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Updated: 3 hours 51 min ago

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

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

Contact Information:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Information:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more 

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

Chesapeake Bay Region Streams are Warming

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 08:48
Summary: CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The majority of streams in the Chesapeake Bay region are warming, and that increase appears to be driven largely by rising air temperatures. These findings are based on new U.S. Geological Survey research published in the journal Climatic Change.

Contact Information:

Karen C. Rice ( Phone: 434-243-3429 ); John  Jastram ( Phone: 804-261-2648 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The majority of streams in the Chesapeake Bay region are warming, and that increase appears to be driven largely by rising air temperatures. These findings are based on new U.S. Geological Survey research published in the journal Climatic Change.

Researchers found an overall warming trend in air temperature of 0.023 C (0.041 F) per year, and in water temperature of 0.028 C (0.050 F) per year over 51 years.  This means that air temperature has risen 1.1 C (1.98 F), and water temperature has risen 1.4 C (2.52 F) between 1960 and 2010 in the Chesapeake Bay region. 

"Although this may not seem like much, even small increases in water temperatures can have an effect on water quality, affecting the animals that rely on the bay’s streams, as well as the estuary itself," said Karen Rice, USGS Research Hydrologist and lead author of the study. 

One effect of warming waters is an increase in eutrophication, or an overabundance of nutrients The issue has plagued the bay for decades and likely will increase as temperatures of waters contributing to the bay continue to rise. Other effects of warming waters include shifts in plant and animal distributions in the basin’s freshwater rivers and streams. Upstream waters may no longer be suitable for some cool-water fish species, and invasive species may move into the warming waters as those streams become more hospitable. 

Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, with a watershed covering 166,391 square kilometers (over 64,243 square miles) that includes parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. The watershed includes more than 100,000 streams, creeks and rivers that thread through it, and it supports more than 3,700 species of plants and animals. The states and DC are working with the federal government to improve conditions in the bay and its watershed and address the threats from climate change. Results from this USGS study will help inform adaptation strategies.

The study included examination of 51 years of data from 85 air-temperature sites and 129 stream-water temperature sites throughout the bay watershed.  Though the findings indicated that overall both air and water temperatures have increased throughout the region, there was variability in the magnitude and direction of temperature changes, particularly for water. 

"Our results suggest that water temperature is largely influenced by increasing air temperature, and features on the landscape act to enhance or dampen the level of that influence” said John Jastram, USGS Hydrologist and study coauthor.

At many of the sites analyzed, increasing trends were detected in both streamflow and water temperature, demonstrating that increasing streamflow dampens, but does not stop or reverse warming.  Water temperature at most of the sites examined increased from 1960-2010. There was wide variability in physical characteristics of the stream-water sites, including:

  • Watershed area
  • Channel shape
  • Thermal capacity (a measure of the resistance of a body of water to temperature change)
  • The presence or absence of vegetation along the waterways
  • Local climate conditions
  • Land cover.

Warming temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay region’s streams will have implications for future shifts in water quality, eutrophication and water column layers in the bay.  As air temperatures rise, so will water temperature in Chesapeake Bay, though mixing with ocean water may buffer it somewhat, cooling the warmer water entering from the watershed.  "Rising air and stream-water temperatures in Chesapeake Bay region, USA," by K.C. Rice and J.D. Jastram in Climatic Change is available online.

More information about USGS science to help restore Chesapeake Bay can be found at online.

[Access images for this release at: <a href="http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2014_12_08" _mce_href="http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2014_12_08">http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2014_12_08</a>]

Data-driven Insights on the California Drought

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 08:33
Summary: A newly released interactive California Drought visualization website aims to provide the public with atlas-like, state-wide coverage of the drought and a timeline of its impacts on water resources. USGS Releases Drought Visualization Website

Contact Information:

Ethan Alpern ( Phone: 703-648-4406 );



A newly released interactive California Drought visualization website aims to provide the public with atlas-like, state-wide coverage of the drought and a timeline of its impacts on water resources.

Drought coverage of California. (High resolution image)

The U.S. Geological Survey developed the interactive website as part of the federal government's Open Water Data Initiative. The drought visualization page features high-tech graphics that illustrate the effect of drought on regional reservoir storage from 2011-2014.

For the visualization, drought data are integrated through space and time with maps and plots of reservoir storage. Reservoir levels can be seen to respond to seasonal drivers in each year. However, available water decreases overall as the drought persists. The connection between snowpack and reservoir levels is also displayed interactively. Current streamflow collected at USGS gaging stations is graphed relative to historic averages. Additionally, California’s water use profile is summarized.

California has been experiencing one of its most severe drought in over a century, and 2013 was the driest calendar year in the state's 119-year recorded history. In January, California Governor, Jerry Brown, declared a State of Emergency to help officials manage the drought.

"USGS is determined to provide managers and residents with timely and meaningful data to help decision making and planning for the state's water resources," said Nate Booth, chief of USGS Water Information. "The drought affects streamflow across the state, which leads to reduced reservoir replenishment as well as groundwater depletion."

White House open data policies continue to provide opportunities for innovation at the nexus between water resource management and information technology. The Open Water Data Initiative promotes these goals with an initial objective of presenting valuable water data in a more user friendly, easily accessible format.

"Ultimately, the initiative will allow us to better communicate the nation's water resources status, trends and challenges based on the most recent monitoring information," said Mark Sogge, USGS Pacific regional director. "By integrating a range of federal and state data to communicate the extreme circumstances of the water shortage in California and the southwest, USGS is providing for public use a rich and interactive collection of drought related information."

Reservoir storage levels in California. (High resolution image)

"The state and federal data presented are publicly available, as is the open-source software that supports the application," said Emily Read, a USGS developer of the website. "The application allows the public to explore the drought not only as we’ve presented it, but because the software is open-source, anyone can easily open up the data and expand the story."

