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News Releases
Updated: 3 hours 29 min ago

What Happens to the Water? Assessing Water Quality in Areas with Hydraulically Fractured Oil and Gas Wells

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 13:25
Summary: More data and research are necessary to best understand the potential risks to water quality associated with unconventional oil and gas development in the United States, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey study.

Contact Information:

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



More data and research are necessary to best understand the potential risks to water quality associated with unconventional oil and gas development in the United States, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey study.

“We mined the national water-quality databases from 1970 - 2010 and were able to assess long-term trends in only 16 percent of the watersheds with unconventional oil and gas resources,” said Zack Bowen, USGS scientist and principal author of the article that appears in American Geophysical Union’s Water Resources Research. “There are not enough data available to be able to assess potential effects of oil and gas development over large geographic areas.”

There is not a national water-quality monitoring program in place that focuses on oil and gas development, so existing national water-quality databases and data on hydraulic fracturing were used to assess water-quality trends in oil and gas areas. The study found no widespread and consistent trends in water quality, such as chloride and specific conductance, in areas where unconventional oil and gas wells are prevalent. The amount of water-quality samples, where they are located and the varying constituents that are measured are limiting factors in existing national databases. 

Hydraulic fracturing is presently the primary stimulation technique for oil and gas production in low-permeability, unconventional resource reservoirs. Comprehensive, published and publicly available information regarding the extent, location and character of hydraulic fracturing and potential effects on regional or national water quality in the United States is scarce. More information can be found on the USGS frequently asked questions on hydraulic fracturing.  

Wildlife Researchers to Give Public Close-Up, Real-Time View of Big Game Fieldwork

Mon, 03/02/2015 - 13:00
Summary: Seeking insights to help moose, elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep populations, researchers from the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Geological Survey and other partners will spend much of March capturing animals on their winter ranges in western and southern Wyoming

Contact Information:

Chad Baldwin, UWYO ( Phone: 307-766-2929 ); Matthew  Kauffman, USGS ( Phone: 307-766-6404 );



LARAMIE, WY — Seeking insights to help moose, elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep populations, researchers from the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Geological Survey and other partners will spend much of March capturing animals on their winter ranges in western and southern Wyoming.

Members of the public will have an opportunity to closely follow the work.

As scientists did during deer captures earlier this winter, researchers with the UW-headquartered Wyoming Migration Initiative (WMI) and personnel from Game and Fish plan to live-tweet the approximately three weeks of research activity and provide Facebook posts about the animal captures multiple times a day.

The tweets will be by WMI Director Matt Kauffman, a UW professor and U.S. Geological Survey scientist. Game and Fish biologists and wardens collaborating on these studies also will tweet from @wgfd. All updates will use the hashtags #wyodeer, #wyomoose, #wyoelk and #wyosheep. Included in the tweets will be maps and data graphics from the forthcoming “Atlas of Wildlife Migration,” a partnership effort with the University of Oregon InfoGraphics Lab cartographers. The USGS, tweeting from @usgs and @USGSCoopUnits, will help promote the discussion to a broader national audience.

WMI’s Facebook page is at www.facebook.com\migrationinitiative. Game and Fish is at www.facebook.com/WyoGFD. The photos, videos, updates and Twitter feed will be posted to a dedicated WMI webpage, www.migrationinitiative.org/capturelivetweetmarch2015.

“Capture and GPS-collar efforts are the primary tools researchers use to study these iconic animals and their movements,” Kauffman says. “Wyomingites care deeply about these herds and the habitats they occupy, so it’s a great opportunity for us to give them, and people beyond Wyoming, a closer view of how and why we are doing this research.”

“Many of these studies have been ongoing for several years in remote and hard-to-access areas of Wyoming. They are used to make important decisions about wildlife management,” says Game and Fish Communications Director Renny MacKay. “Social media allow us to give the public a new look at this valuable research.”

The eight studies that are part of this month’s field work are: 

  • Elk migrations into and out of Yellowstone National Park have been of interest for decades, and new GPS radio collar technology has advanced the mapping of these routes. The Wiggins Fork herd is the last gap in a detailed ecosystem-wide map of Yellowstone’s elk migrations. To fill that gap, researchers will capture and collar elk north of Dubois starting the week of March 2.
  • Nutrition and behavioral response of moose to beetle-killed forest in the Snowy Mountains. The mountain pine beetle epidemic has transformed forested habitats in this range, with uncertain consequences for one of Wyoming's newest moose herds. Moose will be captured and collared March 5-9 between Centennial and Saratoga to assess nutrition and population growth, and to compare current moose movements to those from a pre-beetle kill study conducted in 2004-05.
  • Researchers will capture deer March 10 near Pinedale to evaluate how habitat conditions and human disturbance affect fat levels of deer wintering on and near one of the largest natural gas fields in Wyoming.
  • The nutritional dynamics of the famous Wyoming Range mule deer herd. The March 11 deer capture near Big Piney will continue to look at how many deer this range can support. The next step will be to track fawns to measure survival and cause of mortality.
  • It is unknown how drought affects mule deer as they migrate -- and forage -- from low-elevation winter ranges to mountain summer ranges. This March 12-13 capture between Kemmerer, Cokeville and Evanston will help shed light on whether warming influences summer forage quality, and ultimately the survival and reproduction of migrants.
  • The March 14-15 capture near Rock Springs aims to help advance the understanding of the benefits of migration and guide management and conservation of a spectacular 150-mile deer migration from the Red Desert north of Rock Springs to summer ranges in northwest Wyoming.
  • This March 18 capture of elk between Baggs and Saratoga in the Sierra Madre Mountains is part of an assessment of elk movements before, during and after massive tree fall caused by mountain pine beetles.
  • The interaction of nutrition and disease in bighorn sheep. Pneumonia in bighorn sheep continues to affect their population dynamics, yet it is unknown how ecological conditions affect susceptibility to disease. The March 19-21 capture of bighorns from three herds near Jackson, Dubois and Cody will investigate how nutrition interacts with disease to affect bighorn populations.

Kauffman says the WMI research team -- which also includes UW’s big game nutrition expert, Kevin Monteith; Western EcoSystems Inc. researcher Hall Sawyer; and Yale University biologist Arthur Middleton -- will provide information on the objectives of each study, and what has been learned from ongoing research, through photos, short video interviews, maps and graphics. They’ll also tweet links to existing papers, reports, news articles, interviews, YouTube videos and other information relevant to each study.

Funding for these projects is made possible through extensive collaborations among state and federal managers, sportsmen’s groups, nongovernmental organizations and private foundations. Additional partner details will be shared through Twitter and Facebook as the work progresses.

The public -- and other groups interested in the research -- are encouraged to add comments via Twitter or Facebook throughout the roughly three-week research effort.

 

Science-Based Mitigation Techniques Benefit Greater Sage-Grouse

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 15:25
Summary: Greater sage-grouse nests found in natural gas development areas where mitigation actions were taken to minimize development impacts had slightly higher nest survival than similar areas where such actions were not taken, according to research by U.S. Geological Survey and others

Contact Information:

Carol Schuler ( Phone: 541-750-1031 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



CORVALLIS, Ore. — Greater sage-grouse nests found in natural gas development areas where mitigation actions were taken to minimize development impacts had slightly higher nest survival than similar areas where such actions were not taken, according to research by U.S. Geological Survey and others.

This site-scale study, conducted in a coal-bed methane area of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, showed that enhanced mitigation efforts somewhat increased the probability of at least one sage-grouse egg hatching per nest in a particular nesting season.  

Mitigation techniques are actions taken to avoid, minimize or offset the impacts of human activities on an ecosystem or a species, such as minimizing sagebrush removal and using remote monitoring of wells to reduce vehicle traffic.

The article, co-authored by the Big Horn Environmental Consultants, Boise State University, and USGS and published in the journal Wildlife Biology, looks at the application of science-based on-site mitigation techniques and sage-grouse nest survival in the Intermountain West.

“High nest survival is critical to the species’ continued existence,” said USGS emeritus scientist and co-author Dr. Mark Fuller. “These are ground-nesting birds that produce on average 6-10 eggs each year. Their nests are vulnerable to predation and other factors, making it difficult for the greater sage-grouse populations to maintain numbers.”

