The Central Asia Salt Basin of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan has the potential to contain between 39 and 54 billion metric tons of undiscovered potash resources, according to a global mineral resource assessment led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Known potash resources in the Central Asia Salt Basin consist of 1.63 billion metric tons.
Potash is produced worldwide at amounts exceeding 30 million metric tons per year, mostly for use in fertilizers. The term “potash” refers to potassium-bearing, water-soluble salts derived from evaporite basins, where seawater dried up and precipitated various salt compounds; the word for the element “potassium” is derived from potash. In fact, industry uses potash to refer to potassium chloride, as well as potassium sulfate, nitrate, and oxide forms.
The Central Asia Salt Basin hosts significant discovered potash resources and originated in an inland sea during Late Jurassic time. Seawater flowed into the Basin, mostly from its extreme northwestern margin near the modern Caspian Sea, during several evaporation episodes that deposited at least five different packages of evaporites, with virtually all potash in the second and fourth packages.
In this study, the Central Asia Salt Basin was subdivided into three tracts, also known as permissive areas, for evaluation: the Amu Darya tract in the west, the Gissar tract in the center, and the Afghan-Tajik tract in the east. The Gissar and Amu Darya tracts were each quantitatively assessed. The Afghan‑Tajik tract was only qualitatively assessed because of the extreme depth (as deep as 7 km) of the Jurassic salt, extensive deformation and a lack of known potash deposits.
In 2013 (the most recent year for which complete information is available), world potash production was 34.5 million metric tons of K2O-equivalent. Canada was the leading producer of potash (10.1 million metric tons K2O-equivalent), followed by Russia, China, Belarus, Germany, Israel, Jordan, and Chile. Of the 12 known potash-producing countries in 2013, 8 produced 1 million metric tons or more; production in the United States was slightly less than 1 million metric tons, and production in Brazil, Spain, and the United Kingdom was less than 500,000 metric tons each.
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New research can help water managers along the Rio Grande make wise decisions about how to best use the flow of a river vital for drinking water, agriculture and aquatic habitat. These studies also show how conditions from the prolonged drought in the West have affected the Rio Grande watershed.
The Rio Grande forms the world’s longest river border between two countries as it flows between Texas and Mexico, where it is known as the Rio Bravo. The river runs through three states in the U.S., beginning in southern Colorado and flowing through New Mexico and Texas before it forms the border with Mexico.
Parts of the Rio Grande are designated as wild and scenic, but most of the river is controlled and passes through several dam and reservoir systems during its 1,896 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. The river is managed through a complex system of compacts, treaties, and agreements that determine when and how much water is released along the river’s length.
The amount and timing of water releases have varied in recent years due to drought. Recent USGS research on the middle Rio Grande looked at the effects of those changes on the amount of salts that build up in the Rincon and Mesilla Valleys in Texas and New Mexico. Results showed a decline in the amount of salt carried by the river due to a decrease of releases during the drought. The two valleys responded differently to the decreased releases. Salt levels in the Rincon Valley declined, whereas salt levels in the Mesilla Valley increased. Salt buildup in the soil and water can affect agriculture, which is an important industry in those valleys.
Successfully managing water use along the river is important to the sustainability of agricultural and communities along the river. To help with that goal, USGS has measured water gains and losses to the Rio Grande from between the Leasburg Dam near Leasburg, New Mexico, and the American Dam near El Paso, Texas. American Dam is near where the Rio Grande becomes the border with Mexico. For the past several years, drought conditions contributed to decreasing flows along this 64-mile stretch, and sections of the river were dry during parts of the year.
Flow in the Rio Grande is affected by how water is used throughout the basin. For instance, the Albuquerque area of New Mexico has two principal sources of water: groundwater from the underlying aquifer system and withdrawals and diversions from the Rio Grande. From 1960 to 2002, pumping from the aquifer system caused groundwater levels to decline from about 40 feet along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque to more than 120 feet in the valley away from the river. As a result, the USGS, in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation, conducted a study to understand the exchange of water between the Rio Grande and the aquifer system.
By characterizing the interaction between surface water from the Rio Grande and groundwater from the aquifer system, scientists provide valuable information to help managers make informed decisions about water use.