In addition to this new visualization website, the USGS California Water Science Center has an extensive portal dedicated to the California drought, the state’s water resource information, and more.

New Heights of Global Topographic Data Will Aid Climate Change Research

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 11:05
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey announced today that improved global topographic (elevation) data are now publicly available for North and South America, Pacific Islands, and northern Europe Enhanced elevation data for North and South America, Pacific Islands, northern Europe

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



The U.S. Geological Survey announced today that improved global topographic (elevation) data are now publicly available for North and South America, Pacific Islands, and northern Europe. Similar data for most of Africa were previously released by USGS in September. 

The data have been 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 SRTM 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 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) worked collaboratively to produce the data, which have been extensively reviewed by relevant government agencies and deemed suitable for public release. The previous global accuracy standard for this data was 90-meters. 

The USGS, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, distributes the data free of charge via its user-friendly Earth Explorer website. 

Enhanced 30-meter resolution data for the rest of the world will be released in coming months.

Improved topographic (elevation) data are now publicly available for North and South America, Pacific Islands, and northern Europe as shown in the diagram. Similar data for most of Africa were previously released by USGS in September. (High resolution image)

 

Get Your Wheels Spinning

Thu, 12/04/2014 - 10:00
Summary: As part of the continued US Topo maps revision and improvement cycle, the USGS will be including mountain bike trails to upcoming quadrangles on a state-aligned basis The USGS will show mountain bike trails on newly revised US Topo maps.

Contact Information:

Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 ); Brian Fox ( Phone: 303-202-4141 );



As part of the continued US Topo maps revision and improvement cycle, the USGS will be including mountain bike trails to upcoming quadrangles on a state-aligned basis. The 2014 edition of US Topo maps covering Arizona will be the first maps to feature the trail data, followed by Nebraska, Missouri, Nevada, California, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Vermont, Wyoming, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Florida, Alaska (partial), and the Pacific Territories in 2015.  

The mountain bike trail data is provided through a partnership with the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) and the MTB Project. During the past two years, the IMBA has been building a detailed national database of mountain bike trails with the aid and support of the MTB Project participants. 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 that the trail is legal.  This unique “crowdsourcing” project has allowed availability of mountain bike trail data though mobile and web apps, and soon, revised US Topo maps.

“IMBA is stoked to have MTB Project data included on US Topo maps as well as other USGS mapping products,” added Leslie Kehmeier, IMBA’s Mapping Specialist.  “It’s a really big deal for us and reflects the success of the partnership we've developed with the MTB Project team to develop a valuable and credible resource for mountain bike trails across the country.”

The partnership between the USGS and the MTB Project is considered a big move towards getting high quality trail data on The National Map and US Topo quadrangles. The collaboration also highlights private and public sectors working together to provide trails data and maps to the public. 

“This is a significant step for USGS,” said Brian Fox of the USGS NGTOC. “National datasets of trails do not yet exist, and in many areas even local datasets do not exist. Finding, verifying, and consolidating data is expensive.  Partnering with non-government organizations that collect trails data through crowdsourcing is a great solution.  The USGS-IMBA agreement is the first example of such a partnership for US Topo map feature content and we're looking forward to expanding the number of trails available as the MTB Project contributions grow. 

US Topo maps can be downloaded using the Map Locator and Downloader.

To be a part of IMBA’s crowd sourcing effort and help get mountain bike trails onto US Topo maps, be sure to share trail data, descriptions, and ratings on http://www.mtbproject.com/.  

The USGS structure and feature crowdsourcing effort, The National Map Corps, also features a link to the MTB Project 

The MTB Project mobile app is available to help mountain bikers discover trails on the go:

Disclaimer: Any use of trade, firm or product names does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.  No warranty, expressed or implied, is made by the USGS or the U.S. Government as to the accuracy and functioning of the commercial software programs cited in this Technical Announcement, and the U.S. Government shall not be held liable for improper or incorrect use of the USGS National Map Topographic Data employing these software programs.

The MTB Project Website, showing the Black Canyon Trail in Arizona.  The MTB Project allows for the discovery and crowdsourcing of mountain bike trail data.   (high resolution image)

Screen shot of the MTB Project mobile app, showing the Black Canyon Trail in Arizona. (high resolution image)

The Bumble Bee, Arizona US Topo map, showing the Black Canyon Trail in Arizona (dotted line, near center of the map, left of Crown King Road).  USGS US Topo maps featuring IMBA trail data will be a valuable asset to recreational users, land managers, and scientists.  (high resolution image)

New Volume Documents the Science at the Legendary Snowmastodon Fossil Site in Colorado

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 11:15
Summary: Four years ago, a bulldozer operator turned over some bones during construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado. Scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science were called to the scene and confirmed the bones were those of a juvenile Columbian mammoth, setting off a frenzy of excavation, scientific analysis, and international media attention

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Maura O’Neal ( Phone: 303.370.6407 ); Randall Kremer ( Phone: 202-633-2950 );



DENVER — Four years ago, a bulldozer operator turned over some bones during construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado. Scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science were called to the scene and confirmed the bones were those of a juvenile Columbian mammoth, setting off a frenzy of excavation, scientific analysis, and international media attention. This dramatic and unexpected discovery culminates this month with the publication of the Snowmastodon Project Science Volume in the international journal Quaternary Research.  

Fourteen papers by 47 authors from the United States and abroad collectively represent “a new benchmark for understanding climate change in the American West,” said paleontologist Dr. Ian Miller, Snowmastodon Project co-leader and chair of the Museum’s Earth Sciences Department.

Project co-leader and former DMNS chief curator, Dr. Kirk Johnson, and several scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and academic institutions around the world contributed articles to the journal.  

“Nothing beats pulling fossils out of the ground,” said project scientist Dr. Jeff Pigati of the U.S. Geological Survey, “but the site also lets us see what the Colorado Rockies were like during a period of time that we simply couldn’t reach before the discovery.”  

