Share

First State Geology Newsletter Signup

First State Geology has been the newsletter of DGS for over 25 years.

Click here to signup!

USGS Newsroom

Syndicate content USGS
News Releases
Updated: 2 hours 27 min ago

New Technology Helps Identify Dispersal of Avian Flu Virus between Asia and Alaska

Tue, 03/31/2015 - 13:00
Summary: In a new study published today, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service harnessed a new type of DNA technology to investigate avian influenza viruses in Alaska

Contact Information:

Andy Ramey ( Phone: 907-786-7174 ); Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In a new study published today, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service harnessed a new type of DNA technology to investigate avian influenza viruses in Alaska.  Using a “next generation” sequencing approach, which identifies gene sequences of interest more rapidly and more completely than by traditional techniques, scientists identified low pathogenic avian influenza viruses in Alaska that are nearly identical to viruses found in China and South Korea. 

The viruses were found in an area of western Alaska that is known to be a hot spot for both American and Eurasian forms of avian influenza.

“Our past research in western Alaska has shown that 70 percent of avian influenza viruses isolated in this area were found to contain genetic material from Eurasia, providing evidence for high levels of intercontinental viral exchange,” said Andy Ramey, a scientist with the USGS Alaska Science Center and lead author of the study.  “This is because Asian and North American migratory flyways overlap in western Alaska.”

The new study, led by the USGS, found low pathogenic H9N2 viruses in an Emperor Goose and a Northern Pintail.  Both of the H9N2 viruses were nearly identical genetically to viruses found in wild bird samples from Lake Dongting, China and Cheon-su Bay, South Korea.

“These H9N2 viruses are low pathogenic and not known to infect humans, but similar viruses have been implicated in disease outbreaks in domestic poultry in Asia,” said Ramey. 

There is no commercial poultry production in western Alaska and highly similar H9N2 virus strains have not been reported in poultry in East Asia or North America, so it is unlikely that agricultural imports influenced this result.

The finding provides evidence for intercontinental movement of intact avian influenza viruses by migratory birds. The USGS recently released a publication about the detection of a novel highly pathogenic H5N8 virus in the U.S. that is highly similar to the Eurasian H5N8 viruses. This suggests that the novel re-assortment may be adapted to certain waterfowl species, enabling it to survive long migrations. That virus, and associated strains, have now spread from early detections in wild and domestic birds in Pacific states to poultry outbreaks in Minnesota, Missouri and Arkansas.

“The frequency of inter-hemispheric dispersal events of avian influenza viruses by migratory birds may be higher than previously recognized,” said Ramey.

While some of the samples for the project came from bird fecal samples collected from beaches at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, most of the samples came from sport hunters.

“For the past several years, we’ve worked closely with sport hunters in the fall to obtain swab samples from birds and that has really informed our understanding of wildlife disease in this area,” said Bruce Casler, formerly a biologist with the USFWS Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and a co-author of the study. None of the viruses found in harvested birds from Izembek Refuge are known to infect humans, but hunters should always follow safe meat handling and cooking guidelines when processing wild game.

The paper, “Dispersal of H9N2 influenza A viruses between East Asia and North America by wild birds” was published today in the journal Virology. A summary of all samples collected at the Izembek Refuge will be described in a subsequent publication. 

Additional information about avian influenza can be found at the following web sites:

Alaska is an international crossroads for millions of migratory birds that spend winter in Asia, Oceania, South America, and the lower-48 United States. (High resolution image 3 MB)

Updated Information on Cuba Mineral and Petroleum Resources Released

Tue, 03/31/2015 - 10:40
Summary: Cuba is among the top 10 producers of cobalt and nickel and has significant other mineral and petroleum resources, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey publication

Contact Information:

Steven Fortier ( Phone: 703-648-4920 ); Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-352-3487 );



Cuba is among the top 10 producers of cobalt and nickel and has significant other mineral and petroleum resources, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey publication.

The report and accompanying map highlight the mineral resources available in Cuba, as well as detailing locations of petroleum exploration and development. The map also identifies mines, mineral processing facilities and petroleum facilities as well as information on location, operational status and ownership. It also addresses the current status of mineral industry projects, historical developments and trends of the Cuban economy with an emphasis on mineral industries and the supply of and demand for Cuba’s mineral resources.