In addition to helping decision makers determine how to best manage the river for human use, USGS scientists are studying how native fish and their aquatic habitats are affected by different streamflow conditions along the river. For example, previous investigations have shown that the decline in Rio Grande silvery minnow may be attributed to modifications of the natural streamflow regime, channel drying, construction of reservoirs and dams, stream channelization, declining water quality, and interactions with nonnative fish. Understanding native species habitat limitations is important for decision makers to better plan future flow operations to meet desired resource goals.
More information on the research and results discussed in this release can be found in the following studies:
- Variability of surface-water quantity and quality and shallow groundwater levels and quality within the Rio Grande Project area, New Mexico and Texas, 2009–13
- Seepage investigation of the Rio Grande from below Leasburg Dam, Leasburg, New Mexico, to above American Dam, El Paso, Texas, 2014
- Seepage investigation of the Rio Grande from below Leasburg Dam, Leasburg, New Mexico, to above American Dam, El Paso, Texas, 2015
- Groundwater hydrology and estimation of horizontal groundwater flux from the Rio Grande at selected locations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2009–10
- Fish assemblage composition and mapped mesohabitat features over a range of streamflows in the Middle Rio Grande, New Mexico, winter 2011-12, summer 2012
- Physical characteristics and fish assemblage composition at site and mesohabitat scales over a range of streamflows in the Middle Rio Grande, New Mexico, winter 2011-12, summer 2012
The Federal Geographic Data Committee is now accepting nominations for the Doug D. Nebert National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) Champion of the Year Award. Doug was a recognized national and international leader in the establishment of spatial data infrastructures and technical visionary as well as respected colleague.Doug Nebert presenting at a conference, expanding on his vision of National Spatial Dataset Infrastructure issues (undated photo). Doug Nebert getting ready to lift off in a private plane, his other lifelong passion (undated photo).
To commemorate Nebert’s varied contributions to and passions for our nation’s geography and cartography, the FGDC is accepting nominations for the newly established award.
“This award commemorates Doug’s influence in promoting the vision of the NSDI,” said Ivan DeLoatch, Executive Director of the FGDC. “This is a unique opportunity to honor significant contributions to an individual or group of individuals that have furthered the goal of available and easily integrated data to enhance the understanding of our physical and cultural world.”
Eligibility: The nominations are available to an individual or a team representing federal, state, tribal, regional, and/or local government, academia, or nonprofit and professional organization that has developed an outstanding, innovative, and operational tool, application, or service capability used by multiple organizations that furthers the vision of the NSDI. The nominee must be a US citizen.
Nomination Process: Each nomination package will be submitted in electronic form through the award website and include justification and related nomination information. Nominations are due by May 6, 2016.
Award Selection: An interagency team of SDI experts from the FGDC will review all nominations and make a recommendation for the award to the FGDC Chair who will make the final decision on the award. The award information will be posted on the FGDC website.
The award is based on the following foundational precepts:
- Innovation and vision
- Use of standards
- Advancement of NSDI principles
- Service to communities of users
- Developed once, used by many
- Improved performance and service
- Real-world application
RESTON, Va. — A new public-private research collaboration supported by the U.S. Geological Survey will tackle how to best cope with the increasing droughts of the future.
The USGS, The Nature Conservancy, and The Wildlife Conservation Society are launching the Ecological Drought Working Group as part of the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP). This research group is composed of drought, climate change, economic and conservation experts from these and other institutions. The scientists will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the ecological impacts of drought on ecosystems and wildlife and people and their livelihoods, as well as propose methods to lessen such impacts, both ecologically and economically.
“The group’s findings will inform local communities, businesses and conservation practitioners about the most effective ways to prepare for and respond to drought impacts,” said Shawn Carter, senior scientist at the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center and a co-lead of the working group.
Carter noted that both historical and recent droughts not only cause great economic hardships, but they also are often ecologically devastating. Droughts, which have ravaged much of the United States in recent years, are estimated to have resulted in more than $100 billion in damages between 1980 and 2000.
