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Federal News

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

FEMA Announces Launch of the Interim Office of the Flood Insurance Advocate

FEMA Press Releases - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 18:42

WASHINGTON –  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate today announced the launch of the Interim Office of the Flood Insurance Advocate, led by the Acting Flood Insurance Advocate, David Stearrett. The Interim Flood Insurance Advocate office will stand up effective December 22, 2014.

Language English
Categories: Federal News

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)

Two Weeks Left to Apply for South Napa Earthquake Disaster Assistance

FEMA Press Releases - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 07:59

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Individuals and business owners in Napa and Solano counties who had damages or losses as a result of the South Napa Earthquake have two weeks left to register for disaster assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Officials with FEMA and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) urge anyone who still needs help to register before the deadline – Dec. 29, 2014.

Language English
Categories: Federal News

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>]

FEMA Flood Help Ending: Register by Sunday

FEMA Press Releases - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 10:06

WARREN, Mich. – Sunday is the final day to register for FEMA disaster assistance for Michigan residents affected by the August floods.

As the registration and application deadline nears more than 125,000 residents in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties have registered for assistance and more than $240 million in federal disaster assistance has been approved.

FEMA has approved nearly $139 million in grants, while the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has approved more than $101 million in low-interest loans.

Language English
Categories: Federal News

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. 

Tropical Storm Iselle Disaster Assistance Update

FEMA Press Releases - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 15:20

HONOLULU – Three months after President Barack Obama approved supplemental federal aid to help local government agencies and eligible non-profit organizations recover from Tropical Storm Iselle, state and federal disaster recovery employees have:

  • Conducted a Joint Preliminary Damage Assessment;

  • Held four Applicant Briefings on Hawaii Island, Maui, and Oahu;

  • Received requests for FEMA public assistance from16 applicants who were impacted during Tropical Storm Iselle, which affected the Hawaiian Islands Aug. 7-9, 2014;

Language English
Categories: Federal News

Fault "Crossroads" May Have Been Origin Point for 2011 Virginia Earthquake

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 11:20
Summary: The 2011 east coast earthquake felt by people from Georgia to Canada likely originated from a fault “junction” just outside of Mineral, Virginia, according to new U.S. Geological Survey research published in the Geological Society of America’s Special Papers.

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



The 2011 east coast earthquake felt by people from Georgia to Canada likely originated from a fault “junction” just outside of Mineral, Virginia, according to new U.S. Geological Survey research published in the Geological Society of America’s Special Papers.

Following the August 23, 2011 event, USGS scientists conducted low-altitude geophysical (gravity and magnetic) flight surveys in 2012 over the epicenter, located about eight miles from the quake’s namesake. Maps of the earth’s magnetic field and gravitational pull show subtle variations that reflect the physical properties of deeply buried rocks. More research may reveal whether geologic crossroads such as this are conducive to future earthquakes in the eastern United States.

Caption: In map view, magnetic data were filtered (colors) to highlight geologic features near the earthquake depth. One contrast (blue dotted line) is aligned with aftershocks (black dots). The other crosses at an angle. They suggest that the earthquake (yellow star) occurred near a “crossroads,” or a complex intersection of different types of rock.

“These surveys unveiled not only one fault, which is roughly aligned with a fault defined by the earthquake’s aftershocks, but a second fault or contact between different rock types that comes in at an angle to the first one,” said USGS scientist and lead investigator, Anji Shah. “This visual suggests that the earthquake occurred near a ‘crossroads,’ or junction, between the fault that caused the earthquake and another fault or geologic contact.”

Deep imaging tools were specifically chosen because the earthquake occurred about five miles beneath the earth. Looking at faults in this way can help scientists better understand earthquake hazards in the eastern United States.

The USGS and partner scientists are also interested in why seismic events occur in certain parts of the central and eastern United States, like the Central Virginia seismic zone, since there are no plate boundaries there, unlike the San Andreas Fault in California, or the Aleutian Trench in Alaska.

