prieta event.

The biggest earthquake in the United States, and the second largest quake of 2014, was a magnitude 7.9 event in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska on June 23. Several quakes below magnitude 5.0 rattled Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and Arizona throughout the year. The USGS estimates that several million earthquakes occur throughout the world each year, although most go undetected because they have very small magnitudes or hit remote areas.

On average, the USGS National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) publishes the locations for about 40 earthquakes per day, or about 14,500 annually. The USGS NEIC publishes worldwide earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.0 or greater or U.S. earthquakes of 2.5 or greater. On average each year since about 1900, 18 have a magnitude of 7.0 or higher.

To monitor earthquakes worldwide, the USGS NEIC receives data in real-time from about 1,700 stations in more than 90 countries. These stations include the 150-station Global Seismographic Network, which is jointly supported by the USGS and the National Science Foundation, and is operated by the USGS in partnership with the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) consortium of universities. Domestically, the USGS partners with 13 regional seismic networks operated by universities that provide detailed coverage for the areas of the country with the highest seismic risk. 

In the U.S., 42 of the 50 states, plus Puerto Rico, may experience damaging ground shaking from an earthquake in 50 years, the nominal lifetime of a building. The USGS and its partners in the multi-agency National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program are working to improve earthquake monitoring and reporting capabilities through the development of the USGS Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS). More information about ANSS can be found on the ANSS website.

Read a USGS feature story to learn more about other natural hazards in 2014.

Polar Bears Shifting to Areas with More Sea Ice -- Genetic Study Reveals

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 01/06/2015 - 14:00
Summary: Editors: B-roll footage of polar bear research is available for your use.

Contact Information:

Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



Editors: B-roll footage of polar bear research is available for your use.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In a new polar bear study published today, scientists from around the Arctic have shown that recent generations of polar bears are moving towards areas with more persistent year-round sea ice.

Research scientists, led by the U.S. Geological Survey, found that the 19 recognized subpopulations of polar bears group into four genetically-similar clusters, corresponding to ecological and oceanographic factors. These four clusters are the Eastern Polar Basin, Western Polar Basin, Canadian Archipelago, and Southern Canada.

The scientists also detected directional gene flow towards the Canadian Archipelago within the last 1-3 generations. Gene flow of this type can result from populations expanding and contracting at different rates or directional movement and mating over generations. The findings of spatial structure (clusters) and directional gene flow are important because they support the hypothesis that the species is coalescing to the region of the Arctic most likely to retain sea ice into the future.

“The polar bear’s recent directional gene flow northward is something new,” said Elizabeth Peacock, USGS researcher and lead author of the study. “In our analyses that focused on more historic gene flow, we did not detect movement in this direction.” The study found that the predominant gene flow was from Southern Canada and the Eastern Polar Basin towards the Canadian Archipelago where the sea ice is more resilient to summer melt due to circulation patterns, complex geography, and cooler northern latitudes.

Projections of future sea ice extent in light of climate warming typically show greater retention of sea ice in the northern Canadian Archipelago than in other regions.

“By examining the genetic makeup of polar bears, we can estimate levels and directions of gene flow, which represents the past story of mating and movement, and population expansion and contraction,” said Peacock. “Gene flow occurs over generations, and would not be detectable by using data from satellite-collars which can only be deployed on a few polar bears for short periods of time.”

The authors also found that female polar bears showed higher fidelity to their regions of birth than did male polar bears. Data to allow comparison of the movements of male and female polar bears is difficult to obtain because male bears cannot be collared as their necks are wider than their heads.

The study also confirmed earlier work that suggests that modern polar bears stem from one or several hybridization events with brown bears. No evidence of current polar bear-brown bear hybridization was found in the more than 2,800 samples examined in the current study. Scientists concluded that the hybrid bears that have been observed in the Northern Beaufort Sea region of Canada represent a recent and currently localized phenomenon. Scientists also found that polar bear populations expanded and brown bear populations contracted in periods with more ice. In periods with less ice, the opposite was true.

The goal of the study was to see how genetic diversity and structure of the worldwide polar bear population have changed over the recent dramatic decline in their sea-ice habitat. The USGS and the Government of Nunavut led the study with scientists from 15 institutions representing all five nations with polar bears (U.S., Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia).  