“Our work can help communities adapt to the long-term effects of drought by supporting healthy ecosystems,” said Carter. “For example, even a relatively simple action, such as reintroducing beavers into ecosystems where they used to live, can boost the natural storage capacity of watersheds.”
Working group co-lead Molly Cross, North America WCS climate change adaptation coordinator, emphasized that for people to be adequately prepared for drought they need to understand how drought-impacted ecosystems can harm human communities, such as through increased wildfire hazards or through adverse effects on fish and wildlife valued for hunting- and angling-based economies. “By raising awareness and understanding about these ecological impacts of drought, we’ll be able to help people all over the country make informed decisions to prepare for and respond to long-term drought,” Cross added.
Products from the SNAPP Ecological Drought Working Group will be tailored to add value to state and local drought planning, including in the Upper Missouri headwaters of Montana. In 2015, five counties in this region were declared disaster areas due to their extreme drought conditions. The Obama Administration’s National Drought Resilience Partnership selected this region as a place to demonstrate how federal and state agencies can leverage knowledge, capacity and resources to better prepare Montana communities for future drought impacts. Additional case studies will be examined by the SNAPP Ecological Drought working group to encompass a range of drought impacts across the United States.
“Drought has been plaguing our country for decades, but people tend to focus on immediate challenges such as the impacts on agriculture and surface and groundwater availability,” said Craig Groves, executive director of the Science for Nature and People Partnership. “Drought and its impacts are much more complicated and profound than that. Even seemingly minor changes in water supply can have huge ecological impacts that are keenly felt by both people and nature. The Science for Nature and People Partnership is delighted to be working with USGS to better understand and respond to this mounting challenge for people from all parts of the country.”
“Climate change is likely to intensify the frequency and ferocity of droughts in places where it typically occurs, and lead to novel drought impacts in unexpected places,” said Giulio Boccaletti, Global Managing Director for Water, The Nature Conservancy. “The new SNAPP initiative will be crucial for helping us to better anticipate the range of future drought impacts so that we can implement strategies to protect people and nature, and improve the odds of achieving long-term benefits from our drought planning efforts.”
About the United States Geological Survey
The USGS is a science organization that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and useable information. For more information, visit http://usgs.gov.
About the Science for Nature and People Partnership
Founded in 2013, the Science for Nature and People (SNAPP) partnership is the world’s premier innovation engine of conservation science and sustainable development policy, partnering with public, non-profit and private sector organizations around the world to transform the relationship between people and nature. Backed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, SNAPP funds, convenes and supports Expert Working Groups addressing challenges in four focus areas: Food Security and Nature, Water Security and Nature, Community Resilience and Climate Change, and Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity Benefits. SNAP has been generously supported by Angela Nomellini and Ken Olivier, Shirley and Harry Hagey, Steve and Roberta Denning, Seth Neiman, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. For more information, visit http://snappartnership.net/
Long-term declines in the overwintering Eastern population of North American monarch butterflies are significantly increasing their likelihood of becoming extinct over the next two decades, according to Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and U.S. Geological Survey research published today.Monarch Male Butterfly — A monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) resting and sunning at an overwintering site in the Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Mexico. This individual is a male, identifiable by the black spot on each hindwing. Photo credit: Steve Hilburger, USGS.
The new study, available in the journal Scientific Reports, found that the Eastern migratory monarch population declined by 84 percent from the winter of 1996-1997 to the winter of 2014-2015. Using this information, the study demonstrated that there is a substantial chance – 11 to 57 percent – of quasi-extinction over the next 20 years. A quasi-extinct population is one with so few remaining individuals left that recovery is impossible. While the remaining individuals may survive for a short time, the population as a whole will inevitably go extinct.Monarch Butterflies on Tree — A group of monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) covers an oyamel fir tree (Abies religiosa) at an overwintering site in the Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Mexico. Photo credit: Steve Hilburger, USGS.
“Because monarch numbers vary dramatically from year to year depending on weather and other factors, increasing the average population size is the single-most important way to provide these iconic butterflies with a much-needed buffer against extinction,” said Brice Semmens, the lead author of the study and a scientist at Scripps.