The Snowmastodon site was an ancient lake that filled with sediment between 140,000 and 55,000 years ago preserving a series of Ice Age fossil ecosystems. Particularly fortuitous is the high-elevation locale, providing first-time documentation of alpine ecosystems during the last interglacial period between about 130,000 and 110,000 years ago. Because scientists were able to collect and study such a wide range of fauna and flora—from tiny specks of pollen to the bones of giant mastodons—the site emerged as a trove of information that Miller said will inspire future research for years to come.  

"This project was unprecedented in its size, speed, and depth of collaboration. The science volume now moves beyond the pure excitement of the discovery to the presentation of its hard science and its implications for understanding the biological and climate history of the Rocky Mountain region," said Johnson, now the Sant Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.  

Papers in the special edition focus on impacts of climate change, then and now. The site’s ecosystems—plants, insects, and animals combined—varied dramatically in response to climate change.

“In other words, turn the climate dial a little and the ecosystems change considerably. We were also surprised to find that certain periods in the record that seem to be cool elsewhere in North America were quite warm in the central Rockies,” said Miller. ”The implication is that alpine ecosystems respond differently to climate change than other, lower elevation ecosystems. These new results have huge implications for predicting present-day climate change in Colorado and beyond.”

Usually fossil sites preserve only snapshots in time, which are then pieced together to understand past time periods. By contrast, the Snowmastodon site captures a nearly continuous 85,000-year time span. As a result, the site provides the best-known record of life and climate at high elevation anywhere in North America.  

During a total of 69 days in 2010 and 2011, the Museum mobilized one of the largest fossil excavation efforts ever, recovering more than 5,000 large bones and 22,000 small bones representing roughly 50 different species. The site is most notable for containing the remains of at least 35 American mastodons, representing both genders as well as a variety of ages, from calves to full-grown adults.  

“We had no idea that the high Rockies were filled with American mastodons during the last interglacial period,” Miller noted.  

While the spectacular array of Ice Age animals initially drew scientists to the site, the opportunity to understand the world that they inhabited proved to be a powerful draw as well. “Scientists from around the world donated countless hours and resources toward the project,” said Pigati. “For so many of them to come together and reconstruct a world that no longer exists in such incredible detail, well that’s just a dream come true.”  

About the Denver Museum of Nature & Science

 The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is the Rocky Mountain Region’s leading resource for informal science education. Our mission is to be a catalyst and ignite the community’s passion for nature and science. The Museum envisions an empowered community that loves, understands, and protects our natural world. As such, a variety of engaging exhibits, discussions, and activities help Museum visitors celebrate and understand the wonders of Colorado, Earth, and the universe. The Museum is located at 2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO, 80205. To learn more about the Museum, visit dmns.org or call 303-370-6000. Many of the Museum’s educational programs and exhibits are made possible in part by the citizens of the seven-county metro area through the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District. Connect with the Museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

Additional Information

New Volume Documents the Science at the Legendary Snowmastodon Fossil Site in Colorado

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 11:15
Summary: Four years ago, a bulldozer operator turned over some bones during construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado. Scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science were called to the scene and confirmed the bones were those of a juvenile Columbian mammoth, setting off a frenzy of excavation, scientific analysis, and international media attention

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Maura O’Neal ( Phone: 303.370.6407 ); Randall Kremer ( Phone: 202-633-2950 );



DENVER — Four years ago, a bulldozer operator turned over some bones during construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado. Scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science were called to the scene and confirmed the bones were those of a juvenile Columbian mammoth, setting off a frenzy of excavation, scientific analysis, and international media attention. This dramatic and unexpected discovery culminates this month with the publication of the Snowmastodon Project Science Volume in the international journal Quaternary Research.  

Fourteen papers by 47 authors from the United States and abroad collectively represent “a new benchmark for understanding climate change in the American West,” said paleontologist Dr. Ian Miller, Snowmastodon Project co-leader and chair of the Museum’s Earth Sciences Department.

Project co-leader and former DMNS chief curator, Dr. Kirk Johnson, and several scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and academic institutions around the world contributed articles to the journal.  

“Nothing beats pulling fossils out of the ground,” said project scientist Dr. Jeff Pigati of the U.S. Geological Survey, “but the site also lets us see what the Colorado Rockies were like during a period of time that we simply couldn’t reach before the discovery.”  

The Snowmastodon site was an ancient lake that filled with sediment between 140,000 and 55,000 years ago preserving a series of Ice Age fossil ecosystems. Particularly fortuitous is the high-elevation locale, providing first-time documentation of alpine ecosystems during the last interglacial period between about 130,000 and 110,000 years ago. Because scientists were able to collect and study such a wide range of fauna and flora—from tiny specks of pollen to the bones of giant mastodons—the site emerged as a trove of information that Miller said will inspire future research for years to come.  

"This project was unprecedented in its size, speed, and depth of collaboration. The science volume now moves beyond the pure excitement of the discovery to the presentation of its hard science and its implications for understanding the biological and climate history of the Rocky Mountain region," said Johnson, now the Sant Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.  

Papers in the special edition focus on impacts of climate change, then and now. The site’s ecosystems—plants, insects, and animals combined—varied dramatically in response to climate change.

“In other words, turn the climate dial a little and the ecosystems change considerably. We were also surprised to find that certain periods in the record that seem to be cool elsewhere in North America were quite warm in the central Rockies,” said Miller. ”The implication is that alpine ecosystems respond differently to climate change than other, lower elevation ecosystems. These new results have huge implications for predicting present-day climate change in Colorado and beyond.”

Usually fossil sites preserve only snapshots in time, which are then pieced together to understand past time periods. By contrast, the Snowmastodon site captures a nearly continuous 85,000-year time span. As a result, the site provides the best-known record of life and climate at high elevation anywhere in North America.  