This circumpolar, multi-national effort provides a timely perspective on how a rapidly changing Arctic is influencing the gene flow and likely future distribution of a species of worldwide conservation concern.  

The paper “Implications of the circumpolar genetic structure of polar bears for their conservation in a rapidly warming Arctic” was published today in the journal PLOS One.

Endangered Salmon Population Monitored with eDNA for First Time

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 14:00
Summary: CORVALLIS, Ore. — Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and Washington State University have discovered that endangered Chinook salmon can be detected accurately from DNA they release into the environment. The results are part of a special issue of the journal Biological Conservation on use of environmental DNA to inform conservation and management of aquatic species.

Contact Information:

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



CORVALLIS, Ore. — Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and Washington State University have discovered that endangered Chinook salmon can be detected accurately from DNA they release into the environment. The results are part of a special issue of the journal Biological Conservation on use of environmental DNA to inform conservation and management of aquatic species.

The special issue contains eleven papers that move the detection of aquatic species using eDNA from concept to practice and include a thorough examination of the potential benefits, limitations and biases of applying eDNA methods to research and monitoring of animals. 

“The papers in this special edition demonstrate that eDNA techniques are beginning to realize their potential contribution to the field of conservation biology worldwide,” said Caren Goldberg, Assistant Professor at Washington State University and lead editor of the special issue.

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material that contains the biological instructions to build and maintain all life forms; eDNA is the DNA that animals release into the environment through normal biological processes from sources such as feces, mucous, skin, hair, and carcasses. Research and monitoring of rare, endangered, and invasive species can be done by analyzing eDNA in water samples.

A paper included in the special issue by USGS ecologists Matthew Laramie and David Pilliod, and Goldberg, looked at the potential for eDNA analysis to improve detection of Chinook salmon in the Upper Columbia River in Washington, USA and British Columbia, Canada. This is the first time eDNA methods have been used to monitor North American salmon populations. The successful project also picked up evidence of Chinook in areas where they have not been previously observed.

“The results from this study indicate that eDNA detection methods are an effective way to determine the distribution of Chinook across a large area and can potentially be used to document the arrival of migratory species, like Pacific salmon, or colonization of streams following habitat restoration or reintroduction efforts,” said Laramie.

Spring Chinook of the Upper Columbia River are among the most imperiled North American salmon and are currently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Laramie has been working with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation Fisheries Program in the use of eDNA to document the success of reintroduction of Spring Chinook into the Okanogan Basin of the Upper Columbia River.

The papers of the special issue focus on techniques for analyzing eDNA samples, eDNA production and degradation in the environment and the laboratory, and practical applications of eDNA techniques in detecting and managing endangered fish and amphibians.

The co-editors, Goldberg, Pilliod, and WSU researcher Katherine Strickler, open the special issue with an overview on the state of eDNA science, a field developed from the studies of micro-organisms in environmental samples and DNA collected from ancient specimens such as mummified tissues or preserved plant remains.

“Incorporating eDNA methods into survey and monitoring programs will take time, but dedicated professionals around the world are rapidly advancing these methods closer to this goal,” said Goldberg.

Strickler, Goldberg, and WSU Assistant Professor Alexander Fremier authored a paper which quantified the effects of ultraviolet radiation, temperature, and pH on eDNA degradation in aquatic systems. Using eDNA from bullfrog tadpoles, the scientists determined that DNA broke down faster in warmer temperatures and higher levels of Ultraviolet-B light. 

“We need to better understand how long DNA can be detected in water under different conditions. Our work will help improve sampling strategies for eDNA monitoring of sensitive and invasive species,” said Strickler.

“These papers lead the way in advancing eDNA sample collection, processing, analysis, and interpretation,” said Pilliod, “eDNA methods have great promise for detecting aquatic species of concern and may be particularly useful when animals occur in low numbers or when there are regulatory restrictions on the use of more invasive survey techniques.”

How Does White-Nose Syndrome Kill Bats?

