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State and Regional 3DEP Stakeholder Workshops Underway

USGS Newsroom Technical - Tue, 05/19/2015 - 10:00
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey National Geospatial Program is developing the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) to respond to growing needs for high-quality topographic data and for a wide range of other three-dimensional (3D) representations of the Nation's natural and constructed features

Contact Information:

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



The U.S. Geological Survey National Geospatial Program is developing the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) to respond to growing needs for high-quality topographic data and for a wide range of other three-dimensional (3D) representations of the Nation's natural and constructed features.

To expand awareness of 3DEP status and plans, as well as provide an open forum for 3DEP stakeholders to communicate and coordinate potential Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) proposals, the USGS is offering numerous state and regional coordination workshops. The meetings will be held throughout the US between early May and June 30th. Locations, dates, times and registration information can be found at: http://1.usa.gov/1IMab1H. The workshops will include in-person and/or virtual participation options.

The primary goal of 3DEP is to systematically collect 3D elevation data in the form of light detection and ranging (lidar) data over the conterminous United States, Hawaii, and the U.S. territories, with data acquired over an 8-year period. Interferometric synthetic aperture radar (ifsar) data will be acquired for Alaska, where cloud cover and remote locations preclude the use of lidar in much of the State. The 3DEP initiative is based on the results of the National Enhanced Elevation Assessment that documented more than 600 business uses across 34 Federal agencies, all 50 States, selected local government and Tribal offices, and private and nonprofit organizations. A fully funded and implemented 3DEP would provide more than $690 million annually in new benefits to government entities, the private sector, and citizens.

3DEP is a "Call for Action" because no one entity can accomplish it independently. 3DEP presents a unique opportunity for collaboration between all levels of government, to leverage the services and expertise of private sector mapping firms that acquire the data, and to create jobs now and in the future. When partners work together, they can achieve efficiencies and lower costs so that 3DEP can become a reality. When 3D elevation data are available to everyone, new innovations will occur in forest resource management, alternative energy, agriculture, and other industries for years to come.

The annual Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) is a competitive solicitation issued to facilitate the collection of lidar and derived elevation data for 3DEP. Federal agencies, state and local governments, tribes, academic institutions and the private sector are eligible to submit proposals. The 3DEP public meetings will introduce this opportunity to the broadest stakeholder community possible and provide a forum for interested parties to discuss elevation data collection needs of mutual interest that could be addressed by a coordinated investment.

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

Atmospheric Release of BPA May Reach Nearby Waterways

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 05/18/2015 - 12:05
Summary: Water contamination by hormone-disrupting pollutants is a concern for water quality around the world Chemicals released in the air by industrial sites and wastewater treatment sites could adversely affect wildlife and humans

Contact Information:

Jennifer LaVista, USGS ( Phone: 303-202-4764 ); Jeff Sossamon, University of Missouri ( Phone: 573-882-3346 );



Water contamination by hormone-disrupting pollutants is a concern for water quality around the world. Existing research has determined that elevated concentrations of Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical used in consumer products such as plastic food storage and beverage containers, have been deposited directly into rivers and streams by municipal or industrial wastewater. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri and the U.S. Geological Survey have assessed Missouri water quality near industrial sites permitted to release BPA into the air. As a result, scientists now believe that atmospheric releases may create a concern for contamination of local surface water leading to human and wildlife exposure.

“There is growing concern that hormone disruptors such as BPA not only threaten wildlife, but also humans,” said Chris Kassotis, a doctoral candidate in the Division of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science at MU. “Recent studies have documented widespread atmospheric releases of BPA from industrial sources across the United States. The results from our study provide evidence that these atmospheric discharges can dramatically elevate BPA in nearby environments.”

Water sampling sites were selected based on their proximity to the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) or locations with reported atmospheric discharges of BPA as identified by the Environmental Protection Agency. Current or historical municipal wastewater treatment sites, which have been shown in the past to contribute hormonally active chemicals to surface water from urban or industrial sources, were also tested. Finally, relatively clean sites were chosen to serve as the control group.

The water then was analyzed for concentrations of BPA, Ethinyl estradiol (EE2), an estrogen commonly used in oral contraceptive pills, and several wastewater compounds. Scientists also measured the total estrogen and receptor activities of the water. This approach is used to measure all chemicals present in the water that are able to bind to and activate (or inhibit) the estrogen or androgen receptors in wildlife and humans. Levels of chemicals were highest in samples with known wastewater treatment plant discharges.