From 2008 to 2011, scientists monitored 296 greater sage-grouse nests in a coal-bed methane development where Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, applied mitigation measures above and beyond base mitigation measures to determine if these measures would reduce negative impacts to greater sage-grouse.  The base mitigation measures are required by the BLM in its 2003 Environmental Impact Statement for the Powder River Basin.

Over a 362-square-mile area, researchers measured nest survival in areas where the enhanced mitigation measures were applied, areas where only base techniques were used and in relatively unaltered areas without oil and gas development. Nest survival was determined by the evidence of at least one successfully hatched egg per nest, a standard measurement in avian scientific studies.  Multiple studies have shown that poor nest survival rates can dramatically limit population growth in sage-grouse. Key findings include:

  • Estimated nest survival rates were highest in unaltered areas with no oil or gas development (64 percent), next highest in areas where enhanced mitigation techniques were used (59 percent), and lowest in areas where base mitigation practices were used (54 percent).
  • Of the mitigation measures implemented, piping discharge water to a treatment facility instead of constructing an on-site reservoir for produced waters had the greatest positive benefit on sage-grouse nest survival. Retention reservoirs result in direct habitat loss, may facilitate the spread of sage-grouse predators, and increase habitat for mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus, thus expanding sage-grouse exposure to this disease.
  • Reducing surface disturbance, particularly sagebrush removal, was also an important factor in nest success. The importance of sagebrush cover to sage-grouse nest survival is well known.

“In asking the question, does on-site mitigation reduce impacts of development on greater sage-grouse, we found that properly targeted mitigation can benefit greater sage-grouse nest survival in energy development areas,” said Chris Kirol, a research biologist with Big Horn Environmental Consultants and lead author of the study. “However, we also found that nests located in areas outside of energy development had the highest survival rates. Our results can help inform future adaptive management and greater sage-grouse conservation efforts in sagebrush habitat affected by energy development.”

Sagebrush habitat is increasingly being developed for oil and gas resources, and land managers face complex challenges in balancing energy demands with conservation measures for sagebrush-dependent species such as the greater sage-grouse. Agencies responsible for managing sagebrush habitat and greater sage-grouse populations encourage the use of adaptive management measures, such as science-based mitigation during oil and gas development and operations. Adaptive management is an approach for improving resource management by learning from and incorporating previous management outcomes into present plans.

Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces in western North America.  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.

Coping with Earthquakes Induced by Fluid Injection

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 14:15
Summary: A paper published today in Science provides a case for increasing transparency and data collection to enable strategies for mitigating the effects of human-induced earthquakes caused by wastewater injection associated with oil and gas production in the United States

Contact Information:

Susan  Garcia ( Phone: 650-346-0998 ); Leslie  Gordon ( Phone: 650-329-4006 );



MENLO PARK, Calif.— A paper published today in Science provides a case for increasing transparency and data collection to enable strategies for mitigating the effects of human-induced earthquakes caused by wastewater injection associated with oil and gas production in the United States.  The paper is the result of a series of workshops led by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey in collaboration with the University of Colorado, Oklahoma Geological Survey and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, suggests that it is possible to reduce the hazard of induced seismicity through management of injection activities.

Large areas of the United States that used to experience few or no earthquakes have, in recent years, experienced a remarkable increase in earthquake activity that has caused considerable public concern as well as damage to structures. This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes.

Instead, the increased seismicity is due to fluid injection associated with new technologies that enable the extraction of oil and gas from previously unproductive reservoirs. These modern extraction techniques result in large quantities of wastewater produced along with the oil and gas. The disposal of this wastewater by deep injection occasionally results in earthquakes that are large enough to be felt, and sometimes damaging. Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.  

“The science of induced earthquakes is ready for application, and a main goal of our study was to motivate more cooperation among the stakeholders — including the energy resources industry, government agencies, the earth science community, and the public at large — for the common purpose of reducing the consequences of earthquakes induced by fluid injection,” said coauthor Dr. William Ellsworth, a USGS geophysicist. 

The USGS is currently collaborating with interested stakeholders to develop a hazard model for induced earthquakes in the U.S. that can be updated frequently in response to changing trends in energy production.

“In addition to determining the hazard from induced earthquakes, there are other questions that need to be answered in the course of coping with fluid-induced seismicity,” said lead author of the study, USGS geophysicist Dr. Art McGarr. “In contrast to natural earthquake hazard, over which humans have no control, the hazard from induced seismicity can be reduced. Improved seismic networks and public access to fluid injection data will allow us to detect induced earthquake problems at an early stage, when seismic events are typically very small, so as to avoid larger and potentially more damaging earthquakes later on.”

“It is important that all information of this sort be publicly accessible, because only in this way can it be used to provide the timely guidance needed to reduce the hazard and consequences of induced earthquakes,” said USGS hydrologist and co-author of the paper, Dr. Barbara Bekins.  

A Decade of Change in America's Arctic: New Land Cover Data Released for Alaska

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 13:15
Summary: The latest edition of the National Land Cover Dataset (NLCD 2011) for Alaska is now publicly available

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Collin  Homer ( Phone: 605-594-2714 );



The latest edition of the National Land Cover Dataset (NLCD 2011) for Alaska is now publicly available.

The extensive NLCD database continues to add to our understanding of where land cover change has occurred across the Nation over time.  Derived from carefully calibrated, long-term observations of Landsat satellites, NLCD data are used for thousands of applications such as best practices in land management, indications of climate change, determining ecosystem status and health, and assessing spatial patterns of biodiversity.

“Recognizing that ​land cover is ​changing ​rapidl​y​ in the high latitudes of the Arctic, it is vital that we have the clearest view of ​the spatial and temporal patterns associated with those changes,” said Suzette Kimball, acting Director of the U.S. Geological Survey.  “As the Arctic becomes more accessible to human endeavors, understanding changes in land cover becomes critical in both using and preserving Alaska’s precious resources.” 

For Alaska, this database is designed to provide ten-year cyclical updating of the state's land cover and associated changes. Based on Landsat satellite imagery taken in 2011, the data describe the land cover of each 30-meter cell of land in Alaska and identifies which ones have changed since the year 2001. Nearly six such cells - each 98 feet long and wide - would fit on a football field. 

The updated information tells an objective 10-year land cover change story for Alaska. With a decade of change information available, resource managers, researchers, planners in government and industry —anyone who wishes to investigate the topic — can better understand the trajectory of land cover change patterns and gain insight about land cover change processes.

By far the greatest Alaska change across this decade has been the conversion of forests to shrub and grasslands, primarily as a result of wild land fire. Other land cover categories that have experienced losses from 2001-2011 include perennial ice and snow and wetlands.

NLCD is constructed by the 10-member federal interagency Multi‑Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium (MRLC). This on-going 20 year collaboration of MRLC demonstrates an exemplary model of cooperation among government entities that combine resources to efficiently provide digital land cover for the Nation.  Their teamwork in producing the NLCD not only significantly advances land cover science and data, but saves taxpayer money.

Land cover is broadly defined as the biophysical pattern of natural vegetation, agriculture, and urban areas. It is shaped by both natural processes and human influences. NLCD 2011 products provide 20 classes of land cover in Alaska and also define the degree of surface imperviousness in urban areas (usually composed of concrete, asphalt, stone, and metal — widely recognized as a key indicator of environmental quality in urban areas).

The range and spatial accuracy of this information have made it essential to thousands of users,  enabling managers of public and private lands, urban planners, agricultural experts, and scientists with many different interests (for instance, climate, invasive species or hydrogeography) to identify critical characteristics of the land and patterns of land cover change. The data informs many fields of environmental investigation, from monitoring forests to modeling water runoff in urban areas.

NLCD 2011 products were released for the conterminous U.S. last year; products for Hawaii and Puerto Rico will be released later this year. NLCD data can be downloaded free of charge at the MRLC website

Learn more

Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium (MRLC)

USGS Land Change Science

USGS Land Cover Institute

These three panels from the National Land Cover Database depict land cover change in the vicinity of Fairbanks, AK, from 2001 to 2011. The left panel shows the status of the land cover in 2001 (forests in green, shrublands in brown, wetlands in blue and urban in red) The middle panel shows the updated land cover in 2011 and the right panel shows areas where change occurred over this 10 years. This change was caused by a wildfire which converted large areas of forests to shrub and grasslands (shades of light brown in the right panel). Approximately one million acres burn across Alaska each year. (High resolution image)

Conowingo Dam Above 90 Percent Capacity For Sediment Storage

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 10:28
Summary: The Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River is at about 92 percent capacity for sediment storage according to new U.S. Geological Survey research

Contact Information:

Michael Langland ( Phone: 717-730-6953 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



The full report is available online

The Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River is at about 92 percent capacity for sediment storage according to new U.S. Geological Survey research.