USGS scientists still have remaining questions:  Could this happen elsewhere? How common are such crossroads?  Shah and other scientists are also trying to understand whether and why a junction like this might be an origin point for earthquakes.

“Part of it might be the complex stress state that arises in such an area. Imagine you have a plastic water bottle in your hand, and it has a cut (fault) in it the long way. When you squeeze the bottle, it pops (ruptures) where the cut is.  The long cut is comparable to an ancient fault – it’s an area of weakness where motion (faulting and earthquakes) is more likely to happen. Multiple intersecting cuts in that bottle produce zones of weakness where fault slip is more likely to happen, especially where two cuts intersect,” said Shah.

The situation near the fault on which the magnitude 5.8 Mineral earthquake occurred is more complex than that. For example, the fault may separate different types of rocks with varying densities and strengths, as suggested by the gravity data. This contributes to a complex stress field that could also be more conducive to slip.

Additional science data about the 2011 Mineral, Virginia, earthquake may be found online.

NASA-USGS Climate Data App Challenge: An Invitation for Innovation

USGS Newsroom - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 11:00
Summary: NASA in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is offering more than $35,000 in prizes to citizen scientists for ideas that make use of climate data to address vulnerabilities faced by the United States in coping with climate change. 

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell, USGS ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Steve Cole, NASA ( Phone: 202-358-0918 );



NASA in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is offering more than $35,000 in prizes to citizen scientists for ideas that make use of climate data to address vulnerabilities faced by the United States in coping with climate change. 

The Climate Resilience Data Challenge, conducted through the NASA Tournament Lab, a partnership with Harvard University hosted on Appirio/Topcoder, kicks off Monday, Dec. 15 and runs through March 2015. 

The challenge supports the efforts of the White House Climate Data Initiative, a broad effort to leverage the federal government’s extensive, freely available climate-relevant data resources to spur innovation and private-sector entrepreneurship in order to advance awareness of and preparedness for the impacts of climate change. The challenge was announced by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Dec. 9. 

According to the recent National Climate Assessment produced by more than 300 experts across government and academia, the United States faces a number of current and future challenges as the result of climate change. Vulnerabilities include coastal flooding and weather-related hazards that threaten lives and property, increased disruptions to agriculture, prolonged drought that adversely affects food security and water availability, and ocean acidification capable of damaging ecosystems and biodiversity. The challenge seeks to unlock the potential of climate data to address these and other climate risks. 

“Federal agencies, such as NASA and the USGS, traditionally focus on developing world-class science data to support scientific research, but the rapid growth in the innovation community presents new opportunities to encourage wider usage and application of science data to benefit society,” said Kevin Murphy, NASA program executive for Earth Science Data Systems in Washington. “We need tools that utilize federal data to help our local communities improve climate resilience, protect our ecosystems, and prepare for the effects of climate change.” 

“Government science follows the strictest professional protocols because scientific objectivity is what the American people expect from us,” said Virginia Burkett, acting USGS associate director for Climate Change and Land Use. “That systematic approach is fundamental to our mission. With this challenge, however, we are intentionally looking outside the box for transformational ways to apply the data that we have already carefully assembled for the benefit of communities across the nation.”

The challenge begins with an ideation stage for data-driven application pitches, followed by storyboarding and, finally, prototyping of concepts with the greatest potential. 

The ideation stage challenges competitors to imagine new applications of climate data to address climate vulnerabilities. This stage is divided into three competitive classes based on data sources: NASA data, federal data from agencies such as the USGS, and any open data. The storyboarding stage allows competitors to conceptualize and design the best ideas, followed by the prototyping stage, which carry the best ideas into implementation. 

The Climate Resilience Data Challenge is managed by NASA's Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation at NASA Headquarters, Washington. The center was established in coordination with the Office of Science and Technology Policy to advance open innovation efforts for climate-related science and extend that expertise to other federal agencies. 

For additional information and to register (beginning Dec. 15), visit the Climate Resilience Data Challenge website.   

Learn more 

National Climate Assessment
USGS Climate and Land Use Change
USGS Core Science Systems
NASA challenges and citizen science