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 12:00
Summary: For the first time, scientists have developed a detailed explanation of how white-nose syndrome (WNS) is killing millions of bats in North America, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin New Science Helps Explain Hibernation Disease

Contact Information:

Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-202-4765 ); Gail Moede Rogall ( Phone: 608-270-2438 );



For the first time, scientists have developed a detailed explanation of how white-nose syndrome (WNS) is killing millions of bats in North America, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin. The scientists created a model for how the disease progresses from initial infection to death in bats during hibernation. 

“This model is exciting for us, because we now have a framework for understanding how the disease functions within a bat,” said University of Wisconsin and USGS National Wildlife Health Center scientist Michelle Verant, the lead author of the study. “The mechanisms detailed in this model will be critical for properly timed and effective disease mitigation strategies.” 

Scientists hypothesized that WNS, caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, makes bats die by increasing the amount of energy they use during winter hibernation. Bats must carefully ration their energy supply during this time to survive without eating until spring. If they use up their limited energy reserves too quickly, they can die. 

The USGS tested the energy depletion hypothesis by measuring the amounts of energy used by infected and healthy bats hibernating under similar conditions. They found that bats with WNS used twice as much energy as healthy bats during hibernation and had potentially life-threatening physiologic imbalances that could inhibit normal body functions. 

Scientists also found that these effects started before there was severe damage to the wings of the bats and before the disease caused increased activity levels in the hibernating bats.

“Clinical signs are not the start of the disease — they likely reflect more advanced disease stages,” Verant said. “This finding is important because much of our attention previously was directed toward what we now know to be bats in later stages of the disease, when we observe visible fungal infections and behavioral changes.” 

Key findings of the study include:

  • Bats infected with P. destructans had higher proportions of lean tissue to fat mass at the end of the experiment compared to the non-infected bats. This finding means that bats with WNS used twice as much fat as healthy control bats over the same hibernation period. The amount of energy they used was also higher than what is expected for normal healthy hibernating little brown bats.
  • Bats with mild wing damage had elevated levels of dissolved carbon dioxide in their blood resulting in acidification and pH imbalances throughout their bodies. They also had high potassium levels, which can inhibit normal heart function.  

The study, “White-nose syndrome initiates a cascade of physiologic disturbances in the hibernating bat host,” is published in BMC Physiology. Learn more about WNS, ongoing research and actions that are being taken here:

White-nose Syndrome Images

Advances in Dating Groundwater

USGS Newsroom Technical - Fri, 12/19/2014 - 10:40
Summary: Groundwater chemists and hydrologists are keenly interested in expanding the knowledge of environmental tracers that can be used to determine groundwater age. The age of groundwater is a valuable parameter that serves to inform many types of groundwater availability studies.

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Karl Haase ( Phone: 703-648-5818 );



Groundwater chemists and hydrologists are keenly interested in expanding the knowledge of environmental tracers that can be used to determine groundwater age. The age of groundwater is a valuable parameter that serves to inform many types of groundwater availability studies.

Many environmental tracers — such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), SF6, and tritium — are of atmospheric origin. However, there are several classes of atmospheric trace gases whose application as groundwater age tracers have not been fully explored. Hydrofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCs and HCFCs) are among them.

USGS scientists have recently developed a high-sensitivity technique to measure two of these compounds (HCFC-22 and HFC-134a) in groundwater and the unsaturated zone.

The investigators found that, contrary to many simpler laboratory studies, these compounds can be degraded by bacteria in the environment. Consequently, both classes of compound (HFCs and HCFCs) are not likely to be useful for dating groundwater. Since they are depleted in the unsaturated zone, this reduction implies a weak environmental sink (a few percent or less) that has not been previously discussed.

The study by USGS hydrologists Haase, Busenberg, Plummer, Casile, and Sanford has been published in the journal Chemical Geology.

Learn more

Professional paper

USGS Groundwater Dating Lab

USGS Groundwater Information

Interior Department Announces Funding for Climate Change Studies

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 13:18
Summary: U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced today that the Department of the Interior’s regional Climate Science Centers and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center are awarding nearly $6 million to universities and other partners for 50 new research projects to better prepare communities for impacts of climate change

Contact Information:

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



WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced today that the Department of the Interior’s regional Climate Science Centers and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center are awarding nearly $6 million to universities and other partners for 50 new research projects to better prepare communities for impacts of climate change.