Semmens said that as an example of this variability, just after the analysis concluded, the World Wildlife Fund Mexico and partners reported a large increase in monarch numbers since last year. However, this increase was followed by a recent winter storm that may have adversely affected the population. The authors emphasized that although one good winter – as occurred this year – is positive news, higher average monarch numbers are necessary for reducing the long-term risk of quasi-extinction.
Because counting individual monarchs is challenging, scientists measure population size based on the geographic area that their colonies cover while spending the winter in Mexico. The United States, Mexico and Canada aim to increase the number of Eastern monarchs wintering in Mexico so that they occupy about six hectares, or about 15 acres, by 2020. This year’s population size increased substantially to about four hectares, or close to 10 acres. The population was 1.13 hectares (about 2.8 acres) during the winter of 2014-2015, and at its lowest, 0.67 hectares (about 1.7 acres) during the 2013-2014 winter.
The Scripps and USGS scientists found that if the Eastern population reaches the six-hectare goal announced in last year’s national pollinator strategy, the quasi-extinction risk over 20 years would decrease by more than half.
“Previously published research suggested that the most effective way to increase monarch numbers is to focus on the restoration of their breeding habitat,” said USGS scientist Darius Semmens, a coauthor of the report. “Over the previous two winters, Eastern monarch populations were very low, indicating a higher risk of losing the species. If their numbers continue to grow, as they did this year, the risk will decrease.”
Scripps and the USGS collaborated with scientists from the University of Arizona, Iowa State University, University of Minnesota and the University of Kansas on the study. The research was conducted as part of the Monarch Conservation Science Partnership, a team of scientists and resource managers working together to help inform the management of monarch butterflies. The partnership was hosted by the USGS Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis in Fort Collins, Colorado.
About the Monarch Butterfly
Reasons for monarch population declines are complex, although some evidence suggests that loss of breeding habitat is the primary factor. Other factors include adverse weather conditions in recent years, loss of overwintering habitat, disease and exposure to contaminants.
There are two main populations of monarch butterflies in North America: the Western, which winters and migrates west of the Rocky Mountains, and the more abundant Eastern population, which is the subject of the new study and ranges east of the Rockies from central Mexico to southern Canada. Eastern monarchs breed in the United States and Canada, and migrate to Mexico for the winter. Western monarchs migrate inland north and east from colonies along the California coast to states ranging from Washington to Arizona. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a petition to protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.
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The U.S. Geological Survey will award up to $7 million in grants for earthquake hazards research in 2017.
"The USGS has a long-standing grants program that supports innovative earthquake research, and we are currently soliciting project proposals for 2017," said Bill Leith, who is the USGS Senior Science Advisor for Earthquake and Geologic Hazards. "We seek proposals to better characterize earthquake sources, reduce uncertainty in earthquake hazard assessments or improve forecasts and other efforts to reduce risk. In addition, we welcome proposals that provide more accurate and timely earthquake information or aim to better inform the public about earthquakes and earthquake safety."
Interested researchers can apply online at GRANTS.GOV under funding opportunity number G16AS00024. Applications are due May 25, 2016.
Every year the USGS awards earthquake research grants to universities, state geological surveys and private institutions. Past projects included:
- trench investigations to better understand the size and age of large earthquakes between Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah;
- the application of innovative techniques to map seismic hazards near the nation’s capital;
- exploring the use of rapid and precise GPS recordings to improve earthquake early warning;
- analysis of the potential for large earthquakes in the Gorgonio Pass, an area of complex faulting east of San Bernardino, Calif.;
- investigation of recent earthquake activity along major fault lines crossing southeast Alaska; and
- studies to characterize and understand the causes of potentially induced earthquakes in California, Kansas, Wyoming, Texas and Ohio.
A complete list of funded projects and reports can be found on the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program external research support website.
Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );
The U.S. Geological Survey and the European Space Agency (ESA) have established an innovative partnership to enable USGS storage and redistribution of Earth observation data acquired by Copernicus program satellites.
The ESA-USGS collaboration will serve scientific and commercial customers who are interested in the current conditions of forests, crops, and water bodies across large regions and in the longer term environmental condition of the Earth. Data acquired by the European Union’s Sentinel-2A satellite launched in June 2015 are highly complementary to data acquired by USGS/NASA Landsat satellites since 1972.