Since the dam’s construction in 1929, sediment and nutrients have been building up behind it, being released periodically downriver and into the Chesapeake Bay, especially during high flow events.

“Storage capacity in Conowingo Reservoir continues to decrease, and ultimately that means more nutrients and sediment will flow into the Bay,” says Mike Langland, a USGS scientist and author of the study. “Understanding the sediments and nutrients flowing into the Bay from the Susquehanna River is critical to monitoring and managing the health of the Bay.”

Previous research has shown that having excess nutrients in the Bay depletes the water of oxygen needed to maintain healthy populations of fish, crabs, and oysters.  Additionally, the nutrients, along with sediment, cloud the water, disturbing the habitat of underwater plants crucial for aquatic life and waterfowl.

At full sediment-storage capacity, the Conowingo Reservoir will be about one-half filled with sediment, with the remainder--about 49 billion gallons--flowing water.  That amount of sediment could fill approximately 265,000 rail cars, which if lined up would stretch more than 4,000 miles.

The Susquehanna River is the largest tributary to Chesapeake Bay and transports about half of the total freshwater input to the Bay, along with substantial amounts of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus.

Measuring the capacity of the dam to hold sediments and nutrients contributes to an improved understanding of factors that influence the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Three hydroelectric dams and their associated reservoirs on the lower Susquehanna River have been impacting sediment and nutrient transport since construction in the early 1900’s. Previous USGS studies have shown the two upstream reservoirs have reached their sediment storage capacity and the most downstream dam and reservoir, the Conowingo, was also losing its ability to trap nutrients and sediment from reaching the Chesapeake Bay. A 2012 USGS report revealed that, even though the Conowingo reservoir had not yet reached its maximum storage capacity, it had begun to lose its phosphorus and sediment-trapping ability, with increasing amounts going into the Bay.

Due to the concerns about increasing nutrient and sediments loads flowing into the Bay, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working with several partners, will soon be releasing ,the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment. The study suggests several sediment-management options for the reservoirs on the Lower Susquehanna River and indicated additional monitoring and research are needed to support management decisions.

The long-term analysis (1900-2012) conducted for this new USGS study reported here revealed how past practices affected sediment transport in the Susquehanna River Basin.

The USGS study, in addition to providing the current estimate of sediment capacity also provides a longer-term (100 years) analysis of sediment flowing into the reservoirs.

Sediment loads transported over the past 100 years in the Susquehanna River into the reservoirs have decreased from 8.7 million tons per year in the early part of the 20th century to the current level of about 3.5 million tons. The declines of sediment into the reservoirs since the 1950s are most likely related to introduction of soil conservation practices, land reverting back to forest, and better management of stockpiled coal piles.

Since construction of Conowingo Dam was completed in 1929, an average 70 percent of the transported sediment reaching the upper Chesapeake Bay is from the Susquehanna watershed. The additional 30 percent of the sediment is being scoured, or removed from sediment deposited in the reservoirs.

From 1929 through 2012, approximately 470 million tons of sediment was transported down the Susquehanna River into the reservoir system.  Of that number, approximately 290 million tons were trapped behind dams in the reservoirs, and approximately 180 million tons were transported to Chesapeake Bay. The reservoirs are continuously losing their ability to trap sediment and more is flowing into the Bay.

Information from this report and new partner studies will be used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program and the state partners in considering options to reduce nutrient and sediment loads to help meet the requirements of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.

The study, Sediment Transport and Capacity Change in Three Reservoirs, Lower Susquehanna River Basin, Pennsylvania and Maryland, 1900–2012 Open-File Report 2014-1235 is available online.

Additional information on USGS Susquehanna results and Chesapeake Studies can be found online.

Show Me New Data for Show-Me State Maps

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 09:30
Summary: Newly released US Topo maps for Missouri now feature selected trails and other substantial updates. The data for the trails is provided to the USGS through a nation-wide “crowdsourcing” project managed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA)

Contact Information:

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



Newly released US Topo maps for Missouri now feature selected trails and other substantial updates. The data for the trails is provided to the USGS through a nation-wide “crowdsourcing” project managed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA). Several of the 1,196 new US Topo quadrangles for the state now display public trails along with additional improved data layers such as public land survey information, map symbol redesign and new road source data.

"The US Topo maps are widely used and appreciated by many state and local agencies," said Shelley Silch, The National Map liaison for Missouri and Illinois. "The addition of numerous trials to the new state US Topo quadrangles is a great advancement, as Missouri has been named the 'best trails state" by American Trails." 

For Missouri residents and visitors who want to explore the rolling Ozark landscape on a bicycle seat or by hiking, the new trail features on the US Topo maps will come in handy. During the past two years the IMBA, in a partnership with the MTB Project, has been building a detailed national database of mountain bike trails. This activity allows local IMBA chapters, IMBA members, and the public to provide trail data and descriptions through their website.  MTB Project and IMBA then verify the quality of the trail data provided, ensure accuracy and confirm the trail is legal.  This unique crowdsourcing venture has increased the availability of trail data available through The National Map mobile and web apps, and the revised US Topo maps.

Another important addition to the new Missouri US Topo maps is the inclusion of Public Land Survey System data. PLSS is a way of subdividing and describing land in the US. All lands in the public domain are subject to subdivision by this rectangular system of surveys, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

These new maps replace the first edition US Topo maps for Missouri and are available for free download from The National Map, the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website , or several other USGS applications.

To compare change over time, scans of legacy USGS topo maps, some dating back to the late 1800s, can be downloaded from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection

For more information on US Topo maps: http://nationalmap.gov/ustopo/

Updated 2015 version of the Weldon Spring, Missouri quadrangle with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 2.5 MB) Vintage 1903 quadrangle covering the O’Fallon, Missouri area from the USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection. 1:25,000 scale (high resolution image 3.3 MB) Updated 2015 version of Weldon Spring quadrangle with orthoimage turned off to better see the trail network. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1.8 MB)

Largest Dam Removal in U.S. History Scientifically Characterized

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 12:00
Summary: The effects of dam removal are better known as a result of several new studies released this week by government, tribal and university researchers. The scientists worked together to characterize the effects of the largest dam removal project in U.S. history occurring on the Elwha River of Washington State

Contact Information:

Jonathan Warrick ( Phone: 831-460-7569 ); Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



Aerial photos of the Elwha River mouth before and during dam removal. Photos show (A) the river mouth wetlands before dam removal, (B) the turbid coastal plume that occurred during much of the dam removal project, and (C) the expansion of the river mouth delta by sediment deposition. Photos provided by Ian Miller of Washington Sea Grant, Jonathan Felis of USGS, and Neal and Linda Chism of LightHawk. (High resolution image)

SEATTLE — The effects of dam removal are better known as a result of several new studies released this week by government, tribal and university researchers. The scientists worked together to characterize the effects of the largest dam removal project in U.S. history occurring on the Elwha River of Washington State. New findings suggest that dam removal can change landscape features of river and coasts, which have ecological implications downstream of former dam sites.

“These studies not only give us a better understanding of the effects of dam removal, but show the importance of collaborative science across disciplines and institutions,” said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Five peer-reviewed papers, with authors from the U.S. Geological Survey, Reclamation, National Park Service, Washington Sea Grant, NOAA Fisheries, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, and the University of Washington, provide detailed observations and insights about the changes in the river’s landforms, waters and coastal zone during the first two years of dam removal. During this time, massive amounts of sediment were eroded from the drained reservoirs and transported downstream through the river and to the coast. 

One finding that intrigued scientists was how efficiently the river eroded and moved sediment from the former reservoirs; over a third of the 27 million cubic yards of reservoir sediment, equivalent to about 3000 Olympic swimming pools filled with sediment, was eroded into the river during the first two years even though the river’s water discharge and peak flows were moderate compared to historical gaging records. 