Highly Pathogenic H5 Avian Influenza Confirmed in Wild Birds in Washington State H5N2 Found in Northern Pintail Ducks & H5N8 Found in Captive Gyrfalcons

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 12:58
Summary: WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2014 — The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic (HPAI) H5 avian influenza in wild birds in Whatcom County, Washington. Two separate virus strains were identified: HPAI H5N2 in northern pintail ducks and HPAI H5N8 in captive gyrfalcons that were fed hunter-killed wild birds. Neither virus has been found in commercial poultry anywhere in the United States and no human cases with these viruses have been detected in the United States, Canada or internationally. There is no immediate public health concern with either of these avian influenza viruses. Neither virus found in commercial poultry in U.S.; no public health concern at this time

Contact Information:

Marisa Lubeck, USGS ( Phone: 303-526-6694 ); Joelle Hayden, APHIS ( Phone: 301-851-4040 ); CDC Press ( Phone: 404-639-3286 );



WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2014 — The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic (HPAI) H5 avian influenza in wild birds in Whatcom County, Washington. Two separate virus strains were identified: HPAI H5N2 in northern pintail ducks and HPAI H5N8 in captive gyrfalcons that were fed hunter-killed wild birds. Neither virus has been found in commercial poultry anywhere in the United States and no human cases with these viruses have been detected in the United States, Canada or internationally. There is no immediate public health concern with either of these avian influenza viruses.

Both H5N2 and H5N8 viruses have been found in other parts of the world and have not caused any human infection to date. While neither virus has been found in commercial poultry, federal authorities with the U.S. Department of Agriculture also emphasize that poultry, poultry products and wild birds are safe to eat even if they carry the disease if they are properly handled and cooked to a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

The finding in Whatcom County was reported and identified quickly due to increased surveillance for avian influenza in light of HPAI H5N2 avian influenza outbreaks in poultry affecting commercial poultry farms in British Columbia, Canada. The northern pintail duck samples were collected by officials from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife following a waterfowl die-off at Wiser Lake, Washington, and were sent to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center for diagnostic evaluation and initial avian influenza testing. The U.S. Department of the Interior's USGS, which also conducts ongoing avian influenza testing of wild bird mortality events, identified the samples as presumptive positive for H5 avian influenza and sent them to USDA for confirmation. The gyrfalcon samples were collected after the falconer reported signs of illness in his birds.

Following existing avian influenza response plans, USDA is working with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as state partners on additional surveillance and testing of both commercial and wild birds in the nearby area.

Wild birds can be carriers of HPAI viruses without the birds appearing sick. People should avoid contact with sick/dead poultry or wildlife. If contact occurs, wash your hands with soap and water and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds.

HPAI would have significant economic impacts if detected in U.S. domestic poultry. Commercial poultry producers follow strict biosecurity practices and raise their birds in very controlled environments. Federal officials emphasize that all bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, should continue practicing good biosecurity. This includes preventing contact between your birds and wild birds, and reporting sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials, either through your state veterinarian or through USDA's toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593. Additional information on biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found at healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov.

CDC considers the risk to people from these HPAI H5 infections in wild birds to be low because (like H5N1) these viruses do not now infect humans easily, and even if a person is infected, the viruses do not spread easily to other people.

Avian influenza (AI) is caused by influenza type A viruses which are endemic in some wild birds (such as wild ducks and swans) which can infect poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese and guinea fowl). AI viruses are classified by a combination of two groups of proteins: hemagglutinin or "H" proteins, of which there are 17 (H1–H17), and neuraminidase or "N" proteins, of which there are 10 (N1–N10). Many different combinations of "H" and "N" proteins are possible. Each combination is considered a different subtype, and can be further broken down into different strains. AI viruses are further classified by their pathogenicity—the ability of a particular virus to produce disease in domestic chickens.