“Cuba’s geology is complex, and the country has a variety of mineral commodity and energy resources,” said Steven Fortier, Director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center. “It is important that the public and industry have the latest information on the status of the mineral industry and the potential for natural resource development in Cuba.”

A few key points from the report are:

  • In 2013, Cuba was estimated to be among the world’s top ten producers of cobalt and nickel, which are the country’s leading exports
  • Cuba’s current crude oil and associated natural gas production from onshore and shallow water reservoirs is approximately 50,000 barrels per day of liquids and about 20,000 barrels per day oil equivalent of natural gas
  • In 2013, the value of mining and quarrying activities accounted for 0.6 percent of Cuba’s gross domestic product, compared with 1.4 percent in 2000
  • The value of production from Cuba’s industrial manufacturing sector increased by 88 percent between 1993 and 2013, whereas the sector’s share in the GDP decreased by 3 percent during the same period reflecting economic growth in other sectors of the economy

In 2004, the USGS released an assessment of the hydrocarbons of the North Cuba Basin and its three sub-basins. The total amount of undiscovered technically recoverable resources was estimated to be 9.8 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas, 4.6 billion barrels of crude oil, and 0.9 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. About 70 percent of this oil was estimated to be located no more than 50 to 80 kilometers (km) offshore along the length of the western and northern coasts of the island. To date, deepwater drilling has resulted in no commercially viable oil or gas discoveries. 

Industrial minerals and manufactured industrial mineral products produced in Cuba include ammonia and ammonia byproducts, bentonite, cement, feldspar, high-purity zeolite minerals, gypsum, kaolin (a type of clay), lime, high-grade limestone, marble, sand, sulfuric acid, steel and urea. In 2013, an estimated 4,500 metric tons of zeolites was exported to Europe and other Latin American countries and in 2014 the majority of the country’s ammonium nitrate was intended for export.

In 2014, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment announced 246 development projects for which it sought foreign investment. The petroleum sector offered the greatest number of prospective investment opportunities followed by the manufacturing and mining sectors. In the energy sector, the country is offering joint ventures in petroleum extraction from onshore and offshore blocks and foreign investment opportunities are being offered in biomass and solar energy production and hydroelectric power.

The report ‘Recent trends in Cuba’s mining and petroleum extraction industries’ FS 2015-3032 is available online.

Media Advisory: Public Invitation: What's the Status of Water in South Dakota?

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 14:15
Summary: Media and the public are invited to attend a free meeting and field trips about South Dakota water issues on April 15 and 16 in Rapid City

Contact Information:

Janet Carter ( Phone: 605-394-3215 ); Dan Driscoll ( Phone: 605-394-3211 );



Media and the public are invited to attend a free meeting and field trips about South Dakota water issues on April 15 and 16 in Rapid City.

The 13th annual Western South Dakota Hydrology Meeting is an opportunity for local reporters, scientists, students and community members to meet and exchange ideas, discuss issues and explore new science related to critical water resources in South Dakota. A poster session and evening social will follow oral presentations on Wednesday, April 15. 

Conference attendees may choose to participate in one of four free, optional field trips on Thursday, April 16. Please register for the conference by April 8 to participate in one of the following field trips: 

  • Post-flood geomorphic conditions in Keough Draw and Ward Draw
  • Barrick Gold Corp and Sanford Lab wastewater treatment plants
  • Rapid City stormwater management practices
  • Belle Fourche Irrigation District operation and water conservation 
What: The 13th annual Western South Dakota Hydrology Meeting will examine key flooding, water-quality, groundwater, surface water and geology issues in South Dakota.

Who: The conference keynote speakers are:
  • Neik Veraart, Vice President for Louis Berger’s Environmental Planning and Resilience practice
  • Robert Hirsch, U.S. Geological Survey research hydrologist and former USGS Chief Hydrologist and Associate Director for Water
  • Robert Harmon, President and CEO of EnergyRM
When: Meeting: Wednesday, April 15, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Poster session and evening social: Wednesday, April 15, 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Optional field trips: Thursday April 16, at various times

Where: Rushmore Plaza Civic Center
444 N. Mount Rushmore Rd., Rapid City  (MAP)

Details: The conference is free for media, the public and students, with an optional $20 lunch. Professional registration fee is $100. For professionals who wish to obtain credit for professional development, credits are available for technical sessions attended.