“In addition, we were surprised to find that BPA concentrations were up to 10 times higher in the water near known atmospheric release sites,” said Don Tillitt, adjunct professor of biological sciences at MU, and biochemistry and physiology branch chief with the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center. “This finding suggests that atmospheric BPA releases may contaminate local surface water, leading to greater exposure of humans or wildlife.”

Concentrations of BPA measured in surface water near these sites were well above levels shown to cause adverse health effects in aquatic species, Kassotis said.

The study, “Characterization of Missouri surface waters near point sources of pollution reveals potential novel atmospheric route of exposure for bisphenol A and wastewater hormonal activity pattern,” was published in the journal, Science of the Total Environment, with funding from MU, the USGS Contaminants Biology Program (Environmental Health Mission Area), and STAR Fellowship Assistance Agreement awarded by the U.S. EPA. 

Genetics Provide New Hope for Endangered Freshwater Mussels

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 05/18/2015 - 08:01
Summary: A piece of the restoration puzzle to save populations of endangered freshwater mussels may have been found, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey led study

Contact Information:

Heather Galbraith ( Phone: 570-724-3322 x230 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



WELLSBORO, Pa. — A piece of the restoration puzzle to save populations of endangered freshwater mussels may have been found, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey led study. Local population losses in a river may not result in irreversible loss of mussel species; other mussels from within the same river could be used as sources to restore declining populations. 

Though they serve a critical role in rivers and streams, freshwater mussels are threatened by habitat degradation such as dams, alteration to river channels, pollution and invasive species. Mussels filter the water and provide habitat and food for algae, macroinvertebrates, and even fish, which are necessary components of aquatic food webs.

“Few people realize the important role that mussels play in the ecosystem," said USGS research biologist Heather Galbraith, lead author of the study.  "Streams and rivers with healthy mussel populations tend to have relatively good water quality which is good for the fish and insects that also inhabit those systems."  

Mussels in general are poorly understood and difficult to study. Because of this lack of knowledge, population genetics has become a useful tool for understanding their ecology and guiding their restoration.

More than 200 of the nearly 300 North American freshwater mussel species are imperiled, with rapidly dwindling populations.  Researchers are providing information to resource managers, who are working to reverse this trend.  USGS led research suggests that re-introducing mussels within the same river could reverse population declines without affecting the current genetic makeup of the population. 

The research shows that patterns in the genetic makeup of a population occurs within individual rivers for freshwater mussels; and that in the study area, mussels from the same river could be used for restoration.

“That genetic structuring is occurring within individual rivers is good news, because it may be a means of protecting rare, threatened and endangered species from impending extinction,” said Galbraith.  “Knowing the genetic structure of a freshwater mussel population is necessary for restoring declining populations to prevent factors such as inbreeding, high mutation rates and low survivorship.” 

Knowing that mussels in the same river are similar genetically opens up opportunities for augmenting declining populations or re-introducing mussels into locations where they were historically found. The genetics also highlight the importance of not mixing populations among rivers without additional studies to verify the genetic compatibility of mussels within those rivers.

The international team of researchers from Canada and the United States working to understand mussel genetics found similar genetic patterns among common and endangered mussel species.  This is important information for mussel biologists because studying endangered species can be difficult, and researchers may be able to study the genetic structure of common mussels and generalize the patterns to endangered mussels. 

Although understanding the genetic structure of mussel populations is important for restoration, genetic tools do have limitations.  Researchers found that despite drastic reductions in freshwater mussel populations, there was little evidence of this population decline at the genetic level. This may be due to the extremely long lifespan of mussels, some of which can live to be more than 100 years old. 

“Genetics, it turns out, is not a good indicator of population decline; by the time we observe a genetic change, it may be too late for the population,” said Galbraith.

By way of comparison, in fruit flies, which have short lifespans, genetic changes show up quickly within a few generations.  Mussels, on the other hand, are long lived animals; therefore it may take decades to see changes in their genetic structure within a population.