This sediment release altered the river’s clarity and reshaped the river channel while adding new habitats in the river and at the coast. In fact, the vast majority of the new sediment was discharged into the coastal waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where the river mouth delta expanded seaward by hundreds of feet. 

“The expansion of the river mouth delta is very exciting, because we are seeing the rebuilding of an estuary and coast that were rapidly eroding prior to dam removal,” said USGS research scientist and lead author of the synthesis paper, Dr. Jonathan Warrick. 

Although the primary goal of the dam removal project is to reintroduce spawning salmon runs to the pristine upper reaches of the Elwha River within Olympic National Park, the new studies suggest that dam removal can also have ecological implications downstream of the former dam sites. These implications include a renewal of the sand, gravel and wood supplies to the river and to the coast, restoring critical processes for maintaining salmon habitat to river, estuarine and coastal ecosystems.

“These changes to sediment and wood supplies are important to understand because they affect the river channel form, and the channel form provides important habitat to numerous species of the region,” stated USGS research scientist and river study lead author, Dr. Amy East.

The final stages of dam removal occurred during the summer of 2014. Some sediment erosion from the former reservoirs will likely continue. The Elwha Project and research teams are continuing to monitor how quickly the river returns to its long-term restored condition.

“We look forward to seeing when the sediment supplies approach background levels,” said Reclamation engineer and co-author, Jennifer Bountry, “because this will help us understand the length of time that dam removal effects will occur.” 

The five new papers can be found in Elsevier’s peer-reviewed journal, Geomorphology, and they focus on the following topics of the large-scale dam removal on the Elwha River, Washington (web-based publication links using digital object identifiers, doi, are provided in parentheses): 

New Maps for Nevada Include Trails

Wed, 02/11/2015 - 10:00
Summary: Newly released US Topo maps for Nevada now feature selected trails. The data for the trails is provided to the USGS through a nation-wide “crowdsourcing” project managed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA)

Contact Information:

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



Newly released US Topo maps for Nevada now feature selected trails. The data for the trails is provided to the USGS through a nation-wide “crowdsourcing” project managed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA). Several of the 1,785 new US Topo quadrangles for the state now display public trails along with other improved data layers such as land survey information (PLSS), map symbol redesign and new road source data.

"Users of the US Topo maps in our state are excited about the release of these new versions," said Carol Ostergren, The National Map Liaison for Nevada. "Nevada features numerous trails, so the addition of several mountain bike trails will increase the use of the new US Topo maps. Also, adding PLSS will assist many of our users who have been asking for that data for a long time."

For Nevada residents and visitors who want to explore the stunning desert landscape on a bicycle seat or hiking shoes, the new trail features on the US Topo maps will come in handy. During the past two years the IMBA, in a partnership with the MTB Project, has been building a detailed national database of mountain bike trails. This activity allows local IMBA chapters, IMBA members and the public to provide trail data and descriptions through their website.  MTB Project and IMBA then verify the quality of the trail data provided and ensure accuracy and confirm that the trail is legal.  This unique crowdsourcing venture has increased the availability of trail data available through The National Map mobile and web apps, and the revised US Topo maps.

Another important addition to the new Nevada US Topo maps is the inclusion of Public Land Survey System data. PLSS is a way of subdividing and describing land in the United States. All lands in the public domain are subject to subdivision by this rectangular system of surveys, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

These new maps replace the first edition US Topo maps for Nevada and are available for free download from The National Map, the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website , or several other USGS applications.

To compare change over time, scans of legacy USGS topo maps, some dating back to the late 1800s, can be downloaded from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection.

For more information on US Topo maps: http://nationalmap.gov/ustopo/

Updated 2015 version of Boulder City, Nevada quadrangle with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale. (high resolution image 1.1 MB) Vintage 1886 quadrangle covering the Boulder City, Nevada and Camp Majove, Arizona area from the USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection. 1:25,000 scale. (high resolution image 1.6 MB) Updated 2015 version of Boulder City, Nevada quadrangle with orthoimage turned off to better see the trail network. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 610 KB)

Predicting Plant Responses to Drought

Tue, 02/10/2015 - 11:15
Summary: A new U.S. Geological Survey study shows how plants’ vulnerability to drought varies across the landscape; factors such as plant structure and soil type where the plant is growing can either make them more vulnerable or protect them from declines Long-term Research to Help Protect Drylands

Contact Information:

Seth Munson ( Phone: 928-523-7740 ); Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-526-6694 );



A new U.S. Geological Survey study shows how plants’ vulnerability to drought varies across the landscape; factors such as plant structure and soil type where the plant is growing can either make them more vulnerable or protect them from declines.

Recent elevated temperatures and prolonged droughts in many already water-limited regions throughout the world, including the southwestern U.S., are likely to intensify according to future climate model projections. This warming and drying can negatively affect vegetation and could lead to the degradation of wildlife habitat and ecosystems. It is critical for resource managers and other decision-makers to understand where on the landscape vegetation will be affected so they can prioritize restoration and conservation efforts, and plan for the future.

To better understand the potential detrimental effects of climate change, USGS scientists developed a model to evaluate how plant species will respond to increases in temperature and drought. The model integrates knowledge about how plant responses are modified by landscape, soil and plant attributes that are integral to water availability and use. The model was tested using fifty years of repeat measurements of long-living, or perennial, plant species cover in large permanent plots across the Mojave Desert, one of the most water-limited ecosystems in North America. The report, published in the Journal of Ecology, is available online

“The impacts of drought are not going away, and sound science to understand how water-limited ecosystems will respond is important for managers to plan climate adaptation strategies,” said Seth Munson, USGS scientist and lead author of the study. “By using monitoring results that scientists and managers have diligently reported for the last several decades, our study helps forecast the future state of drylands.” 

Results show that plants respond to climate differently based on the physical attributes of where they are growing in the Mojave Desert. For example, deep-rooted plants were not as vulnerable to drought on soils that allowed for deep-water flow. Also, shallow-rooted plants were better buffered from drought on soils that promoted water retention near the surface. This information may be helpful for resource managers to minimize disturbance in areas that are likely vulnerable to water shortages. 

Water moves horizontally and vertically through the landscape, which affects the amount of water plants can take up through their roots. There is more to plant water availability and use than the precipitation that falls out of the sky. Understanding how water moves through ecosystems is critical in regions that already have marginal water available for plant growth. Predicting climate change impacts in these areas requires more than an understanding of climate alone.

This study was done in cooperation with the University of Arizona, the Fort Irwin Directorate of Public Works, Utah State University, University of Nevada, California Polytechnic State University, Ohio State University, California State University and the National Park Service. 

Virginia Earthquake Aftershocks Identify Previously Unknown Fault Zone

Tue, 02/10/2015 - 09:25
Summary: Aftershocks from the 2011 Virginia earthquake have helped scientists identify the previously unknown fault zone on which the earthquake occurred New Quake Research Brings This, Other Discoveries to Public

Contact Information:

Wright Horton ( Phone: 703-648-6933 ); Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-498-5019 );



RESTON, Va.-- Aftershocks from the 2011 Virginia earthquake have helped scientists identify the previously unknown fault zone on which the earthquake occurred. The research marked one of the few times in the Eastern United States that a fault zone on which a magnitude-5-or-more earthquake occurred was clearly delineated by aftershocks, and is just one finding in a 23-chapter book with new information on the Virginia earthquake and eastern seismic hazards.

Research by the U.S. Geological Survey along with its partners and collaborators defined the newly recognized fault zone, which has been named the “Quail” fault zone. USGS and others worked cooperatively in an effort to capture the accurate locations of hundreds of aftershocks by deploying portable seismic instruments after the earthquake. Most of these aftershocks were in the Quail fault zone, and outlying clusters of shallow aftershocks helped researchers to identify and locate other active faults. Knowing where to look for the active faults helped to focus geologic mapping, geophysical imaging and other technologies to better understand earthquakes in the Central Virginia Seismic Zone and Eastern U.S.

The book includes contributions by Virginia Tech, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission among many others.