During a total of 69 days in 2010 and 2011, the Museum mobilized one of the largest fossil excavation efforts ever, recovering more than 5,000 large bones and 22,000 small bones representing roughly 50 different species. The site is most notable for containing the remains of at least 35 American mastodons, representing both genders as well as a variety of ages, from calves to full-grown adults.  

“We had no idea that the high Rockies were filled with American mastodons during the last interglacial period,” Miller noted.  

While the spectacular array of Ice Age animals initially drew scientists to the site, the opportunity to understand the world that they inhabited proved to be a powerful draw as well. “Scientists from around the world donated countless hours and resources toward the project,” said Pigati. “For so many of them to come together and reconstruct a world that no longer exists in such incredible detail, well that’s just a dream come true.”  

About the Denver Museum of Nature & Science

 The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is the Rocky Mountain Region’s leading resource for informal science education. Our mission is to be a catalyst and ignite the community’s passion for nature and science. The Museum envisions an empowered community that loves, understands, and protects our natural world. As such, a variety of engaging exhibits, discussions, and activities help Museum visitors celebrate and understand the wonders of Colorado, Earth, and the universe. The Museum is located at 2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO, 80205. To learn more about the Museum, visit dmns.org or call 303-370-6000. Many of the Museum’s educational programs and exhibits are made possible in part by the citizens of the seven-county metro area through the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District. Connect with the Museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

Additional Information

Loon Migration Underway, Prompted by Frigid Temperatures

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 13:00
Summary: As freezing air swept into the Upper Midwest this past week, juvenile common loons took a cue from the weather and began their migrations to the warm Gulf of Mexico Follow the Birds Online

Contact Information:

Kevin Kenow ( Phone: 608-781-6278 ); Randy Hines ( Phone: 608-781-6398 ); Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-202-4765 );



As freezing air swept into the Upper Midwest this past week, juvenile common loons took a cue from the weather and began their migrations to the warm Gulf of Mexico. 

By this past Monday, eight young loons, recently tagged by the U.S. Geological Survey and partners, had reached the Gulf of Mexico from the midwestern United States, and eight were en route to southern wintering areas. The scientists captured and radiomarked the juvenile common loons on lakes scattered across Minnesota and Wisconsin during the last two weeks of August 2014 to study the challenges facing these birds during their first two years, when they are most vulnerable.

“Midwest loons are susceptible to avian botulism in the Great Lakes and pollution found in U.S. waters during migration and overwintering,” said Kevin Kenow, USGS lead scientist for the study. “Resource managers need information on the iconic birds’ first critical years to develop effective conservation strategies.” 

Common loons are large, black-and-white, fish-eating waterbirds with haunting calls and are bioindicators, or living gages of ecosystem health, in the Great Lakes states. The survival rate of loons during their first few years of life – about 50 percent over three years – is much lower than that of adults, which have a rate of about 93 percent annually.

“Satellite transmitter and geolocator tag technologies help us learn more about the movements, habitat use and causes of mortality of young common loons, and ultimately about the health of the overall food web,” Kenow said. 

The tracking devices record daily location, temperature, light levels and pressure data used to log the foraging depths of these diving birds.

Previous band recovery data suggested that while some common loons may remain on wintering grounds year-round their first two years, there is the potential for a northward movement up the Atlantic Coast during summers. Watch where the new loons travel this year via the USGS common loon migration website.

For more information on USGS loon studies, please visit the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center website.

VideoUnraveling Mysteries of the Common Loon

Loon Migration Underway, Prompted by Frigid Temperatures

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 13:00
Summary: As freezing air swept into the Upper Midwest this past week, juvenile common loons took a cue from the weather and began their migrations to the warm Gulf of Mexico Follow the Birds Online

Contact Information:

Kevin Kenow ( Phone: 608-781-6278 ); Randy Hines ( Phone: 608-781-6398 ); Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-202-4765 );



As freezing air swept into the Upper Midwest this past week, juvenile common loons took a cue from the weather and began their migrations to the warm Gulf of Mexico. 

By this past Monday, eight young loons, recently tagged by the U.S. Geological Survey and partners, had reached the Gulf of Mexico from the midwestern United States, and eight were en route to southern wintering areas. The scientists captured and radiomarked the juvenile common loons on lakes scattered across Minnesota and Wisconsin during the last two weeks of August 2014 to study the challenges facing these birds during their first two years, when they are most vulnerable.

“Midwest loons are susceptible to avian botulism in the Great Lakes and pollution found in U.S. waters during migration and overwintering,” said Kevin Kenow, USGS lead scientist for the study. “Resource managers need information on the iconic birds’ first critical years to develop effective conservation strategies.” 

Common loons are large, black-and-white, fish-eating waterbirds with haunting calls and are bioindicators, or living gages of ecosystem health, in the Great Lakes states. The survival rate of loons during their first few years of life – about 50 percent over three years – is much lower than that of adults, which have a rate of about 93 percent annually.

“Satellite transmitter and geolocator tag technologies help us learn more about the movements, habitat use and causes of mortality of young common loons, and ultimately about the health of the overall food web,” Kenow said. 

The tracking devices record daily location, temperature, light levels and pressure data used to log the foraging depths of these diving birds.

Previous band recovery data suggested that while some common loons may remain on wintering grounds year-round their first two years, there is the potential for a northward movement up the Atlantic Coast during summers. Watch where the new loons travel this year via the USGS common loon migration website.

For more information on USGS loon studies, please visit the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center website.