The study examined six species of freshwater mussels in four Great Lakes Tributaries in southwestern Ontario.  The species are distributed across the eastern half of North America and range in status from presumed extinct to secure. The six mussels were the snuffbox, Epioblasma triquetra; kidneyshell, Ptychobranchus fasciolaris; mapleleaf, Quadrula quadrula; wavy-rayed lampmussel, Lampsilis fasciola; Flutedshell Lasmigona costata; and the threeridge mussel Amblema plicata.

The study, “Comparative analysis of riverscape genetic structure in rare, threatened and common freshwater mussels” is available online in the journal Conservation Genetics.

For more information on freshwater mussels please visit Stranger than Fiction: The Secret Lives of Freshwater Mussels.

Preliminary Wind Energy Impacts Assessment Methodology Released

USGS Newsroom Technical - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 11:54
Summary: USGS has released a preliminary methodology to assess the population level impacts of onshore wind energy development on birds and bats

Contact Information:

Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 ); Jay Diffendorfer ( Phone: 303-236-5369 );



USGS has released a preliminary methodology to assess the population level impacts of onshore wind energy development on birds and bats.  This wind energy impacts assessment methodology is the first of its kind, evaluating national to regional scale impacts of those bats and birds that breed in and migrate through the United States.  The methodology focuses primarily on the effects of collisions between wildlife and turbines.

Primary uses of this new methodology, which is complementary to and incorporates detailed studies and demographic models USGS conducts on key species, include:

  • Quantitative measuring of the potential impacts to species’ populations through demographic modeling and the use of potential biologic removal methods.
  • Ranking species in terms of their direct and indirect relative risk to wind energy development.
  • Recommending species for more intensive demographic modeling or study.
  • Highlighting species for which the effects of wind energy development on their populations are projected to be small.

This new draft methodology is based on a robust quantitative and probabilistic framework used by the USGS in energy resource assessments. The assessment methodology also incorporates publicly available information on fatality incidents, population estimates, species range maps, turbine location data and biological characteristics.

The methodology includes a qualitative risk ranking component, as well as a generalized population modelling component. The USGS also repurposed a well-established marine mammal conservation method known as Potential Biological Removal.  This methodology identifies the maximum number of animals—not including natural deaths—that may be removed from a marine mammal population while allowing it to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable population.  The USGS uses the Potential Biological Removal tool to compare the observed fatalities from collisions with wind turbines to the estimated number of fatalities that can occur before a population would decline.

This methodology also builds on previous USGS research on wind energy, for example, the USGS WindFarm map, released early 2014, that shows the location of all land-based wind turbines in the United States.

Applying expertise in biology, ecology, mapping and resource assessment, the USGS has contributed to the Department of the Interior’s Powering Our Future Initiative with this methodology to quantify the impact of wind energy development on birds and bats.

Throughout the course of this project, USGS scientists have engaged in discussions with a variety of partners and stakeholders, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Bureau of Land Management, Department of Energy, and Department of Defense, as well as industry, non-governmental organizations, and universities.  The USGS will now solicit technical comments on this methodology from an expert panel external to the USGS and will consider these comments in developing the final methodology.

Additional ongoing USGS research is focused on understanding potential impacts to wildlife species on a national, regional, and localized scale. Examples of these efforts include developing wildlife and mortality survey protocols, estimating causes and magnitude of fatalities, assessing population level effects, describing bird migration and movement patterns, understanding wildlife interactions with turbines, and developing technologies to reduce fatalities from interactions with turbines.

The new methodology can be accessed here. For more information about USGS wind energy impacts efforts, visit the USGS Energy Resources Program Web site or follow us on Twitter.

Spring Showers and Snowmelt: The State of Minnesota's Groundwater

USGS Newsroom Technical - Wed, 05/13/2015 - 11:45
Summary: New research can help water resource managers quantify critical groundwater resources and assess the sustainability of long-term water use in Minnesota

Contact Information:

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



New research can help water resource managers quantify critical groundwater resources and assess the sustainability of long-term water use in Minnesota. 

U.S. Geological Survey scientists recently estimated annual rates of potential recharge, or the natural replenishment of groundwater, over 15 years across Minnesota. According the study, the statewide mean annual potential recharge rate from 1996‒2010 was 4.9 inches per year (in/yr). Recharge rates increased from west to east across the state and April generally had the highest potential recharge. 