“Studies of the Virginia earthquake have improved our understanding of earthquakes and seismic hazards in Eastern North America,” said USGS geologist Wright Horton. “The Virginia earthquake served as a ‘wakeup call’ for many residents of the Eastern U.S., where the probability of major earthquakes is fairly low, but many buildings are vulnerable to damage during earthquakes.”  

The new book, “The 2011 Mineral, Virginia, Earthquake, and Its Significance for Seismic Hazards in Eastern North America”, is a collection of articles that covers a broad range of subjects relating to the 2011 earthquake. Highlights from the book include:

  • Earthquake shaking and its effects, such as widespread changes in groundwater levels, occurred at greater distances from the source in this and other Eastern U.S. earthquakes as opposed to those of comparable magnitude on the West Coast
  • Shaking intensities and related damage were more severe along the northeast trend of the Appalachians than in northwestward directions across this trend
  • Evidence that the earthquake ground motion was amplified in parts of D.C. and other areas around the Chesapeake Bay with thicker coastal plain sediments or artificial fill is stimulating further studies to determine how much seismic shaking is amplified by local geological conditions
  • Analysis of data on residential property damage in the epicentral area delineates a “bulls eye” distribution of shaking intensities and also confirms that damage is influenced by the age and construction of homes
  • Damage to unreinforced masonry buildings in D.C., as far as 80 miles from the epicenter, highlights the seismic risk to buildings in Eastern North American cities. Ground motions occur at farther distances from the epicenter on the East Coast than other parts of the U.S., and buildings are not as well designed to sustain these motions as in other locations 
  • Seismic reflection imaging—which is similar to medical sonograms—and geophysical flight surveys of the Earth’s magnetic and gravity fields were used to image geologic structures down to about 5 miles underground where the earthquake occurred
  • Airborne laser swath mapping using lidar, and radiometric flight surveys—which mapped radioactive elements in rocks and soils within a few feet of the land surface—identified and accurately located preexisting linear features including faults associated with aftershock clusters for detailed surface geologic mapping and trenching studies
  • New geologic mapping and trenching reveal previously unknown faults and evidence that the faults were active more than once in the past
  • Recorded ground motions from the Virginia earthquake were consistent with previous USGS estimates for the region, and they are helping to improve the assessments of potential earthquake ground motions used to design buildings that will be better able to withstand strong earthquakes

Earthquakes in Eastern North America are not as frequent or as well understood as those along Earth's tectonic plate boundaries, such as on the West Coast. The magnitude 5.8 Virginia earthquake was the largest to occur in the eastern U.S. since the 1886 earthquake near Charleston, South Carolina, and it may have been felt by more people than any other earthquake in U.S. history. It was felt over much of the Eastern U.S. and Southeastern Canada, triggered the automatic safe shutdown of a nuclear power plant and caused significant damage from Central Virginia to the National Capital Region. The earthquake provided a wealth of modern scientific and engineering data to better understand earthquakes and seismic hazards in Eastern North America.

President's 2016 Budget Proposes $1.2 Billion for the USGS

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 14:00
Summary: The President’s fiscal year 2016 budget request for the U.S. Geological Survey is $1.2 billion, an increase of nearly $150 million above the FY 2015 enacted level Reflects robust Administration support for science-based decision-making in managing natural resources

Contact Information:

Diane Noserale ( Phone: 703-648-4333 ); Bonnie  Ridgeway ( Phone: 703-648-4626 );



The President’s fiscal year 2016 budget request for the U.S. Geological Survey is $1.2 billion, an increase of nearly $150 million above the FY 2015 enacted level.  The FY16 budget reflects the vital role the USGS plays in advancing the President’s ongoing commitment to scientific discovery and innovation to support a robust economy, sustainable economic growth, natural resource management, and science-based decision-making for critical societal needs.

The budget request includes increases that ensure the USGS is at the leading edge of earth sciences research.  It includes robust funding for science to inform land and resource management decisions, advance a landscape-level understanding of ecosystems, and develop new information and strategies to support communities in responding to climate change, historic drought, water quality issues, and natural hazards.  The budget also funds science to support the Nation’s energy strategy, to help identify critical mineral resources, and to address the impacts of energy and mineral development on the environment.  

“The USGS has a strong 136-year legacy of providing reliable science to decision-makers,” said Suzette Kimball, Acting USGS Director.  “This budget request recognizes our unique capabilities with multi-disciplinary earth science research and will allow the USGS to meet societal needs for our Nation now and in the future.”

Key increases in the FY 2016 Budget are summarized below. For more detailed information on the President’s 2016 budget, visit the USGS Budget, Planning, and Integration website. 

Meeting Water Challenges in the 21st Century

The FY16 budget provides an increase of $14.5 million above the FY 2015 enacted level for science to support sustainable water management.  Meeting the Nation’s water resource needs poses increasing challenges for resource managers, who must contend with changes in the frequency and magnitude of floods and droughts.  As competition for water resources grows for activities such as farming, energy production, and community water supplies, so does the need for information and tools to aid decision-makers.  The budget provides increased funding across several USGS mission areas to support resource managers in understanding and managing competing demands related to water availability and quality and to enable adaptive management of watersheds to support the resilience of the communities and ecosystems that depend on them.  This includes a $3.2 million increase for science to understand and respond to drought, a $4 million increase for water use information and research, a $2.5 million increase to study ecological water flows, a $1.3 million increase for stream flow information, and a $1.0 million increase to advance the National Groundwater Monitoring Network.

Powering Our Future and Supporting Sustainable Energy and Mineral Development

The 2016 USGS budget provides $9.6 million in program increases across the energy, minerals and environmental health portfolio for science to support the sustainable development of unconventional oil and gas resources, renewable energy sources such as geothermal, wind, and solar, critical minerals such as rare earth elements, and to address the environmental impacts of uranium mining.

Specifically, the budget includes a program increase of $1 million for mineral resources science to continue life-cycle analysis for critical minerals such as rare earth elements and to develop new science and tools to reduce the impacts of minerals extraction, production, and recycling on the global environment and human health.  A life-cycle analysis will trace the flow of critical minerals from generation and occurrence through the consequences of human activity to ultimate disposition and disposal.  The Nation faces key economic decisions within each stage of the resource life cycle.  Scientific understanding is an essential input to these decisions.  The program change will support new workforce capability to address the main thrusts of the President’s four working groups in the Office of Science and Technology Policy that are currently focused on critical and strategic materials essential to national security, economic vitality, and environmental protection.

Responding to Natural Hazards

The budget provides an increase of more than $6.6 million above the FY 2015 enacted level for natural hazard science.  This includes an increase of $4.9 million to expand the Global Seismic Network used for worldwide earthquake monitoring, tsunami warning, and nuclear treaty verification monitoring and research in partnership with the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. It also includes  a $1.7 million increase to support space weather (solar flare) geomagnetic monitoring.  The increase will also support the installation and operation of rapid-deployable streamgages and expand the library of flood-inundation maps to help manage flood response activities.  The proposed increase will also support landslide, wildfire, and sinkhole response capabilities as well as provide disaster scenario planning products for emergency managers.  Included in the request is funding to build on investments to continue development of an earthquake early warning system, with the goal of implementing a limited public warning system for the U.S. west coast by 2018, as well as continued investments in volcano monitoring networks and science.

Building a Landscape-Level Understanding of Our Resources

The budget includes $15.6 million to expand, enhance, and initiate ecosystem science activities to increase the understanding of the Nation’s landscapes and how they work. This includes budget increases of $6.7 million in support of critical landscapes. Specifically it provides a $4.2 million increase for the Arctic, a $1 million increase to study sagebrush landscapes that provide habitat for survival of greater sage-grouse, and a $1.5 million increase that supports science for Puget Sound, Columbia River, and the upper Mississippi River. USGS research will continue to support restoration of other priority ecosystems, such as Chesapeake Bay, Everglades, Great Lakes, California Bay Delta, and the Gulf Coast.  The budget request also provides an increase of $2.2 million for research on invasive plants and animals that cause significant economic losses in the U.S. and transmit diseases to wildlife and people, and $1.6 million to study the decline of insects, birds, and mammals that pollinate agricultural and other plants.  Finally, the budget increases funding by $5.1 million to support coastal resilience to hazards and adaptation to long-term change from sea-level rise and coastal erosion.