"Landsat and Sentinel data will weave together very effectively," said Dr. Virginia Burkett, USGS Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change. "Adding the image recurrence of two Sentinel-2 satellites to Landsats 7 and 8 will increase repeat multispectral coverage of the Earth’s land areas to every 3 to 4 days. With more frequent views of the Earth, we will significantly improve our ability to see and understand changes taking place across the global landscape.”
The agreement is part of a broader understanding between the European Union and three U.S. federal science agencies — NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and USGS — that was signed in October 2015. All parties are committed to the principle of full, free and open access to Earth observation satellite data produced by the European Union’s Sentinel program and by the respective U.S. agencies. An ESA article further describes the cross-Atlantic collaboration.
"Free and open access to Landsat and Sentinel-2 data together will create remarkable economic and scientific benefits for people around the globe," said Dr. Suzette Kimball, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey. "At the outset of our partnership we can only imagine the synergies between our two perspectives from space. But I'm confident that the final product of our partnership will be an enriched knowledge of our planet."
Sentinel data are available at no cost from the Copernicus Scientific Data Hub. Additionally, in order to expedite data delivery around the globe, users may also download both Sentinel-2 and Landsat data at no charge in a familiar digital environment from USGS access systems such as EarthExplorer. Presently, only selected Sentinel data are available from the USGS in an early testing phase. Timely access to all Sentinel data will follow as the procedures for data transfer, user access, and data delivery continue to be optimized at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center.
The MultiSpectral Instrument (MSI) sensor on board Sentinel 2A acquires 13 spectral bands that parallel and contrast to data acquired by the USGS Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI) and Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+). Unlike the Sentinel-2 satellites, Landsat satellites also include a capability to collect thermal infrared data which is used in a variety of water and agricultural monitoring applications. NASA has published an online comparison of Sentinel-2A and Landsat bandwidths.
The Landsat program is a joint effort of USGS and NASA. First launched by NASA in 1972, the Landsat series of satellites has produced the longest, continuous record of Earth’s land surface as seen from space. Landsat data were made available to all users free of charge by the U.S. Department of the Interior and USGS in 2008.
Recent scientific work outlines the severe consequences the practice of bottom trawling has on loose sediment on the ocean floor. Bottom trawling is a widespread industrial fishing practice that involves dragging heavy nets, large metal doors and chains over the seafloor to catch fish. Although previous studies documented the direct impacts of bottom trawling on corals, sponges, fishes and other animals, an understanding of the global impact of this practice on the seabed remained unclear until now. The first calculation of how much of the seabed is resuspended (or stirred up) by bottom-trawling shows that the sediment mass is approximately the same amount of all sediment being deposited on the world’s continental shelves by rivers each year (almost 22 gigatons).
Understanding regional and global magnitudes of resuspended sediment is an essential baseline for the analysis of the environmental consequences for continental shelf habitats and their associated seafloor and open-ocean ecosystems. The scientists found new ways to look at and into the seabed to document the evidence of the effects of bottom trawling.
Bottom trawling can result in vastly different effects on different types of seabed sediment (such as sand, silt or mud), each with different ecological consequences. Trawling destroys the natural seafloor habitat by essentially rototilling the seabed. All of the bottom-dwelling plants and animals are affected, if not outright destroyed by tearing up root systems or animal burrows. By resuspending bottom sediment, nutrient levels in the ambient water, and the entire chemistry of the water is changed. Resuspended sediment can lower light levels in the water, and reduce photosynthesis in ocean-dwelling plants, the bottom of the food web. The resuspended sediment is carried elsewhere by currents, and often lost from the local ecosystem. It maybe deposited elsewhere along the continental shelf, or in many cases, permanently lost from the shelf to deeper waters. Changing parts of the seafloor from soft mud to bare rock can eliminate those creatures that live in the sediment. Species diversity and habitat complexity are directly affected by changing the physical environment of sand, mud or rock that results from trawling.Conceptual drawing of bottom trawling from a fishing boat, showing a net and metal plate being dragged along the seafloor behind a boat on the surface. Artist: Ferdinand Oberle, 2014.