VideoUnraveling Mysteries of the Common Loon

"Teddy Bear" Unlikely to Go Extinct

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 09:00
Summary: The bear species nicknamed “teddy” more than a century ago that inspired the iconic stuffed toy still popular today will likely survive at least another century, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study USGS study looks at Louisiana Black Bear Population

Contact Information:

Joseph  Clark ( Phone: 865-974-4790 ); Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-498-5019 );



A threatened Louisiana black bear and her cubs up in a tree. (High resolution image)

The bear species nicknamed “teddy” more than a century ago that inspired the iconic stuffed toy still popular today will likely survive at least another century, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study

The threatened Louisiana black bear, one of 18 subspecies of black bear in North America, has less than a 1 percent chance of going extinct in the next 100 years.  The bear was once found throughout Louisiana, eastern Texas, southern Arkansas and western Mississippi. Habitat loss and overhunting has since reduced and fragmented the population resulting in its listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992.

The species was nicknamed the “teddy bear” in 1902 when President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt famously refused to shoot a tethered bear while on a hunting trip.

To determine the viability of the bear population today, researchers used projections of population growth over time based on capture and radio-telemetry data to estimate the bear’s extinction probability. In some instances, scientists captured and released the bears to obtain the data, while other times they collected DNA extracted from hair samples to identify individual bears. The study also used genetics and capture data to evaluate how frequently individual bears move between the fragmented subpopulations of Louisiana black bear in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Connectivity among subpopulations of a species is important to help avoid genetic problems resulting from too much inbreeding. These findings address goals created in 1995 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for recovery.

“Estimates of a species’ viability can help wildlife managers determine the status of threatened, endangered or at-risk species and guide effective management efforts,” said Joseph Clark, the USGS research ecologist who led the study in collaboration with Jared Laufenberg from the University of Tennessee. “This study will be used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether to pursue removing the bear from the ‘threatened’ species list.”

Researchers collected data with DNA sampling, live capture, winter den visits and monitoring of radio-collared animals from 2002 to 2014. To collect the DNA samples, researchers set up barbed wire fences that bears had to cross to obtain pastry baits. This method, which does not harm the bears, results in the bears leaving their DNA in the form of hair samples on the barbs, which scientists are able to use to identify the individual identities of each bear visiting the site.   

Bears in Louisiana primarily exist in four distinct subpopulations, and data were sufficient for researchers to perform viability analyses on three of them. The probability of these bears not going extinct ranged from 29.5 percent to greater than 99 percent, depending on the subpopulation and the assumptions upon which the models were based.  However, the chances that all of the subpopulations will simultaneously go extinct, based on the most conservative models, were only 0.4 percent. The researchers also found that individual bears were moving among some subpopulations.

“The completion of this project represents many years of collaborative work and we’re excited about the results,” said Maria Davidson, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist program manager.  “The information provided by this project is based on the best available science, enabling us to make management decisions focused on the long term sustainability of the Louisiana black bear.”

Since originally being listed as threatened in 1992, the Louisiana black bear population has grown and the habitat has recovered to the extent that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering “delisting,” or removing the bear from the threatened species list. This population growth is because of state and federal protection of the bears, a reintroduction project and habitat recovery aided by the Federal Conservation Reserve Program and the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program.

This study was completed in cooperation with Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Tennessee and Louisiana State University, among others. The full study is available online.

"Teddy Bear" Unlikely to Go Extinct

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 09:00
Summary: The bear species nicknamed “teddy” more than a century ago that inspired the iconic stuffed toy still popular today will likely survive at least another century, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study USGS study looks at Louisiana Black Bear Population

Contact Information:

Joseph  Clark ( Phone: 865-974-4790 ); Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-498-5019 );



A threatened Louisiana black bear and her cubs up in a tree. (High resolution image)

The bear species nicknamed “teddy” more than a century ago that inspired the iconic stuffed toy still popular today will likely survive at least another century, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study

The threatened Louisiana black bear, one of 18 subspecies of black bear in North America, has less than a 1 percent chance of going extinct in the next 100 years.  The bear was once found throughout Louisiana, eastern Texas, southern Arkansas and western Mississippi. Habitat loss and overhunting has since reduced and fragmented the population resulting in its listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992.

The species was nicknamed the “teddy bear” in 1902 when President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt famously refused to shoot a tethered bear while on a hunting trip.

To determine the viability of the bear population today, researchers used projections of population growth over time based on capture and radio-telemetry data to estimate the bear’s extinction probability. In some instances, scientists captured and released the bears to obtain the data, while other times they collected DNA extracted from hair samples to identify individual bears. The study also used genetics and capture data to evaluate how frequently individual bears move between the fragmented subpopulations of Louisiana black bear in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Connectivity among subpopulations of a species is important to help avoid genetic problems resulting from too much inbreeding. These findings address goals created in 1995 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for recovery.

“Estimates of a species’ viability can help wildlife managers determine the status of threatened, endangered or at-risk species and guide effective management efforts,” said Joseph Clark, the USGS research ecologist who led the study in collaboration with Jared Laufenberg from the University of Tennessee. “This study will be used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether to pursue removing the bear from the ‘threatened’ species list.”

Researchers collected data with DNA sampling, live capture, winter den visits and monitoring of radio-collared animals from 2002 to 2014. To collect the DNA samples, researchers set up barbed wire fences that bears had to cross to obtain pastry baits. This method, which does not harm the bears, results in the bears leaving their DNA in the form of hair samples on the barbs, which scientists are able to use to identify the individual identities of each bear visiting the site.   

Bears in Louisiana primarily exist in four distinct subpopulations, and data were sufficient for researchers to perform viability analyses on three of them. The probability of these bears not going extinct ranged from 29.5 percent to greater than 99 percent, depending on the subpopulation and the assumptions upon which the models were based.  However, the chances that all of the subpopulations will simultaneously go extinct, based on the most conservative models, were only 0.4 percent. The researchers also found that individual bears were moving among some subpopulations.

“The completion of this project represents many years of collaborative work and we’re excited about the results,” said Maria Davidson, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist program manager.  “The information provided by this project is based on the best available science, enabling us to make management decisions focused on the long term sustainability of the Louisiana black bear.”