Foundations for Land Management

The President’s budget request includes an increase of $37.8 million to provide data and tools to help land and resource managers make informed decisions across the landscape and provide data and information to the public for use in a wide variety of applications.  The budgets of USGS and NASA provide complementary funding to sustain the Landsat data stream, which is critical to understanding global landscapes.  An increase of $24.3 million in the USGS budget supports the ground system portion of the Sustained Land Imaging Program, including funding for ground systems development for a Thermal Instrument Free Flyer, Landsat 9 (a rebuild of Landsat 8), and to receive data from internal partners.  The increase also will enhance the accessibility and usability of data.  Specifically, the budget includes a $4 million increase for Landsat science products for climate and resource assessments.

The budget provides increases for other foundational data and tools needed to support landscape-level understanding.  For example, an increase of $3.7 million will expand three-dimensional elevation data collection using ifsar (interferometric synthetic aperture radar) for Alaska and lidar (light detection and ranging) elsewhere in the U.S. in response to growing needs for high-quality, high-resolution elevation data to improve aviation safety, to understand and mitigate the effects of coastal erosion, storms, and other hazards, and to support many other critical activities.  A $1.8 million increase will enhance understanding of the benefits of the Nation’s ecosystem services, and a $1.1 million increase for the Big Earth Data Initiative will make high-value data sets easier to discover, access and use. The accessibility and usability of these data are critical for land management, hazard mitigation, and building a landscape-level understanding of our resources.

Supporting Community Resilience in the Face of a Changing Climate

The USGS plays an important role in conducting research and developing information and tools to support communities in understanding, preparing for, and responding to the impacts of global change.  The budget includes an increase of $32 million above the FY 2015 enacted level for science to support climate resilience and adaptation.  Climate change requires the Nation to prepare for more intense drought, heatwaves, wildfire, flooding, and sea level rise.  These challenges are already impacting infrastructure, food and water supplies, and physical safety in communities across the Nation.  Understanding potential impacts to communities, ecosystems, water, plant and animal species, and other resources is crucial to federal, state, tribal, local, and international partners as they develop adaptive and resilient strategies in response to climate change.  The budget includes a $6.8 million increase in science for adaptation and resilience planning, an increase of $2.3 million for the USGS to provide interagency coordination of regional climate science activities across the Nation, an increase of $8.7 million to support biological carbon sequestration, and an increase of $11 million for the USGS to support the community resilience toolkit, which is a web-based clearinghouse of data, tools, shared applications, and best practices for resource managers, decision-makers, and the public.  

Value of U.S. Mineral Production Increases Despite Lower Metal Prices

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 15:05
Summary: The estimated value of mineral production increased in the United States in 2014, despite the decline in price for most precious metals, the U.S. Geological Survey announced today in its Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015.

Contact Information:

Steven Fortier ( Phone: 571-386-8587 ); Elizabeth Sangine ( Phone: 703-755-5960 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-314-1601 );



The estimated value of mineral production increased in the United States in 2014, despite the decline in price for most precious metals, the U.S. Geological Survey announced today in its Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015.

The estimated value of mineral raw materials produced at mines in the United States in 2014 was $77.6 billion, an increase of 4.6 percent from $74.2 billion in 2013.  U.S. economic growth supported the domestic primary metals industry and industrial minerals industry, however, weak global economic growth and the strong U.S. dollar limited U.S. processed mineral exports, which decreased to $108 billion in 2014 from $129 billion in 2013. Meanwhile, low-priced metal imports increased during most of 2014.

The annual report from the USGS is the earliest comprehensive source of 2014 mineral production data for the world. It includes statistics on about 90 mineral commodities essential to the U.S. economy and national security, and addresses events, trends, and issues in the domestic and international minerals industries.

"Decision-makers and policy-makers in the private and public sectors rely on the Mineral Commodity Summaries and other USGS minerals information publications as unbiased sources of information to make business decisions and national policy," said Steven M. Fortier, Director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center.

Mineral commodities remain an essential part of the U.S. economy, contributing to the real gross domestic product at several levels, including mining, processing and manufacturing finished products. The United States continues to rely on foreign sources for raw and processed mineral materials. In 2014, the supply for more than one-half of U.S. apparent consumption of 43 mineral commodities came from imports, increasing from 40 commodities in 2013. The United States was 100 percent import reliant for 19 of those commodities, including indium, niobium, and tantalum, which are among a suite of materials often designated as “critical” or “strategic.”

Mine production of 13 mineral commodities was worth more than $1 billion each in the United States in 2014. These were, in decreasing order of value, crushed stone, copper, gold, cement, construction sand and gravel, iron ore (shipped), industrial sand and gravel, molybdenum concentrates, phosphate rock, lime, salt, zinc, soda ash, and clays (all types).  The estimated value of U.S. industrial minerals mine production in 2014 was $46.1 billion, about 7 percent more than that of 2013. 

The estimated value of U.S. metal mine production in 2014 was $31.5 billion, slightly less than that of 2013. These raw materials and domestically recycled materials were used to process mineral materials worth $697 billion. These mineral materials, including aluminum, brick, copper, fertilizers, and steel, plus net imports of processed materials (worth about $41 billion) were, in turn, consumed by industries that use minerals to create products, with a value added to the U.S. economy of an estimated $2.5 trillion in 2014.

The construction industry continued to show signs of improvement in 2014, being led by nonresidential construction, with increased production and consumption of cement, construction sand and gravel, crushed stone, and gypsum mineral commodities.

In 2014, 12 states each produced more than $2 billion worth of nonfuel mineral commodities. These states were, in descending order of value—Arizona, Nevada, Minnesota, Texas, Utah, California, Alaska, Florida, Missouri, Michigan, Wyoming and Colorado. The mineral production of these states accounted for 62 percent of the U.S. total output value.

The USGS Mineral Resources Program delivers unbiased science and information to understand mineral resource potential, production, consumption, and how minerals interact with the environment. The USGS National Minerals Information Center collects, analyzes, and disseminates current information on the supply of and the demand for minerals and materials in the United States and about 180 other countries.

The USGS report Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015 is available online. Hardcopies will be available later in the year from the Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents. For ordering information, please call (202) 512-1800 or (866) 512-1800 or go online.

For more information on this report and individual mineral commodities, please visit the USGS National Minerals Information Center.

Citizen Scientists Submit More Than 100,000 Map Points

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 09:00
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey citizen science project, The National Map Corps, has realized remarkable response. In less than two years, the volunteer-based project has harvested more than 100,000 “points” The USGS “crowd-sourcing” map project reaches major milestone

Contact Information:

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



The U.S. Geological Survey citizen science project, The National Map Corps, has realized remarkable response. In less than two years, the volunteer-based project has harvested more than 100,000 “points”. Hundreds of volunteer cartographers are making significant additions to the USGS ability to provide accurate mapping information to the public. 

Each point represents a structure or manmade feature on a map that has been verified and updated, and then submitted to support The National Map and US Topo maps.

Using crowd-sourcing techniques, the USGS Volunteer Geographic Information project known as The National Map Corps (TNMCorps) encourages citizen volunteers to collect manmade structure data in an effort to provide accurate and authoritative spatial map data for the USGS National Geospatial Program’s web-based map products.

“I am 80 years old. I work three days a week for a golf course trapping moles and gophers”, said a very prominent citizen scientist volunteer who goes by the handle of “Mole Trapper”. “I spent 11 years volunteering for a fish and wildlife agency. When the big landslide at Oso, Washington happened, I went on the USGS website and discovered the map corps. I worked summers while in high school for a surveyor who was very precise and he told me an inaccurate survey is worthless. I hate inaccurate maps, so this program was just right for me. I hope my work is as accurate as it can be, but if it isn't, I plead old age.”

Structures being updated include schools, hospitals, post offices, police stations and other important public buildings. The data currently being collected by volunteers becomes part of The National Map structures dataset, which is made available to users free of charge.

"I am retired from an unrelated field, but I have loved maps and travel all my life,” explained other highly active volunteer who goes by “fconley”. “When I saw that USGS was looking for volunteers I immediately joined, first of all working with paper maps and quads. As digital mapping, satellite imagery, and GPS became more available I was enthralled. With the imagery now accessible it is almost like being able to travel sitting at my desk. At times, locating structures seems similar to solving puzzles or detective work. This whole project is not only enjoyable but it makes me feel that I am making a lasting and useful contribution. I am thankful for the opportunity to be involved in this fascinating endeavor."