“This study raises serious concerns about the future stability of continental shelves – the very source of the vast majority of the fish we consume,” said geological oceanographer and lead author Ferdinand Oberle, now a visiting scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey, and previously with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and MARUM, the Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, University of Bremen (Germany) when the study was done. “A farmer would never plow his land again and again during a rainstorm, watching all his topsoil be washed away, but that is exactly what we are doing on continental shelves on a global scale.”
As part of the study, scientists developed a new, universal approach to calculate bottom-trawling-induced sediment resuspension that gives marine management a new and important tool to assess the impact from bottom trawling. Previous studies characterized the seabed as either “trawled” or “untrawled” but with these novel methodologies it was possible to show systematically a range of bottom-trawling-induced changes to the seabed and classify them in accordance with how often the seabed was disturbed by bottom trawlers.
“The global calculations were a big surprise and we calculated them at least 10 times to make sure we were not making a mistake. I am still in awe of these results and their environmental implications,” said USGS oceanographer Curt Storlazzi, a coauthor of the paper who helped develop the computational models for the study.
These new understandings about the effects of bottom trawling, come out of scientific cruises on the Research Vessel METEOR from Germany to the offshore area northwest of the Iberian peninsula with a team of international scientists. During the cruises, scientists conducted sidescan-sonar surveys and collected bottom current data. Laser sediment particle samplers and a remotely-operated submersible vessel were utilized as well. After the cruises, laboratory work involving lead-isotope dating and sediment grain-size analysis, and the development of a sediment mobilization model contributed to the conclusions of the study.
Two new research papers to come out of this study were published in Elsevier's “Journal of Marine Systems,” and are available online:
Deployment of Scientific Research Equipment (Tripod) from ship, RV Meteor. Photo courtesy of Ferdinand Oberle. One of the many passing bottom trawlers on the NW Iberian Shelf as seen from Research Vessel METEOR. Photo courtesy of Ferdinand Oberle. Oceanographic Research Vessel METEOR. Photo courtesy of Ferdinand Oberle. Oceanographic Research Vessel METEOR. Photo courtesy of Ferdinand Oberle.
Much of the coast from Maine to Virginia is more likely to change than to simply drown in response to rising seas during the next 70 years or so, according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey. The study is based on a new computer model that captures the potential of the Northeast coast to change, driven by geological and biological forces, in ways that will reshape coastal landscapes.
In a paper published Monday in Nature Climate Change, the researchers reported that 70 percent of the Northeast Atlantic Coast is made up of ecosystems that have the capacity to change over the next several decades in response to rising seas. For example, barrier islands may migrate inland, build dunes, change shape, or be split by new inlets as tides, winds, waves and currents sculpt their sands. Marshes trap sediment and break down decaying plants into new soil, which may elevate them sufficiently in some areas to keep pace with sea-level increases.
While most sea-level rise models that cover large areas show low-lying coastal land converting to open water in coming decades, many of these inundation models over-predict the land likely to submerge. The USGS model, developed in collaboration with Columbia University’s Earth Institute, produces a more nuanced picture of sea level rise as a mosaic of dry land, wetlands, and open seas, rather than as a uniform response across the landscape.
The USGS model is the first to factor in natural forces and make detailed predictions from the 2020s through the 2080s over a large coastal area, some 38,000 square kilometers (about 9.4 million acres). It is an advance over most regional models, which project drowning as the only outcome as the oceans rise. These are often referred to as “bathtub models” and assume the coast is progressively submerged as sea levels rise.
Projections from inundation models are straightforward: some coastal land will remain above the levels of the rising seas and some will drown. The new model includes the potential for dynamic coastal change and shows where in response to future sea levels, coastal lands fall on a continuum between dry land and open water.
“Geologists have always known that the coast has some potential for give and take,” said lead author Erika Lentz, a research geologist at the USGS Coastal and Marine Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “But the standard bathtub models of sea level rise don’t reflect that. This approach couples what we do know about these systems with what we still need to learn—how different ecosystems may respond to different sea-level rise scenarios— to estimate the odds that an area will persist or change instead of simply drown.”