Improved estimates of recharge are necessary because approximately 75 percent of drinking water and 90 percent of agricultural irrigation water in Minnesota are supplied from groundwater. 

“Resource managers in Minnesota can use this study to help inform water use or water conservation guidelines throughout the state,” said USGS scientist and lead author of the report, Erik Smith. 

To maintain a stable supply of groundwater, recharge rates must be high enough to compensate for water that is lost to streams, lakes and other surface-water bodies, or removed for uses such as agriculture. The scientists used data about daily precipitation, minimum and maximum daily temperatures, land cover and soil to model Minnesota’s recharge rates. 

During the study period, mean annual potential recharge estimates across Minnesota ranged from less than 0.1 to 17.8 in/yr. Other findings include: 

  • The highest annual mean recharge estimate across the state was in 2010 at 7 inches, and the lowest mean recharge estimate was 1.3 inches in 2003.
  • Some of the lowest potential recharge rates were in the Red River of the North Basin in northwestern Minnesota, generally between 1 and 1.5 in/yr.
  • The highest potential recharge rates were in northeastern Minnesota and the Anoka Sand Plain in central Minnesota.
  • Eighty-eight percent of the mean annual potential recharge rates were between 2 and 8 in/yr.
  • April had the greatest monthly mean at 30 percent of the yearly recharge.

 The USGS partnered with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on the new study. 

For more information on groundwater in Minnesota, please visit the USGS Minnesota Water Science Center website.

USGS Powder River Basin Coal Assessment Features an Estimate of the Reserve Base

USGS Newsroom Technical - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 12:00
Summary: The latest coal resource assessment of the Powder River Basin showcases the newly revised USGS’ assessment methodology, which, for the first time, includes an estimate of the reserve base for the entire basin

Contact Information:

Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 ); Jim Luppens ( Phone: 303-236-7685 );



The latest coal resource assessment of the Powder River Basin showcases the newly revised USGS’ assessment methodology, which, for the first time, includes an estimate of the reserve base for the entire basin.

The coal reserve base includes those resources that are currently economic (reserves), but also may encompass those parts of a resource that have a reasonable potential for becoming economically available within planning horizons. The complete, final assessment results are available in two USGS publications released today: Professional Paper 1809 and Data Series 912.

The Powder River Basin contains one of the largest resources of low-sulfur, low-ash, subbituminous coal in the world and is the single most important coal basin in the United States.

The most important distinction between this Powder River Basin coal assessment and other, prior assessments, was the inclusion of mining and economic analyses to develop an estimate of the portion of the total resource that is potentially recoverable, not just the original (in-place) resources.  Prior resource assessments relied on net coal thickness maps for only selected beds, which provided only in-place resource estimates.

The key to performing the economic analyses was gathering and interpreting a sufficient amount of recent geological data from the extensive coal bed methane development over the past 20 years in the Powder River Basin. This wealth of new data was essential to enable modeling and mapping of all of the significant individual coal beds over the entire Powder River Basin for the first time.

The revised USGS assessment methodology resulted in an estimated original resource of about 1.16 trillion short tons in the Powder River Basin, of which 162 billion short tons are considered recoverable resources (coal reserve base) at a stripping ratio of 10:1 or less.  An estimated 25 billion short tons of that coal reserve base met the definition of reserves.   A 10:1 stripping ratio is approximately estimated by dividing the total thickness of rock mined to the total thickness of coal recovered.

The coal reserve base includes those resources that are currently economic (reserves), but also may encompass those parts of a resource that have a reasonable potential for becoming economically available. This reserve estimate does not mean that the total amount of coal left in the Powder River Basin could be produced by surface mining technologies. The costs of mining and coal sales prices are not static as both tend to increase over time if supported by demand. If future market prices continue to exceed mining costs, portions of the coal reserve base would be elevated to reserve status (and the converse).

The estimate of the current reserves along with the total coal reserve base provide more meaningful resource information for use by energy planners from local to national perspectives rather than just total in-place resource quantities..

Although no underground mining in the Powder River Basin is expected to occur in the foreseeable future, a substantial, deeper coal resource in beds 10–20 feet thick is estimated at 304 billion short tons in the region.

The USGS Energy Resources Program research efforts yield comprehensive, digital assessments of the quantity, quality, location, and accessibility of the Nation’s coal resources.