Beginning as a series of pilot projects in 2011, The National Map Corps has grown state-by-state to include the entire U.S. By August of 2013, volunteers were editing in every state in the country and the US territories. To date, the number of active volunteers has grown to 930 individuals, including some extremely energetic participants who have collected in excess of 6,000 points.

To show appreciation of the volunteers’ efforts, The National Map Corps has instituted a recognition program that awards “virtual" badges to volunteers. Each edit that is submitted is worth one point towards the badge level. The badges consist of a series of antique surveying instruments and images following the evolution of land survey and moving to aerial observation of the Earth’s surface such as pigeon-mounted cameras and hot air balloons. Additionally, volunteers are publically acknowledged (with permission) via TwitterFacebook and Google+.

Tools on TNMCorps web site explain how a volunteer can edit any area, regardless of their familiarity with the selected structures, and becoming a volunteer for TNMCorps is easy; go to The National Map Corps web site to learn more and to sign up as a volunteer. If you have access to the Internet and are willing to dedicate some time to editing map data, we hope you will consider participating.

Squadron of Biplane Spectators badge, currently the highest recognition award, is given to volunteers who submit more than 6,000 points.

Family of Floating Photogrammetrists badge is one of the new awards, which is given to volunteers who submit more than 3,000 points.

Badges awarded for submitting edits, shown from first to last: Order of the Surveyor’s Chain (25-49 points), Society of the Steel Tape ( 50-99 points), Pedometer Posse (100-199 points), Surveyor’s Compass  (200-499 points), Stadia Board Society (500-999 points), Alidade Alliance (1,000-1,999 points), and the Theodolite Assemblage (2000-2,999 points).

Historical Hydraulic Fracturing Trends and Data Unveiled in New USGS Publications

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 12:35
Summary: Two new U.S. Geological Survey publications that highlight historical hydraulic fracturing trends and data from 1947 to 2010 are now available

Contact Information:

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



Two new U.S. Geological Survey publications that highlight historical hydraulic fracturing trends and data from 1947 to 2010 are now available.

Hydraulic fracturing is presently the primary stimulation technique for oil and gas production in unconventional resource reservoirs. Comprehensive, published, and publicly available information regarding the extent, location, and character of hydraulic fracturing in the United States is scarce. 

“These national-scale data and analyses will provide a basis for making comparisons of current-day hydraulic fracturing to historical applications,” said USGS scientist and lead author Tanya Gallegos.

“We now have an improved understanding of where the practice is occurring and how hydraulic fracturing characteristics have changed over time.” 

This national analysis of data on nearly 1 million hydraulically fractured wells and 1.8 million fracturing treatment records from 1947 through 2010 is used to identify hydraulic fracturing trends in drilling methods and use of proppants (sand or similar material suspended in water or other fluid to keep fissures open), treatment fluids, additives, and water in the United States. These trends are compared to peer-reviewed literature in an effort to establish a common understanding of the differences in hydraulic fracturing and provide a context for understanding the costs and benefits of increased oil and gas production. The publications also examine how newer technology has affected the amount of water needed for the process and where hydraulic fracturing has occurred at different points in time. Although hydraulic fracturing is in widespread use across the United States in most major oil and gas basins for the development of unconventional oil and gas resources, historically, Texas had the highest number of records of hydraulic fracturing treatments and associated wells documented in the datasets. 

These datasets also illustrate the rapid expansion of water-intensive horizontal/directional drilling that has increased from 6 percent of new hydraulically fractured wells drilled in the United States in 2000 to 42 percent of new wells drilled in 2010. Increased horizontal drilling also coincided with the emergence of water-based “slick water” fracturing fluids. This is one example of how the most current hydraulic fracturing materials and methods are notably different from those used in previous decades and have contributed to the development of previously inaccessible unconventional oil and gas production target areas, namely in shale and tight-sand reservoirs. 

The USGS report Scientific Investigation Report is available along with the companion Data Series online.

Natural Breakdown of Petroleum Underground Can Lace Arsenic into Groundwater

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 09:36
Summary: In a long-term field study, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Virginia Tech scientists have found that changes in geochemistry from the natural breakdown of petroleum hydrocarbons underground can promote the chemical release (mobilization) of naturally occurring arsenic into groundwater

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Isabelle Cozzarelli ( Phone: 703-648-5899 );



In a long-term field study, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Virginia Tech scientists have found that changes in geochemistry from the natural breakdown of petroleum hydrocarbons underground can promote the chemical release (mobilization) of naturally occurring arsenic into groundwater. This geochemical change can result in potentially significant arsenic groundwater contamination. 

While arsenic is naturally present in most soils and sediments at various concentrations, it is not commonly a health concern until it is mobilized by a chemical reaction and dissolves into groundwater. Elevated arsenic levels in groundwater used for drinking water is a significant public health concern since arsenic, a toxin and carcinogen, is linked to numerous forms of skin, bladder, and lung cancer. 

For the past 32 years, a collaborative group of government, academic, and industry-supported scientists have studied the natural attenuation (biodegradation over time) of a 1979 petroleum spill in the shallow, glacial aquifer at the National Crude Oil Spill Fate and Natural Attenuation Research Site, near Bemidji, Minnesota.  

Working at this intensively surveyed site, the researchers in this USGS-led investigation focused on a specific question: whether naturally occurring arsenic found in the glacial aquifers in this area might be mobilized in the presence of hydrocarbons because of chemical interactions involving iron hydroxides which also occur naturally. To address this question, arsenic concentrations were measured for several years in groundwater and in sediment up-gradient, within, and down-gradient from the hydrocarbon plume at Bemidji. 

Carefully measured samples from the field reveal that arsenic concentrations in the hydrocarbon plume can reach 230 micrograms per liter — 23 times the current drinking water standard of 10 micrograms per liter. Arsenic concentrations fall below 10 micrograms per liter both up-gradient and down-gradient from the plume. 

The scientists attributed the elevated arsenic in the hydrocarbon plume to a series of interrelated geochemical and biochemical processes that involve arsenic and iron oxides (both are commonly found in sediments across the country) and the metabolization of carbon–rich petroleum by microbes in anoxic (low oxygen) conditions. The complex chemical process is explained further at this USGS website and in the published research article.

The results from this work also suggest that the arsenic released in the plume may reattach to aquifer sediments down-gradient from the plume. This reattachment could be considered good news for limiting the extent of the arsenic contamination in the groundwater. However, the chemical reattachment process may also be reversible, highlighting the need for long–term monitoring of arsenic and other chemicals that pose a water quality concern in areas associated with petroleum hydrocarbon leaks and spills. 

The presence and amount of naturally occurring arsenic and iron oxides and the condition of the groundwater in the study area are fairly typical of many geologic settings across the nation, suggesting that the process of arsenic mobilization that was observed in the presence of hydrocarbons is not geographically limited.  

This research was supported by the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program and Hydrologic Research and Development Program, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and the National Crude Oil Spill Fate and Natural Attenuation Research Site, a collaborative venture of the USGS, the Enbridge Energy Limited Partnership, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Beltrami County, Minnesota. By law, the USGS, a science bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, does not have any regulatory authority or responsibility. 

Learn more 

Cozzarelli, IM; Schreiber, ME; Erickson, ML; and Ziegler, BA. “Arsenic cycling in hydrocarbon plumes: Secondary effects of natural attenuation,” Groundwater, 21 Jan 2015. 

USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program 

USGS National Research Program (Water)

More Global Topographic Data to Aid Climate Change Research

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 09:00
Summary: Improved global topographic (elevation) data are now publicly available for most of Asia (India, China, southern Siberia, Japan, Indonesia), Oceania (Australia, New Zealand), and western Pacific Islands Enhanced elevation data for most of Asia and Oceania; third of four releases

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



Improved global topographic (elevation) data are now publicly available for most of Asia (India, China, southern Siberia, Japan, Indonesia), Oceania (Australia, New Zealand), and western Pacific Islands. See diagram below for geographic coverage.   

Similar data were previously released by USGS for most of Africa (in September 2014) and the Western Hemisphere (December). 