For more information on avian influenza and wild birds, please visit the USGS National Wildlife Health Center. For other information visit the USDA avian influenza page and the USDA APHIS avian influenza page

USGS Amps up Environmental DNA Research With New DNA Machine

USGS Newsroom Technical - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 11:26
Summary: GAINESVILLE, Fla.—The U.S. Geological Survey Southeast Ecological Science Center has acquired a state-of-the-art genetic analysis machine that will help advance environmental DNA research efforts. The use of environmental DNA, or eDNA, could assist resource managers nationwide conserve imperiled species and improve control efforts of invasive species.

Contact Information:

Margaret Hunter ( Phone: 352-264-3484 ); Kaitlin  Kovacs ( Phone: 352-264-3578 );



GAINESVILLE, Fla.—The U.S. Geological Survey Southeast Ecological Science Center has acquired a state-of-the-art genetic analysis machine that will help advance environmental DNA research efforts. The use of environmental DNA, or eDNA, could assist resource managers nationwide conserve imperiled species and improve control efforts of invasive species.

The new technology, a droplet digital PCR machine, is the first of its kind to be acquired by a USGS facility. The machine can detect a single molecule of DNA from an environmental sample and enhances output compared to traditional methods. From water samples, it is possible to detect rare species or those that are difficult to observe due to secretive behavior, camouflaged coloration, or a resemblance to other species. Species identification via the detection of eDNA can make the physical capture or sighting of the target species unnecessary.

“This new platform allows us to process samples efficiently and with greater precision. With just a few copies of genetic material from the aquatic environment, we can detect the presence of an animal that may not otherwise be seen,” commented USGS research geneticist Margaret Hunter, who leads the SESC Conservation Genetics Laboratory.

Environmental DNA comes from organisms shedding biological material into the aquatic environment via feces, mucus, saliva, or skin cells.  This material can be used to determine the presence of species, establish range limits, and estimate occupancy and detection probabilities to inform management actions. The environmental DNA exists for approximately 20 days before it degrades, allowing researchers to detect animals, such as pythons, manatees, or Grass Carp, as they move throughout the environment.  As compared to traditional laboratory techniques, ddPCR reduces time and laboratory costs, and uses more rigorous statistical analyses to determine the number of DNA copies in a sample. While both techniques can detect and count molecules of DNA, ddPCR has been shown to enhance accuracy and precision. 

To detect individual species, genetic researchers first design a species-specific genetic marker. Then filtered surface water samples are split into 20,000 PCR droplets, each containing the marker and, if present, a copy of the target species’ DNA. The droplets illuminate fluorescently if DNA of the targeted species is detected, with the number of illuminated droplets corresponding to the number of DNA molecules in the sample.  Assessing the 20,000 droplets for positive detection of the species takes approximately two minutes.

“This technology can provide resource managers invaluable assistance in detecting and defining the habitat of imperiled and invasive species,” Hunter said. “For example, using eDNA and ddPCR can help to better delineate the spread of Burmese pythons in south Florida. Or, the habitat used by imperiled or rare species, such as elusive West Indian manatees, could be defined for research and conservation efforts.”

For more information:

http://fl.biology.usgs.gov/genetics/index.html (SESC Genetics Website)

http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2012/3017/ (Fact Sheet: Using Genetic Research to Inform Imperiled and Invasive Species Management)

Urban Stream Contamination Increasing Rapidly Due to Road Salt

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 15:04
Summary: Average chloride concentrations often exceed toxic levels in many northern United States streams due to the use of salt to deice winter pavement, and the frequency of these occurrences nearly doubled in two decades.

Contact Information:

Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-526-6694 ); Steve Corsi ( Phone: 608-821-3835 );



Average chloride concentrations often exceed toxic levels in many northern United States streams due to the use of salt to deice winter pavement, and the frequency of these occurrences nearly doubled in two decades.

Chloride levels increased substantially in 84 percent of urban streams analyzed, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study that began as early as 1960 at some sites and ended as late as 2011. Levels were highest during the winter, but increased during all seasons over time at the northern sites, including near Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; and other metropolitan areas. The report was published today in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

"Some freshwater organisms are sensitive to chloride, and the high concentrations that we found could negatively affect a significant number of species," said Steve Corsi, USGS scientist and lead author of the study. “If urban development and road salt use continue to increase, chloride concentrations and associated toxicity are also likely to increase.”