Register: All attendees are asked to register before April 8 by visiting the conference website or by contacting Janet Carter at 605-394-3215 or jmcarter@usgs.gov  

The annual conference typically draws more than 350 attendees. The preliminary 2015 program is available on the conference website.

The conference is organized by the USGS, South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, South Dakota Engineering Society, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and West Dakota Water Development District. 

For additional information about USGS water-resources studies in South Dakota, please visit the USGS South Dakota Water Science Center website.

Laboratory Study Shows Future Generations of Fish Affected by Endocrine Disruptor Exposure

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 11:00
Summary: Fish exposed to the endocrine-disrupting chemicals bisphenol A (BPA) or 17a-ethinylestradiol (EE2) in a laboratory have been found to pass adverse reproductive effects onto their offspring up to three generations later, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Missouri

Contact Information:

Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 ); Donald Tillitt ( Phone: 573-876-1866 );



Fish exposed to the endocrine-disrupting chemicals bisphenol A (BPA) or 17a-ethinylestradiol (EE2) in a laboratory have been found to pass adverse reproductive effects onto their offspring up to three generations later, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Missouri.

Aquatic environments are the ultimate reservoirs for many contaminants, including chemicals that mimic the functions of natural hormones. Fish and other aquatic organisms often have the greatest exposures to such chemicals during critical periods in development or even entire life cycles.

Scientists exposed fish to either BPA or EE2 for one week during embryonic development, while subsequent generations were never exposed. Future generations showed a reduced rate of fertilization and increased embryo mortality. The full study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is available online.

“This study shows that even though endocrine disruptors may not affect the life of the exposed fish, it may negatively affect future generations,” said USGS visiting scientist and University of Missouri Assistant Research Professor, Ramji Bhandari. “This is the first step in understanding how endocrine disruptors affect future generations, and more studies are needed to determine what happens in the natural environment.”

There were no apparent reproductive abnormalities in the first two generations of fish, except for two instances of male to female sex reversal in adults of the EE2 exposed generation. Findings show a 30 percent decrease in the fertilization rate of fish two generations after exposure, and a 20 percent reduction after three generations. If those trends continued, the potential for declines in overall population numbers might be expected in future generations. These adverse outcomes, if shown in natural populations, could have negative impacts on fish inhabiting contaminated aquatic environments.

This study examined concentrations of EE2 and BPA that are not expected to be found in most environmental situations. However, concerns remain about the possibility of passing on adverse reproductive effects to future generations at lower levels. At this time, the ability to evaluate mixtures of estrogenic chemicals working jointly is limited. 

The scientists studied BPA and EE2 because they are chemicals of environmental concern and represent different classes of endocrine disrupters. BPA is a chemical used primarily to manufacture polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, but is also an additive in other consumer products. Due to extensive use of these products in daily human life, the accumulation of BPA-containing waste in the environment has been a serious concern and a potential threat to public and wildlife health. EE2 is used in oral contraceptives designed for women, and about 16 – 68 percent of each dose is excreted from the body. As a result, EE2 has been found in aquatic environments downstream of wastewater treatment plants.

For more information on endocrine disruptors visit the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center web page.

New Study Sheds Light on Mammal Declines in Everglades National Park

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 16:10
Summary: Nearly 80 percent of radio-tracked marsh rabbits that died in Everglades National Park in a recent study were eaten by Burmese pythons, according to a new publication by University of Florida and U.S. Geological Survey researchers

Contact Information:

Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-352-3487 ); Robert McCleery ( Phone: 352-846-0566 );



GAINESVILLE, Fla. – – Nearly 80 percent of radio-tracked marsh rabbits that died in Everglades National Park in a recent study were eaten by Burmese pythons, according to a new publication by University of Florida and U.S. Geological Survey researchers.  

A year later, there was no sign of a rabbit population in the study area.  The study demonstrates that Burmese pythons are now the dominant predator of marsh rabbits, and likely other mid-sized animals in the park, potentially upsetting the balance of a valuable ecosystem.

The study provides the first empirical evidence that the Burmese python caused reductions in marsh rabbit populations in the park, supporting previous studies that suggested pythons were a significant factor in declines of many other mid-sized mammals since becoming established there a few decades ago.

The estimated tens of thousands of Burmese pythons now populating the greater Everglades present a low risk to people in the park, according to previous research by USGS and NPS.