To learn more about this or other geologic assessments, please visit the USGS Energy Resources Program website. Stay up to date with USGS energy science by subscribing to our newsletter or by following us on Twitter.

New Mineral Science Shows Promise for Reducing Environmental Impacts from Mining

USGS Newsroom - Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:00
Summary: Mining companies, land managers, and regulators now have a wealth of tools to aid in reducing potential mining impacts even before the mine gets started

Contact Information:

Bob Seal ( Phone: 703-648-6290 ); Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 );



Mining companies, land managers, and regulators now have a wealth of tools to aid in reducing potential mining impacts even before the mine gets started. USGS and various research partners released a special edition of papers specifically targeted at providing modern environmental effect research for modern mining techniques.

Minerals play an important role in the global economy, and, as rising standards of living have increased demand for those minerals, the number and size of mines have increased, leading to larger potential impacts from mining.

“Approaches to protecting the environment from mining impacts have undergone a revolution over the past several decades,” said USGS mineral and environmental expert Bob Seal. “The sustainability of that revolution relies on an evolving scientific understanding of how mines and their waste products interact with the environment.”

Many research conclusions are contained in the special issue, and some of the primary findings are listed here:

Pre-Mining Tools

  • USGS evaluated several tools for predicting pre-mining baseline conditions at a mine, even if no baseline was established. This will make it easier to remediate the mine after it closes.
  • USGS also took tools used to screen mine waste for contaminants and tested them  for predicting potential sources for contaminants before the mine even got started.

Mitigating while Mining

  • Because slag is the byproduct of mineral processing, its physical and chemical properties depend a lot on what the original mined mineral material was.
  • Slag from copper, zinc, or nickel may be less attractive for reuse, since it has a higher potential to negatively impact the environment than slag that came from iron or steel production.
  • Gold mining runs a lower risk of contaminating the environment with cyanide if mines give enough time for it to safely evaporate and be broken down by sunlight.

Mine Drainage

  • Mine drainage is incredibly complicated. It doesn’t come from a single source, but rather complex interactions between water, air, and micro-organisms like bacteria.
  • Mine drainage is not just acid mine drainage—it can be basic, neutral, or even high in salts. All of these drainage types have their own impacts.
  • Mine drainage concentrations in streams can actually change based on the time of day.

Toxic Transport

  • USGS tested many of the existing techniques for figuring out what toxic contaminants wind up in stream sediments so managers know the right one for the right job.
  • USGS also evaluated a new technique for predicting how toxic certain metals will be in aquatic environments.

The research papers are contained in a special issue of the journal Applied Geochemistry. This research was conducted by scientists from USGS and several collaborating organizations, including the Geological Survey of Canada, InTerraLogic, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Montana Tech, SUNY Oneonta, the University of Maryland, the University of Montana, and the University of Waterloo.

USGS minerals research can help to identify problems before they become problems, or at the very least, help address the impacts that do exist. Learn more about USGS minerals research here, or follow us on www.twitter.com/usgsminerals

Boom and Bust in the Boreal Forest: Climate Signals Seen in Bird Populations

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 05/11/2015 - 15:00
Summary: Weaving concepts of ecology and climatology, recent interdisciplinary research by USGS and several university partners reveals how large-scale climate variability appears to connect boom-and-bust cycles in the seed production of the boreal (northern conifer) forests of Canada to massive, irregular movements of boreal birds

Contact Information:

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



A pine siskin stands on the branch of a northern conifer tree. Photo, USFWS National Digital Library. (High resolution image)

Weaving concepts of ecology and climatology, recent interdisciplinary research by USGS and several university partners reveals how large-scale climate variability appears to connect boom-and-bust cycles in the seed production of the boreal (northern conifer) forests of Canada to massive, irregular movements of boreal birds.

These boreal bird “irruptions” — extended migrations of immense numbers of birds to areas far outside their normal range — have been recorded for decades by birders, but the ultimate causes of the irruptions have never been fully explained. 

“This study is a textbook example of interdisciplinary research, establishing an exciting new link between climate and bird migrations” said USGS acting Director Suzette Kimball. “A vital strength of our organization is our ability to pursue scientific issues across the boundaries of traditional academic disciplines.”

The investigation was based on statistical analysis of two million observations of the pine siskin (a finch, Spinus pinus) recorded since 1989 by Project FeederWatch, a citizen science program managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. By methodically counting the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April, FeederWatchers help scientists track continent-wide movements of winter bird populations.