The scientists analyzed water-quality data from 30 monitoring sites on 19 streams near cities in Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Texas and the District of Columbia. Key findings include:

  • Twenty-nine percent of the sites exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s chronic water-quality criteria (230 milligrams per liter) by an average of more than 100 days per year from 2006 through 2011, which was almost double the amount of days from 1990 through 1994. This increase occurred at sites such as the Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers near Milwaukee and Poplar Creek near Chicago.
  • The lowest chloride concentrations were in watersheds that had little urban land use or cities without much snowfall, such as Dallas, Texas.
  • In 16 of the streams, winter chloride concentrations increased over the study period.
  • In 13 of the streams, chloride concentrations increased over the study period during non-deicing periods such as summer. This finding suggests that chloride infiltrates the groundwater system during the winter and is slowly released to the streams throughout the year.
  • Chloride levels increased more rapidly than development of urban land near the study sites.
  • The rapid chloride increases were likely caused by increased salt application rates, increased baseline conditions (the concentrations during summer low-flow periods) and greater snowfall in the Midwest during the latter part of the study.

"Deicing operations help to provide safe winter transportation conditions, which is very important,” Corsi said. “Findings from this study emphasize the need to consider deicer management options that minimize the use of road salt while still maintaining safe conditions."

Road deicing by cities, counties and state agencies accounts for a significant portion of salt applications, but salt is also used by many public and private organizations and individuals to deice parking lots, walkways and driveways. All of these sources are likely to contribute to these increasing chloride trends.

Other major sources of salt to U.S. waters include wastewater treatment, septic systems, farming operations and natural geologic deposits. However, the new study found deicing activity to be the dominant source in urban areas of the northern U.S. 

The USGS conducted this study in cooperation with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. For more information about winter runoff and water-quality, please visit the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center website.

[Access images for this release at: <a href="http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2010_09_02" _mce_href="http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2010_09_02">http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2010_09_02</a>]

New Scientific Study Supports that Capture-based Research is Safe for Polar Bears

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 07:53
Summary: ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A polar bear capture and release-based research program had no adverse long-term effects on feeding behavior, body condition, and reproduction, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Contact Information:

Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 ); Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A polar bear capture and release-based research program had no adverse long-term effects on feeding behavior, body condition, and reproduction, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The study used over 40 years of capture-based data collected by USGS from polar bears in the Alaska portion of the southern Beaufort Sea. Scientists looked for short and long-term effects of capture and release and deployment of various types of satellite transmitters.

"We dug deeply into one of the most comprehensive capture-based data sets for polar bears in the world looking for any signs that our research activities might be negatively affecting polar bears," said Karyn Rode, lead author of the study and scientist with the USGS Polar Bear Research Program.  

The study found that, following capture, transmitter-tagged bears returned to near-normal rates of movement and activity within 2-3 days, and that the presence of tags had no effect on a bear's subsequent physical condition, reproductive success, or ability to successfully raise cubs.

"Importantly, we found no indication that neck collars, the primary means for obtaining critical information on polar bear movement patterns and habitat use, adversely affected polar bear health or reproduction," said Rode.

The study also found that repeated capture of 3 or more times was not related to effects on health and reproduction.  

"We care about the animals we study and want to be certain that our research efforts are not contributing to any negative effects," said Rode. "I expected we might find some sign that certain aspects of our studies, such as repeated capture, would negatively affect bears, and I was pleased that we could not find any negative implications."

Efforts to conserve polar bears will require a greater understanding of how populations are responding to the loss of sea ice habitat. Capture-based methods are required to assess individual bear health and to deploy transmitters that provide information on bear movement patterns and habitat use. These methods have been used for decades in many parts of the polar bear’s range. New less invasive techniques have been developed to identify individuals via hair and biopsy samples, but these techniques do not provide

complete information on bear health, movements or habitat use. Capture is likely to continue to be an important technique for monitoring polar bears. This study is reassurance that capture, handling, and tagging can be used as research and monitoring techniques with no long-term effects on polar bear populations.

The paper "Effects of capturing and collaring on polar bears: findings from long-term research on the southern Beaufort Sea population" was published today in the journal Wildlife Research.

Visit the USGS Polar Bear Research website for more information.