By casting results in terms of odds, the new model provides a more accurate picture of sea-level rise vulnerability for informing adaptation strategies and reducing hazards, the USGS researchers say. They make it clear, however, that just because an area is less likely to drown might not mean it is less vulnerable. “Our model results suggest that even natural changes may pose problems,” Lentz said. “For example, the likelihood that barrier islands will change could impact the infrastructure and economies of coastal communities, and the barrier islands or marshes may not protect coastal communities in the same way they do today.”
In fact, the outcome is uncertain for the Northeast’s low-lying developed coastlines, where seawalls, buildings and other immovable structures thwart some natural processes. The model found the region’s developed coastal lands lying 1 meter (about 3 1/2 feet) or less above sea level will likely face a tipping point by the 2030s, when humans’ decisions about whether and how to protect each area will determine if it survives or drowns.
A 2012 USGS study identified the densely populated region from Cape Hatteras to Boston as a hot spot where seas are rising faster than the global average, so land managers urgently need to understand how their coastal landscape may change, said John Haines, coordinator of the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program.
“The model allows us to identify vulnerable areas, and that information can be very valuable to land managers as they consider whether to protect, relocate or let go of certain assets,” Haines said. “Even when the results are uncertain, it’s useful to know there’s a 50 percent chance that an important habitat or infrastructure project may be lost in a few decades.”
To come up with their model for the Northeastern United States, the researchers mapped all coastal land between 10 meters (about 33 feet) above sea level and 10 meters below it, from the Virginia-North Carolina line to the Maine-Canada border. They factored in a variety of forces that affect coastal change, from planetary phenomena like the movement of Earth’s tectonic plates to local ones like falling groundwater levels that cause land surfaces to sink. Looking at parcels of 30 meters by 30 meters—about the size of two NBA basketball courts side by side—they weighed the balance of forces on each parcel.
Using scenarios that assume humans will continue adding moderate to high levels of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere through the 21st century, the team projected global sea level rise for the 2020s through the 2080s, and applied that to the coast. The model then estimated the likelihood, from 0 to 100 percent, that each parcel will persist above sea level at the end of each decade.
Predictions for many parcels fell close to 50 percent in the first few decades, a tossup between drowning and surviving. The uncertainty was greatest when the researchers had to wrestle with more than one question that can’t yet be definitively answered. Among them are, how fast will seas rise, can coastal marshes make new soil quickly enough to stay above the waves, and what engineering strategies will people use to protect some shorelines?
“By building in our understanding of the sea level rise response of the coastal landscape, we’re providing a more realistic picture of coastal change in the Northeastern U.S. over the next several decades,” Lentz said.
The researchers’ next step will be to group the basketball-court-sized parcels into larger areas, such as major coastal cities, national wildlife refuges, and national seashores, and assess the vulnerability of these areas to future change and drowning. This information may assist decisionmakers as they develop management priorities to address longer-term coastal challenges.
This research was supported by the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program and the Department of the Interior Northeast Climate Science Center (NE CSC), which is managed by the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center. The NE CSC is one of eight that provides scientific information to help natural resource managers respond effectively to climate change.
USGS scientists, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Minnesota and University of Alaska Fairbanks, have mapped belowground permafrost in areas of Alaska that have been affected by wildfire, years-to-decades after the fires occurred.Scientists deploy geophysical equipment in the Nome Creek, Alaska area to assess the effect of wildfire on permafrost. Small electrical signals are injected into the ground through metal stakes connected to the orange cable in the foreground. The measured response is used to detect belowground permafrost conditions. USGS photo, Burke Minsley, 2014.
“There has been global concern for many years about the effects of the warming climate on high-latitude permafrost and its vast stores of organic carbon," said Virginia Burkett, USGS Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change. “When permafrost thaws, carbon currently locked up in the frozen ground is released to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane. Wildfires amplify carbon emissions from declining permafrost in ways we are just now beginning to understand."