Since originally being listed as threatened in 1992, the Louisiana black bear population has grown and the habitat has recovered to the extent that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering “delisting,” or removing the bear from the threatened species list. This population growth is because of state and federal protection of the bears, a reintroduction project and habitat recovery aided by the Federal Conservation Reserve Program and the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program.

This study was completed in cooperation with Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Tennessee and Louisiana State University, among others. The full study is available online.

USGS-NASA Award Recognizes Innovations in Earth Observation

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 16:00
Summary: A pioneer in mapping global land cover change and the team behind the United States’ most advanced land surface mapping satellite have both been honored with the 2014 William T. Pecora Award for achievement in Earth remote sensing

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



A pioneer in mapping global land cover change and the team behind the United States’ most advanced land surface mapping satellite have both been honored with the 2014 William T. Pecora Award for achievement in Earth remote sensing. Sponsored by the Department of the Interior's U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA, the annual award was presented on Nov. 18 in Denver at the 19th William T. Pecora Memorial Remote Sensing Symposium. 

Christopher O. Justice, professor and chair of geographical sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park, was honored for advancing the understanding of the Earth by means of remote sensing. The government and industry team that built and now operates Landsat 8, the latest in the Landsat series of satellites, was also acknowledged for their contributions to study of Earth’s land surface and coastal regions. 

Landsat 8, launched as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission in February 2013, provides frequent global medium-resolution data for science and applications. Landsat 8 extends the unprecedented Landsat data record which now covers more than four decades. 

Justice has made numerous scientific contributions to the study of land use and land cover change and the detection and analysis of wildfires, expanding the use of Earth-observing data from NASA’s Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instruments. 

An innovator in the use of global daily polar orbiter satellite data for mapping and monitoring land cover, Justice provided the vision that led to the first global 1-km data Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) dataset. He leads long-term monitoring of the Congo Basin using Landsat data, an effort that provides invaluable information on the state of the forests of central Africa. 

Justice is perhaps best known for his research on wildfires. First using AVHRR data and now MODIS and VIIRS, he successfully developed algorithms for fire detection and burned area estimation. He spearheaded the development of a rapid response system that reveals the location of fires shortly after images are obtained. This system has provided significant practical benefits in many parts of the world and is regularly used in the strategic deployment of fire-fighting assets. 

Justice now leads agricultural monitoring efforts. With colleagues from NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he leads the development of a system for forecasting agricultural production based primarily on MODIS data. He is working on transitioning the system to use VIIRS data to ensure longer-term continuity. 

The Landsat 8 Team is a partnership between USGS  and NASA with strong contributions from industry and the academic community. The Landsat 8 Project Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., oversaw development and launch of the satellite. The USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, managed ground system development and assumed operation of the mission following in-orbit commissioning. 

Landsat 8’s Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) was built at NASA Goddard. Ball Aerospace & Technology Corporation was responsible for the Operational Land Imager (OLI). Orbital Sciences Corporation built the spacecraft, and United Launch Alliance provided the Atlas 2 launch vehicle. The Landsat Science Team of university and government scientists provided scientific and technical input to a wide range of mission activities. 

The Landsat 8 Team met the challenge of continuing and advancing the Landsat legacy of observations. The OLI sensor on Landsat 8 is a substantial technical advancement over the Thematic Mapper sensors flown since 1982 on Landsats 4, 5, and 7. In addition, the TIRS instrument utilizes a two-band thermal infrared sensor to more effectively address atmospheric contamination in the thermal infrared spectrum. Mission performance has exceeded expectations, providing more imagery, higher quality measurements, and new capabilities over previous missions.  

The Pecora Award was established in 1974 to honor the memory of a former USGS director and Interior undersecretary. William T. Pecora was influential in the establishment of the Landsat satellite program, which created a continuous record of Earth's land areas spanning a period of more than 40 years.

 

USGS-NASA Award Recognizes Innovations in Earth Observation

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 16:00
Summary: A pioneer in mapping global land cover change and the team behind the United States’ most advanced land surface mapping satellite have both been honored with the 2014 William T. Pecora Award for achievement in Earth remote sensing

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



A pioneer in mapping global land cover change and the team behind the United States’ most advanced land surface mapping satellite have both been honored with the 2014 William T. Pecora Award for achievement in Earth remote sensing. Sponsored by the Department of the Interior's U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA, the annual award was presented on Nov. 18 in Denver at the 19th William T. Pecora Memorial Remote Sensing Symposium. 

Christopher O. Justice, professor and chair of geographical sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park, was honored for advancing the understanding of the Earth by means of remote sensing. The government and industry team that built and now operates Landsat 8, the latest in the Landsat series of satellites, was also acknowledged for their contributions to study of Earth’s land surface and coastal regions. 

Landsat 8, launched as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission in February 2013, provides frequent global medium-resolution data for science and applications. Landsat 8 extends the unprecedented Landsat data record which now covers more than four decades. 

Justice has made numerous scientific contributions to the study of land use and land cover change and the detection and analysis of wildfires, expanding the use of Earth-observing data from NASA’s Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instruments. 

An innovator in the use of global daily polar orbiter satellite data for mapping and monitoring land cover, Justice provided the vision that led to the first global 1-km data Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) dataset. He leads long-term monitoring of the Congo Basin using Landsat data, an effort that provides invaluable information on the state of the forests of central Africa. 

Justice is perhaps best known for his research on wildfires. First using AVHRR data and now MODIS and VIIRS, he successfully developed algorithms for fire detection and burned area estimation. He spearheaded the development of a rapid response system that reveals the location of fires shortly after images are obtained. This system has provided significant practical benefits in many parts of the world and is regularly used in the strategic deployment of fire-fighting assets. 

Justice now leads agricultural monitoring efforts. With colleagues from NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he leads the development of a system for forecasting agricultural production based primarily on MODIS data. He is working on transitioning the system to use VIIRS data to ensure longer-term continuity. 