One of several nomadic birds that breed during summer in Canadian boreal forests, pine siskins feed on seed crops of conifers and other tree species. When seed is abundant locally, pine siskins also spend the autumn and winter there. In other years, they may irrupt, migrating unpredictably hundreds or even thousands of kilometers to the south and east in search of seed and favorable habitat. “Superflights” is the term applied to winters (e.g.1997-1998, 2012-2013) when boreal species have blanketed bird feeders across the U.S. 

The irruptions of pine siskins and other boreal species follow a lagging pattern of  intermittent, but broadly synchronous, accelerated seed production (“masting”) by trees in the boreal forest. Widespread masting in pines, spruces, and firs is driven primarily by favorable climate during the two or three consecutive years required to initiate and mature seed crops. Leading up to masting events, the green developing cones and the promise of abundant seed stimulate higher reproductive rates in birds.

However, seed production is expensive for trees and tends to be much reduced in the years following masting. Consequently, meager seed crops in the years following masting drive boreal birds to search elsewhere for food and overwintering habitat.

The key finding of the new research is that the two principal pine siskin irruption modes – North to South and West to East – correlate closely with spatial patterns of climate variability across North America that are well understood by climatologists. Not surprisingly, severely cold winters tend to drive birds south during the irruption year.

More subtly, the researchers found that favorable and unfavorable climatic conditions of regularly juxtaposed regions called “climate dipoles” two years prior to the irruption also appear to push and pull bird migrations across the continent.

USGS co-author Julio Betancourt commented, “Our study underscores the value of continent-wide biological monitoring. In this case, avid birders across the U.S. and Canada have contributed sustained observations of birds at the same broad geographic scale in which weather and climate have also been observed and understood.”

Other similar examples of biological monitoring within USGS include the Breeding Bird Survey and the National Phenology Network.

The research study, authored by Court Strong (University of Utah), Ben Zuckerberg (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Julio Betancourt (USGS-Reston), and Walt Koenig (Cornell University), was published May 11 online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The Chemistry of Waters that Follow from Fracking: A Case Study

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 05/11/2015 - 08:49
Summary: In a study of 13 hydraulically fractured shale gas wells in north-central Pennsylvania, USGS researchers found that the microbiology and organic chemistry of the produced waters varied widely from well to well

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Denise  Akob ( Phone: 703-648-5819 );



Storage tanks for produced water from natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale gas play of western Pennsylvania. USGS photo, Doug Duncan. (High resolution image)

In a study of 13 hydraulically fractured shale gas wells in north-central Pennsylvania, USGS researchers found that the microbiology and organic chemistry of the produced waters varied widely from well to well.

The variations in these aspects of the wells followed no discernible spatial or geological pattern but may be linked to the time a well was in production. Further, the study highlighted the presence of some organic compounds (e.g. benzene) in produced waters that could present potential risks to human health, if the waters are not properly managed.

Produced water is the term specialists use to describe the water brought to the land surface during oil, gas, and coalbed methane production. This water is a mixture of naturally occurring water and fluid injected into the formation deep underground to enhance production. A USGS Fact Sheet on produced water provides more background information and terminology definitions.

Although the USGS investigators found that the inorganic (noncarbon-based) chemistry of produced waters from the shale gas wells tested in the Marcellus region was fairly consistent from well to well and meshed with comparable results of previous studies (see USGS Energy Produced Waters Project), the large differences in the organic geochemistry (carbon-based, including petroleum products) and microbiology (e.g. bacteria) of the produced waters were striking findings of the study.

“Some wells appeared to be hotspots for microbial activity,” observed Denise Akob, a USGS microbiologist and lead author of the study, “but this was not predicted by well location, depth, or salinity. The presence of microbes seemed to be associated with concentrations of specific organic compounds — for example, benzene or acetate — and the length of time that the well was in production.”

The connection between the presence of organic compounds and the detection of microbes was not, in itself, surprising. Many organic compounds used as hydraulic fracturing fluid additives are biodegradable and thus could have supported microbial activity at depth during shale gas production. 