The data are being released following the President’s commitment at the United Nations to provide assistance for global efforts to combat climate change. The broad availability of more detailed elevation data across the globe through the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) will improve baseline information that is crucial to investigating the impacts of climate change on specific regions and communities. 

“We are pleased to offer improved elevation data to scientists, educators, and students worldwide. It’s free to whomever can use it,” said Suzette Kimball, acting USGS Director, at the initial release of SRTM30 data for Africa in September. “Elevation, the third dimension of maps, is critical in understanding so many aspects of how nature works. Easy access to reliable data like this advances the mutual understanding of environmental challenges by citizens, researchers, and decision makers around the globe.” 

The SRTM30 datasets resolve to 30-meters and can be used worldwide to improve environmental monitoring, advance climate change research, and promote local decision support. The previous global resolution for this data was 90-meters. 

SRTM30 elevation data are increasingly being used to supplement other satellite imagery. In India, for example, SRTM30 elevation data can be used to track changes to the Gangotri Glacier, a major source of water for the Ganges River. Changes to this glacier, which has retreated 345 meters over the past 25 years, directly affect the water resources for hundreds of millions of people on the Indian subcontinent. 

USGS online poster of the Gangotri Glacier

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) worked collaboratively to produce the enhanced SRTM data, which have been extensively reviewed by relevant government agencies and deemed suitable for public release. SRTM flew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in February 2000, mapping Earth's topography between 56 degrees south and 60 degrees north of the equator. During the 11-day mission, SRTM used imaging radar to map the surface of Earth numerous times from different perspectives. 

The USGS, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, distributes SRTM30 data free of charge via its user-friendly Earth Explorer website. NASA also distributes SRTM data versions through the Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LPDAAC) operated by USGS along with descriptions of the various versions and processing options. 

Enhanced 30-meter resolution SRTM data for the remainder of the globe (at less than 60 deg. latitude) are scheduled to be released in the last of four releases in August 2015.    

NASA press release on SRTM data

Shaded grid over most of Asia, Japan, and Australia indicates the coverage of the third of four releases of improved topographic (elevation) data now publicly available through USGS archives. (High resolution image)

USGS Statement Regarding Avian Flu Found in Washington State Green-Winged Teal

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 17:55
Summary: Some media are reporting that the Asian H5N1 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza has now entered the United States. This is incorrect

Contact Information:

Jonathan Sleeman ( Phone: 608-270 2401 ); Catherine  Puckett ( Phone: 352-278-0165 ); Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-526-6694 );



Some media are reporting that the Asian H5N1 strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza has now entered the United States. This is incorrect. The avian flu that was recently found in a green-winged teal in Washington state is a different strain and is not known to harm humans nor has it been found in domestic poultry. This Washington state strain incorporates genes from North American waterfowl-associated viruses. Unlike the Asian H5N1 strain that has been found in Asia, Europe, and Africa, this Washington state strain has only been found in wild waterfowl and has not been associated with human illness, nor has this new Washington state strain been found in domestic poultry.

Culprit Identified in Decline of Endangered Missouri River Pallid Sturgeon

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 13:30
Summary: BOZEMAN – Pallid sturgeon come from a genetic line that has lived on this planet for tens of millions of years; yet it has been decades since anyone has documented any of the enormous fish successfully producing young that survive to adulthood in the upper Missouri River basin.

Contact Information:

Catherine Puckett, USGS ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



BOZEMAN – Pallid sturgeon come from a genetic line that has lived on this planet for tens of millions of years; yet it has been decades since anyone has documented any of the enormous fish successfully producing young that survive to adulthood in the upper Missouri River basin.

Now, fisheries scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, Montana State University and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have shown why, detailing for the first time the biological mechanism that has caused the long decline of pallid sturgeon in the Missouri River and led to its being placed on the endangered species list 25 years ago.

In a paper published this week in the journal Fisheries, the scientists show that oxygen-depleted dead zones between dams in the upper Missouri River are directly linked with the failure of endangered pallid sturgeon hatched embryos to survive to adulthood.

 “This research is a notable breakthrough in identifying the reason why pallid sturgeon in the Missouri River have been declining for so many decades,” said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the USGS. “By pinpointing the biological mechanism responsible for the species’ decline, resource managers have vital information they can use as a focus of pallid sturgeon conservation.”

“We certainly think this is a significant finding in the story of why pallid sturgeon are failing to recruit in the upper Missouri River,” said Christopher Guy, the assistant unit leader with the USGS Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit and the MSU professor who was the lead author on the paper. “We’re basically talking about a living dinosaur that takes 20 years to reach sexual maturity and can live as long as the average human in the U.S. After millions of years of success, the pallid sturgeon population stumbled and now we know why. From a conservation perspective, this is a major breakthrough.”

The study is the first to make a direct link among dam-induced changes in riverine sediment transport, the subsequent effects of those changes on reduced oxygen levels and the survival of an endangered species, the pallid sturgeon.

“This research shows that the transition zone between the freely flowing river and reservoirs is an ecological sink – a dead zone – for pallid sturgeon,” Guy said. “Essentially, hatched sturgeon embryos die in the oxygen-depleted sediments in the transition zones.”

Guy said fisheries biologists long suspected that the Missouri River’s massive reservoirs were preventing hatched embryonic pallid sturgeon from surviving to the juvenile stage. But early attempts to tie the problem to low levels of dissolved oxygen were unsuccessful. 

“The reason for that is we hadn’t sampled deep enough,” Guy said. “It wasn’t until we sampled water down at the bottom, where those sediments are being deposited, that we found there was no dissolved oxygen. Because hatched pallid sturgeon embryos are negatively buoyant, they tend to sink into that hostile environment.”  

“The lack of oxygen is a function of high microbial activity in the sediment laden area,” said co-author Eric Scholl, a Ph.D. student at Montana State University and a co-author on the study.

Hilary Treanor, an MSU research associate working with Guy, said they were able to show just how hostile these transition zones between riverine environment and reservoir could be to hatched sturgeon embryos. 

In experiments at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Fish Technology Center in Bozeman with coauthors Molly Webb, Kevin Kappenman, and Jason Ilgen, Treanor said different aged hatched embryos were treated with water of varying levels of dissolved oxygen. The lowest level they could recreate – 1.5 milligrams of oxygen per liter of water – was still higher than samples pulled from the bottom at the upper end of Fort Peck Reservoir. 

At those depleted levels, the hatched sturgeon embryos suffered almost immediately.

“We saw changes in their behavior fairly quickly. They became disoriented and weren’t able to move the way they should have,” Treanor said. “Within an hour we started to see mortality. By the end of the experiment they were all dead.”

"Pallid sturgeon, native to the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, were listed as an endangered species in 1990. The species has a lifespan of as much as a century. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fewer than 175 wild-spawned pallid sturgeon – all adults – live in the free-flowing Missouri River above Lake Sakakawea. Since 1990, not a single wild-spawned pallid sturgeon is known to have survived to a juvenile, despite intensive searching.

 In the past 5 years, researchers identified the most important reason for pallid sturgeon population declines in the Upper Missouri River: the lack of survival of naturally produced hatched sturgeon embryos.

Guy said this most recent study of sturgeon built on research conducted by USGS fisheries biologist Patrick Braaten, which demonstrated not enough available drift distance exists between the reservoirs for hatched pallid sturgeon embryos before entering the reservoirs in the upper Missouri River. 

Before dams, hatched pallid sturgeon embryos would drift for hundreds of miles, eventually settling out of the river’s current in areas with low flow where they matured enough to negotiate the river’s flow.

“This team has shown how much we can do when we have a collaboration between MSU, USGS and world-renowned reproductive physiologists Molly Webb and Kevin Kappenman with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Guy said. “In the process of doing this research, we’ve trained a dozen MSU graduate students and a number of undergraduate field and lab techs.”

Given what the new research shows about how no oxygen is available to hatched pallid sturgeon embryos, the authors of the paper propose that officials will need to consider innovative approaches to managing Missouri River reservoirs for pallid sturgeon conservation to have a chance. It also could provide some guiding principles for the construction of new dams around the world, Guy said.

Melting Glaciers Increase the Flow of Carbon to Downstream Ecosystems

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

Contact Information:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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