The Landsat 8 Team is a partnership between USGS  and NASA with strong contributions from industry and the academic community. The Landsat 8 Project Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., oversaw development and launch of the satellite. The USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, managed ground system development and assumed operation of the mission following in-orbit commissioning. 

Landsat 8’s Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) was built at NASA Goddard. Ball Aerospace & Technology Corporation was responsible for the Operational Land Imager (OLI). Orbital Sciences Corporation built the spacecraft, and United Launch Alliance provided the Atlas 2 launch vehicle. The Landsat Science Team of university and government scientists provided scientific and technical input to a wide range of mission activities. 

The Landsat 8 Team met the challenge of continuing and advancing the Landsat legacy of observations. The OLI sensor on Landsat 8 is a substantial technical advancement over the Thematic Mapper sensors flown since 1982 on Landsats 4, 5, and 7. In addition, the TIRS instrument utilizes a two-band thermal infrared sensor to more effectively address atmospheric contamination in the thermal infrared spectrum. Mission performance has exceeded expectations, providing more imagery, higher quality measurements, and new capabilities over previous missions.  

The Pecora Award was established in 1974 to honor the memory of a former USGS director and Interior undersecretary. William T. Pecora was influential in the establishment of the Landsat satellite program, which created a continuous record of Earth's land areas spanning a period of more than 40 years.

 

Southern Beaufort Sea Polar Bear Population Declined in the 2000s

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 12:00
Summary: In a new polar bear study published today, scientists from the United States and Canada found that during the first decade of the 21st century, the number of polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea experienced a sharp decline of approximately 40 percent

Contact Information:

Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 ); Yvette  Gillies ( Phone: 907-786-7039 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In a new polar bear study published today, scientists from the United States and Canada found that during the first decade of the 21st century, the number of polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea experienced a sharp decline of approximately 40 percent.  

The scientists, led by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey, found that survival of adult bears and cubs was especially low from 2004 to 2006, when most of the decline occurred. 

“Of the 80 cubs observed in Alaska from 2004 to 2007, only 2 are known to have survived,” said Jeff Bromaghin, USGS research statistician and lead author of the study. 

Survival of adults and cubs began to improve in 2007 and the population stabilized at approximately 900 bears in 2010, the last year of the study. However, the survival of juvenile bears declined throughout the 10-year study period (2001-2010), suggesting that conditions remained unfavorable for young bears newly separated from their mothers.

Scientists suspect that limited access to seals during both summer and winter contributed to low survival during this period. Although some bears in this population now come onshore during the autumn open water period, most stay with the sea ice as it retreats north into the Arctic Basin and far from shore where few seals are thought to occur. Similarly, the thinning and increasingly mobile winter ice is susceptible to breaking up and rafting, which can create rough and jumbled ice conditions that may make it harder for polar bears to capture seals. However, other potential causes, such as low seal abundance, could not be ruled out. 

“The low survival may have been caused by a combination of factors that could be difficult to unravel,” said Bromaghin, “and why survival improved at the end of the study is unknown. Research and monitoring to better understand the factors influencing this population continue.”

The Polar Bear Specialists’ Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature will use the new estimate for the southern Beaufort Sea population to track historic (within the last 25 years) and current (within the last 12 years) trends in the 19 populations worldwide. Currently, four populations, including the southern Beaufort Sea population, are considered to be declining, five are stable, one is increasing, with the remainder considered to be data deficient.

Collaborators with USGS in the study included Environment Canada, University of Alberta, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Polar Bears International, and Western Ecosystems Technology.

The polar bear was listed as globally threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008 due to concerns about the effects of sea ice loss on their populations. 

The paper “Polar bear population dynamics in the southern Beaufort Sea during a period of sea ice decline” was published today in early online view in the journal Ecological Applications.

 

For further information:

Learn more about USGS Quantitative Ecology program that originated this study, then visit the USGS Polar Bear program website. The USGS conducts this work under its Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative

Summary of polar bear population status per 2013 from the Polar Bear Specialists Group.

Multimedia

Find more polar bear photos in the USGS multimedia gallery.

Check out our polar bear POV video in the USGS multimedia gallery. 

Southern Beaufort Sea Polar Bear Population Declined in the 2000s

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 12:00
Summary: In a new polar bear study published today, scientists from the United States and Canada found that during the first decade of the 21st century, the number of polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea experienced a sharp decline of approximately 40 percent

Contact Information:

Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 ); Yvette  Gillies ( Phone: 907-786-7039 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In a new polar bear study published today, scientists from the United States and Canada found that during the first decade of the 21st century, the number of polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea experienced a sharp decline of approximately 40 percent.  

The scientists, led by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey, found that survival of adult bears and cubs was especially low from 2004 to 2006, when most of the decline occurred. 

“Of the 80 cubs observed in Alaska from 2004 to 2007, only 2 are known to have survived,” said Jeff Bromaghin, USGS research statistician and lead author of the study. 

Survival of adults and cubs began to improve in 2007 and the population stabilized at approximately 900 bears in 2010, the last year of the study. However, the survival of juvenile bears declined throughout the 10-year study period (2001-2010), suggesting that conditions remained unfavorable for young bears newly separated from their mothers.

Scientists suspect that limited access to seals during both summer and winter contributed to low survival during this period. Although some bears in this population now come onshore during the autumn open water period, most stay with the sea ice as it retreats north into the Arctic Basin and far from shore where few seals are thought to occur. Similarly, the thinning and increasingly mobile winter ice is susceptible to breaking up and rafting, which can create rough and jumbled ice conditions that may make it harder for polar bears to capture seals. However, other potential causes, such as low seal abundance, could not be ruled out. 

“The low survival may have been caused by a combination of factors that could be difficult to unravel,” said Bromaghin, “and why survival improved at the end of the study is unknown. Research and monitoring to better understand the factors influencing this population continue.”