The notable differences in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the produced waters of the tested wells could play a role in the management of produced waters, particularly since VOCs, such as benzene, may be a health concern around the well or holding pond. In wells without VOCs, on the other hand, disposal strategies could concentrate on issues related to the handling of other hazardous compounds.

Microbial activity detected in these samples could turn out to be an advantage by contributing to the degradation of organic compounds present in the produced waters. Potentially, microbes could also serve to help mitigate the effects of organic contaminants during the disposal or accidental release of produced waters. Additional research is needed to fully assess how microbial activity can best be utilized to biodegrade organic compounds found in produced waters.

The research article can be found in the most recent edition of Applied Geochemistry, Special Issue on Shale Gas Geochemistry.

Asian Carp Would Have Adequate Food to Survive in Lake Erie

USGS Newsroom - Wed, 05/06/2015 - 09:15
Summary: If invasive bighead carp and silver carp spread into Lake Erie, there would be enough food available for these species of Asian carp to survive, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey

Contact Information:

Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 ); Karl Anderson ( Phone: 573-441-2956 ); Duane Chapman ( Phone: 573-876-1866 );



If invasive bighead carp and silver carp spread into Lake Erie, there would be enough food available for these species of Asian carp to survive, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

This information is critical in helping resource managers mitigate effects of an Asian carp invasion. If bighead and silver carp were to populate Lake Erie, they have the potential to damage native fish populations and the Great Lakes economy.

USGS scientists used satellite imagery of Lake Erie showing algae on the surface to determine how much food would be available for Asian carp. Green algae and blue-green algae, specifically floating algal blooms that can be seen on the surface, are a preferred food source for Asian carp. The water temperatures and algal concentrations detected in Lake Erie from 2002-2011 show that the bighead and silver carps could not only live in this environment, but could continue to grow. The full report is available online.

“Remote sensing imagery shows that Lake Erie has huge areas of available food that are often several times more concentrated than necessary for Asian carp growth, particularly in the western basin,” said USGS scientist Karl Anderson.

Food availability and water temperature are the greatest sources of uncertainty for predicting fish growth potential. Water temperature is a big factor in determining how much bighead and silver carps need to eat. Models developed by USGS scientists helped determine how much algae bighead and silver carps need to eat to survive.

For the past 10 years, algal blooms in Lake Erie have been increasing. Remote sensing images showed that the amount of algae doubled, and in some places quadrupled, from 2002-2011. Throughout the lake, algal blooms encompass several hundred to several thousands square kilometers. Specifically, the western part of Lake Erie has algal concentrations that are several times greater than what is needed for bighead or silver carp to survive. 

Seasonal Habitat Quality and Landscape Characteristics Explain Genetic Differences Between Greater Sage-grouse Populations in Wyoming

USGS Newsroom Technical - Tue, 05/05/2015 - 08:38
Summary: Low-quality nesting and winter seasonal habitats are strong predictors of reduced gene flow between greater sage-grouse breeding locations, according to research just published in Ecology and Evolution and authored by the U.S. Geological Survey and their colleagues at the University of Waterloo

Contact Information:

Sara Oyler-McCance ( Phone: 970-226-9197 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Low-quality nesting and winter seasonal habitats are strong predictors of reduced gene flow between greater sage-grouse breeding locations, according to research just published in Ecology and Evolution and authored by the U.S. Geological Survey and their colleagues at the University of Waterloo.  

The study compared the genetic differences between greater sage-grouse breeding areas with seasonal habitat distributions or combinations of landscape factors – such as amount of sagebrush habitat, agriculture fields or roads – to understand how each factor or combination of factors influence effective dispersal of sage-grouse across the state.

Understanding how habitat and landscape features impact the effective dispersal of a species is important for informing management and conservation decisions across large landscapes. Dispersal effectiveness can be measured by gene flow, the rate at which genetic material moves between populations. When populations become small and isolated, a reduction in gene flow can lead to reduced genetic diversity, making those populations potentially less resilient to environmental stressors.

“This research identified which seasonal habitats and individual landscape features facilitate and impede gene flow across the state of Wyoming – which is a stronghold for sage-grouse populations,” said Brad Fedy, one of the authors of the paper and a scientist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

Greater sage-grouse are dependent upon sagebrush, so two populations separated only by sagebrush habitat would be expected to have more individuals moving between them and be more genetically similar than two populations separated by a barrier to sage-grouse movement, such as a mountain range or forest.