Scientists know that invasive pythons prey on native Everglades mammals, but they didn’t have experimental evidence that pythons could cause population declines or local extinction of mammals, said Robert McCleery, a UF assistant professor in wildlife ecology and conservation who led the study.

While a 2012 study showed that as pythons were proliferating, mammals were declining, it did not directly link the two phenomena. “This study does just that,” said Bob Reed, a USGS research herpetologist and study co-author.

“Mammals play an important role in the Everglades ecosystem, and so recovery of mammal populations is closely tied with recovering the overall health and functionality of this ecosystem,” McCleery said.

In most Florida wetlands, it’s easy to detect marsh rabbit populations by searching for their scat, but the researchers could not find evidence of rabbits in the parts of Everglades National Park they studied during intensive surveys prior to conducting their experiment.

In 2012, a group of scientists that included researchers from Davidson College, USGS and UF compared data on mammal populations from the 1990s – before pythons became widespread in Everglades National Park ─ to results of population surveys conducted between 2003 and 2011. The 2012 study found that significant mammalian population declines coincided in space and time with the proliferation of invasive pythons in the Everglades.  

“Previous studies implicated pythons in mammal declines in the Everglades, but those studies were largely correlative,” said Reed. “This new study moves us from correlation to causation in terms of the impact of invasive pythons on native mammals.” 

To conduct the most recent study, researchers found areas outside of the park that supported large and healthy populations of marsh rabbits. They moved 31 marsh rabbits into select areas in the park in two experimental populations. They also put 15 rabbits in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, and captured, collared and released another 49 in Fakahatchee Strand State Park, where they knew there would be few, if any, pythons ─ and used those as control sites. All of the rabbits were equipped with radio-collars so that they could be regularly located.

The researchers radio-tracked the rabbits and found that 77 percent of those that died in the Everglades were eaten by Burmese pythons, and that there was no sign of a rabbit population in the areas where they released them in the park one year later. On the other hand, rabbits remained common at the control site after the experiment. Many animals eat marsh rabbits, but outside the park, they’re most often the victims of bobcats and coyotes.

Furthermore, the warmer and wetter the weather, the more rabbits were consumed by pythons in the park. The researchers suggested this may be because higher water levels allow the pythons to easily swim long distances while searching for food and because they feed more frequently when it’s hot.

Scientists chose to study the pythons’ impacts on marsh rabbit populations because the high reproductive rates of rabbits mean that their populations are typically resilient to predators, McCleery said. The conclusion that pythons are capable of eliminating marsh rabbit populations in Everglades National Park led the authors to suggest that the observed declines in other mid-sized mammal species in the park could also be due to predation by pythons.

The study was published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Academy B. McCleery’s co-authors include UF graduate student Adia Sovie, as well as Robert Reed, Kristen Hart and Margaret Hunter, all research wildlife biologists with the USGS. 

Frozen Heat Features USGS Science

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 10:00
Summary: The Gas Hydrates Project at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contributed to a four-year international effort by multiple partners, including the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), to formulate a just-released report entitled, “Frozen Heat: A Global Outlook on Methane Gas Hydrates.&rdquo New International Report on Gas Hydrates Draws Heavily from USGS Expertise

Contact Information:

William F.  Waite ( Phone: 508-457-2346 ); Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 );



The Gas Hydrates Project at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contributed to a four-year international effort by multiple partners, including the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), to formulate a just-released report entitled, “Frozen Heat: A Global Outlook on Methane Gas Hydrates.”

The two-volume report reviews the state-of-the-art in science and technology related to gas hydrates, providing information in a form accessible to policy makers and stakeholders. The USGS Gas Hydrates Project contributed scientific results, editing, and reviews to assist formulation of the report.    

Gas hydrate is a frozen form of gas and water that occurs naturally at moderate pressure and low temperature. These conditions are characteristic of continuous permafrost and marine sediments at water depths greater than ~350 meters (~1150 ft).  Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is the most common gas incorporated into global gas hydrate deposits. Gas hydrate sequesters about 1600 billion metric tons (~1800 billion US tons) of carbon or up to 25% of the global budget of carbon that can move around the earth-ocean-atmosphere system.

“The USGS plays an active leadership role in gas hydrate research nationally and internationally,” said USGS Energy Resources Program Coordinator Brenda Pierce. “Having USGS experts join with other scientists to present current scientific knowledge to a broad audience in this report serves an important part of our outreach mission.” 