Exceptionally warm and dry weather caused hundreds of wildfires in Alaska and Canada in 2015. Millions of acres of land were burned, causing immediate risk and disturbance to local residents and ecosystems, with plumes of smoke that carried all the way to the lower 48 states.
During two years of extensive field surveys in interior Alaska, the research team combined field observations with geophysical measurements that crossed the boundaries of historical and recent fires to analyze the impacts of wildfire on the underlying permafrost. The impact of fire on permafrost can be highly variable across different landscapes.
“Data from the geophysical surveys give us a detailed picture of how permafrost is distributed in the subsurface. This new information helps improve our understanding of how permafrost has changed in response to fire,” said Burke Minsley, a USGS geophysicist and lead author of the study.
“The geophysical techniques we used can be compared to medical imaging that probes the human body without surgery,” Minsley continued. “We can ‘see’ permafrost conditions underground without expensive and disruptive drilling. Data about wildfires and permafrost conditions can be combined with satellite remote sensing observations to help extend interpretations over much larger areas across the state.”
Scientists have long known that severe fires can remove the layer of organic material at the ground surface that serves to insulate permafrost and maintain frozen conditions. This study documented locations where permafrost appears to be resilient to disturbance from fire, areas where warm permafrost conditions exist that may be vulnerable to future change, areas where permafrost has thawed, and one location where permafrost appears to be recovering after fire. More information is needed to quantify fire impacts on permafrost in order to assess future vulnerabilities.
The research article was recently published online in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface , a journal of the American Geophysical Union.
Recent USGS press releases on permafrost:
USGS Projects Large Loss of Alaska Permafrost by 2100 (11/30/15)
Arctic Tundra Fire Causes Widespread Permafrost Landscape Changes (11/12/15)
Ancient Permafrost Quickly Transforms to Carbon Dioxide upon Thaw (10/26/15)
The U.S. Geological Survey has announced the first recipients of the 2016 partnership funding awards for the 3D Elevation Program. This program, referred to as 3DEP, presents a unique opportunity for collaboration between the USGS and other federal, state and local agencies to leverage the services and expertise of private sector mapping firms that acquire high-quality, three-dimensional mapping data of the United States.
“We are very excited about the growing interest in our 3DEP initiative across all levels of government. I’m particularly pleased with the outstanding quality of the project proposals we received for this award opportunity,” said Kevin Gallagher, USGS Associate Director for Core Science Systems.
Thus far in 2016, partnership funding has been awarded to 21 proposals in 19 states and territories. The total data acquisition for FY16 is expected to result in the influx of more than 150,000 square miles of public domain lidar point cloud data and derived elevation products into the 3DEP program.
These 2016 awards are the result of a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for the 3D Elevation Program, issued on July 17, 2015. (Fed Biz Opps G15PS00558 and Grants.gov G15AS00123). The BAA is a publicly accessible process to develop partnerships for the collection of lidar and derived elevation data for 3DEP.
The primary goal of 3DEP is to systematically collect nationwide lidar data, with IfSAR data in Alaska, over an 8-year period. 3DEP is designed based on an extensive benefit-cost analysis to conservatively provide new benefits of $690 million/year with the potential to generate $13 billion/year in new benefits through applications that span the economy.
Lidar, short for light detection and ranging, is a remote sensing detection system that works on the principle of radar, but uses light from a laser. Similarly, IfSAR, short for interferometric synthetic aperture radar is used to collect data over Alaska due to cloud cover, extreme weather conditions, rugged terrain and remote locations.
Current and accurate 3D elevation data are essential to help communities cope with natural hazards and disasters such as floods and landslides, support infrastructure, ensure agricultural success, strengthen environmental decision-making and bolster national security.
Federal funds to support this opportunity were provided by the USGS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The USGS is acting in a management role to facilitate planning and acquisition for the broader community, through the use of government contracts and partnership agreements.
More information about 3DEP including updates on current and future 3DEP partnership opportunities is available online.
Map depicts the status of BAA awards to date. Project selection is ongoing and will be posted at the 3DEP website. The FY16 3DEP data acquisition is projected to add more than 150,000 square miles of 3DEP quality lidar data to the national database. For the complete list, visit the 2016 Lidar Awards Page.