Researchers found that the juxtaposition and quality of nesting and winter seasonal habitats were the greatest predictors of gene flow for greater sage-grouse in Wyoming. Furthermore, the combinations of high levels of forest cover and highly rugged (steep and uneven) terrain or low levels of sagebrush cover and highly rugged terrain were correlated with low levels of gene flow among sage-grouse populations.

“Maintaining natural levels of gene flow among populations helps ensure resilience for the species,” said Sara Oyler-McCance, a USGS research geneticist and a co-author on the study. “Ultimately, land managers can use this information to identify habitats that are most important for maintaining effective dispersal between populations and to improve future sage-grouse conservation efforts.”

Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces in western North America.  These birds rely on sagebrush ecosystems, which constitute the largest single North American shrub ecosystem and provide vital ecological, hydrological, biological, agricultural, and recreational ecosystem services. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally reviewing the status of greater sage-grouse to determine if the species is warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Shorebird Science? iPlover is the App for That

USGS Newsroom - Mon, 05/04/2015 - 08:06
Summary: The latest tool designed to help manage the threatened piping plover is only a download away; iPlover is the first smartphone data collection application developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and will help those managing plover populations

Contact Information:

Rob  Thieler ( Phone: 508-922-7108 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



RESTON, Va.-- The latest tool designed to help manage the threatened piping plover is only a download away; iPlover is the first smartphone data collection application developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and will help those managing plover populations.

iPlover supports a long-established network of partners working to address ongoing impacts on plover populations, such as habitat gain or loss due to storms. 

More importantly, data from the app is used to develop models that address long-term management concerns for habitat availability. It also improves the overall quality of coastal geologic information available to effectively manage this species. 

The piping plover is a small shorebird that depends on open coastal beaches to breed and raise its young. Listed as threatened along the Atlantic coast in 1986, the piping plover’s conservation has been mandated by the Endangered Species Act. Although Atlantic Coast piping plover numbers have more than doubled since their listing nearly 30 years ago, they are still at risk. Recent estimates place the population at fewer than 2000 pairs, and climate change has introduced new threats to their coastal habitat. 

Coastal beaches are dynamic systems and managing them for beach-dependent species like the piping plover requires collecting data on physical and biological characteristics that will be affected by sea level rise.  Given the extensive Atlantic breeding range of the piping plover – spanning from North Carolina to Newfoundland – biologists have a lot of ground to cover.

The iPlover app supports the need for coordinated, synchronized data collection. It is a powerful new tool to help scientists and coastal resource managers consistently measure and assess the birds’ response to changes to their habitat. Rather than compiling data from multiple sources and formats, the app gives trained resource managers an easy-to-use platform where they can collect and instantly share data across a diverse community of field technicians, scientists, and managers. iPlover improves scientists’ data gathering and analysis capabilities by simplifying and facilitating consistent data collection and management that interfaces with models of shoreline change and beach geomorphology.

“The data come in from all of our study sites basically in real-time,” said Rob Thieler, USGS scientist and lead developer of the app. “It's already formatted, so data can be quickly plugged into our research models. This should really shorten the time between collecting the data, doing the science, and turning it into actionable information for management.”

“The USGS worked with diverse project partners to incorporate specific data collection needs and enable important stakeholders and partners to contribute data from hundreds of field observations within the plover’s U.S. Atlantic coastal breeding range,” said Andrew Milliken, coordinator of the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative.  “This included getting inputs from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, state agencies and non-governmental organizations.”

“The app highlights the synergies and benefits of interagency and interdisciplinary science that advances conservation,” Milliken added. “The information collected will not only greatly improve our understanding of impacts from sea level rise, storms and beach management on piping plovers but also how managing for plovers can benefit other beach-dependent species, such as the American oystercatcher.”

Funding for iPlover was provided through the Department of Interior North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative as part of its Hurricane Sandy response.  The app was developed by the USGS’ Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center and the Center for Integrated Data Analytics.

“iPlover is a great example of the USGS’ ability to build and deliver a variety of science applications that use modern technology,” said Nate Booth, USGS Chief of Office of Water Information and former Lead Architect for the USGS Center for Integrated Data Analytics. “It offers research teams great gains in data collection efficiency so that more time can be spent on analyzing the data rather than managing it."