The first volume of the report focuses on the history of gas hydrate research and describes how and where gas hydrates form. USGS research featured prominently in this volume, as USGS scientists have studied the formation and occurrence of gas hydrates all over the world, including Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and internationally in countries like Japan, Korea, and India.

Volume I of the report also considers how gas hydrates interact with the environment on a small scale (for example, the link between gas hydrates and deep marine biological communities), and globally (for example, the interplay between gas hydrates and climate).  

“We were pleased to work with U.S. and international partners to contribute scientific expertise to this effort,” said Carolyn Ruppel, Chief of the USGS Gas Hydrates Project. “The report dovetails with our Project’s emphasis on gas hydrates in the natural environment and on the climate and energy resource implications of methane hydrates.”   

Volume 2 discusses gas hydrates as a potential energy resource, including consideration of the technology needed to extract gas from methane hydrates.  USGS scientists have long been active in this research area and participated in tests of methane production from natural gas hydrates in permafrost areas, such as Alaska’s North Slope.

The USGS has a globally recognized research program  studying natural gas hydrates in deepwater and permafrost settings worldwide.  USGS researchers focus on the potential of gas hydrates as an energy resource, the impact of climate change on gas hydrates, and seafloor stability issues.

International Bat Monitoring Research Group Receives

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 10:00
Summary: USGS bat conservation researchers and their partners are being recognized today with the U.S. Forest Service Wings Across the Americas Research Award for their contributions to the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat)

Contact Information:

Suzanna Soileau ( Phone: 406-994-7257 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



USGS bat conservation researchers and their partners are being recognized today with the U.S. Forest Service Wings Across the Americas Research Award for their contributions to the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat). 

The award will be accepted on behalf of USGS contributions to NABat by Anne Kinsinger, USGS associate director for Ecosystems, at the North American Wildlife Resources Conference in Omaha, Nebr.  USGS partners also being recognized are the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bat Conservation International, Bat Conservation Trust, Canadian Wildlife Service, University of California, University of Alberta and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“Research on bats is important not only because they are vital to the well-being of ecosystems, but also it is in the best interest of the economy due to the importance of bats for pest control and pollination of native and agricultural plants,” said Kinsinger. “USGS has focused considerable research on issues threatening the health and well being of bat populations in North America. Our participation in NABat provides valuable scientific information for bat conservation.”

Wings Across the Americas is an international program of the U.S. Forest Service that works with a wide range of partners here in the United States and overseas to conserve habitats and populations of birds, bats, butterflies and dragonflies. The award recognizes outstanding conservation work by U.S. Forest Service and partner agencies.

The novelty of the NABat program is a vision for collaborative monitoring of an imperiled species group with a sound statistical underpinning allowing for species distribution modeling across broad geographic regions. Participating USGS researchers provide specific expertise on statistical survey design, statistical analysis of bat acoustic and colony count data and database development informed by experience with many wildlife species such as bats, birds and amphibians.

NABat was developed in conjunction with specialists from other agencies, universities and NGOs in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Mexico in response to growing concerns over threats to bats from continuing and emerging stressors including habitat loss and fragmentation, white-nose syndrome, wind energy development and climate change.  There are currently no national programs to monitor and track bat populations in North America, and NABat seeks to assist in development of such programs that will provide managers and policy makers with the information they need to effectively manage bat populations, detect early warning signs of population declines and estimate extinction risk.

Efforts to date include four workshops and discussions supported by the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives National Council and the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis to develop a national monitoring program. These workshops were attended by scientists and researchers from multiple agencies including FWS, USGS, USFS, NPS, University of Calgary and the Canadian Wildlife Service.  In addition, the framework for NABat entitled “A Plan for a North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat)” will be published in May 2015.

USGS recipients of the Wings Across the Americas award include FORT scientists Laura Ellison, Tom Stanley, Brian Cade, Paul Cryan and Sara Oyler-McCance; NOROCK scientists Kathryn M. Irvine and Steve Corn; UMESC scientist Wayne Thogmartin; Patuxent scientists John Sauer and Matthew Clement; NPWRC scientist Douglas Johnson; NWHC scientist Robin Russell; and CSU Cooperative Research Unit scientist William Kendall.  

 

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.