The Polar Bear Specialists’ Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature will use the new estimate for the southern Beaufort Sea population to track historic (within the last 25 years) and current (within the last 12 years) trends in the 19 populations worldwide. Currently, four populations, including the southern Beaufort Sea population, are considered to be declining, five are stable, one is increasing, with the remainder considered to be data deficient.

Collaborators with USGS in the study included Environment Canada, University of Alberta, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Polar Bears International, and Western Ecosystems Technology.

The polar bear was listed as globally threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008 due to concerns about the effects of sea ice loss on their populations. 

The paper “Polar bear population dynamics in the southern Beaufort Sea during a period of sea ice decline” was published today in early online view in the journal Ecological Applications.

 

For further information:

Learn more about USGS Quantitative Ecology program that originated this study, then visit the USGS Polar Bear program website. The USGS conducts this work under its Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative

Summary of polar bear population status per 2013 from the Polar Bear Specialists Group.

Multimedia

Find more polar bear photos in the USGS multimedia gallery.

Check out our polar bear POV video in the USGS multimedia gallery. 

USGS Assesses Current Groundwater-Quality Conditions in the Williston Basin Oil Production Area

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 10:00
Summary: Energy development in the Williston Basin oil production area of Montana and North Dakota, which includes the Bakken and Three Forks Formations, has not affected shallow groundwater quality, according to a recently published study in the journal Groundwater

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Rod  Caldwell ( Phone: 406-457-5933 ); Joel Galloway ( Phone: 701-250-7402 );



USGS scientist prepares to sample a domestic well in the Bakken Formation oil and gas production area of North Dakota. (High resolution image)

Energy development in the Williston Basin oil production area of Montana and North Dakota, which includes the Bakken and Three Forks Formations, has not affected shallow groundwater quality, according to a recently published study in the journal Groundwater. The paper is based on water samples collected by U.S. Geological Survey scientists from 30 randomly distributed, non-federal domestic wells screened in the upper Fort Union Formation. 

The study compared concentrations of several chemicals to health-based drinking-water standards, analyzed correlations between concentrations and oil and gas well locations and evaluated methane for indications of deep production-zone gases. 

“These results are good news for water users, and the data provide a valuable baseline against which future water-quality data can be compared,” said Peter McMahon, a USGS hydrologist and lead author of the study. “However, it is important to consider these results in the context of groundwater age.” 

Most of the sampled water was more than 1,000 years old based on carbon-14 dating and predates oil and gas development in the study area. Results suggest that shallower wells screened at the water table would be better suited for detecting contamination associated with recent surface spills than the domestic wells sampled by this study. 

Old groundwater could be directly contaminated by recent subsurface leaks from improperly cemented oil and gas wells, but groundwater velocities calculated from carbon-14 ages indicated that the contaminants, if present in groundwater, would not have moved far from their source. 

“The groundwater age results indicate that a long-term commitment to monitoring is needed to assess the effects of energy development on groundwater quality in the Williston Basin production area,” said McMahon. 

The study was the first comprehensive regional assessment of shallow groundwater quality and age in the Williston Basin production area. Inclusion of groundwater-age measurements in assessing the effects of energy development on groundwater quality is a new approach that provides valuable context for water-quality data and can lead to more effective monitoring programs.

This report is a product of the USGS Groundwater Resources Program that provides scientific information and develops interdisciplinary understanding necessary to assess and quantify the availability of the nation’s groundwater resources. Program priorities include conducting regional and national overviews, scientific assessments of critical groundwater issues, field methods and model development and improved access to fundamental groundwater data.

USGS Assesses Current Groundwater-Quality Conditions in the Williston Basin Oil Production Area

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 10:00
Summary: Energy development in the Williston Basin oil production area of Montana and North Dakota, which includes the Bakken and Three Forks Formations, has not affected shallow groundwater quality, according to a recently published study in the journal Groundwater

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Rod  Caldwell ( Phone: 406-457-5933 ); Joel Galloway ( Phone: 701-250-7402 );



USGS scientist prepares to sample a domestic well in the Bakken Formation oil and gas production area of North Dakota. (High resolution image)

Energy development in the Williston Basin oil production area of Montana and North Dakota, which includes the Bakken and Three Forks Formations, has not affected shallow groundwater quality, according to a recently published study in the journal Groundwater. The paper is based on water samples collected by U.S. Geological Survey scientists from 30 randomly distributed, non-federal domestic wells screened in the upper Fort Union Formation. 

The study compared concentrations of several chemicals to health-based drinking-water standards, analyzed correlations between concentrations and oil and gas well locations and evaluated methane for indications of deep production-zone gases. 

“These results are good news for water users, and the data provide a valuable baseline against which future water-quality data can be compared,” said Peter McMahon, a USGS hydrologist and lead author of the study. “However, it is important to consider these results in the context of groundwater age.” 

Most of the sampled water was more than 1,000 years old based on carbon-14 dating and predates oil and gas development in the study area. Results suggest that shallower wells screened at the water table would be better suited for detecting contamination associated with recent surface spills than the domestic wells sampled by this study. 

Old groundwater could be directly contaminated by recent subsurface leaks from improperly cemented oil and gas wells, but groundwater velocities calculated from carbon-14 ages indicated that the contaminants, if present in groundwater, would not have moved far from their source. 

“The groundwater age results indicate that a long-term commitment to monitoring is needed to assess the effects of energy development on groundwater quality in the Williston Basin production area,” said McMahon. 

The study was the first comprehensive regional assessment of shallow groundwater quality and age in the Williston Basin production area. Inclusion of groundwater-age measurements in assessing the effects of energy development on groundwater quality is a new approach that provides valuable context for water-quality data and can lead to more effective monitoring programs.

This report is a product of the USGS Groundwater Resources Program that provides scientific information and develops interdisciplinary understanding necessary to assess and quantify the availability of the nation’s groundwater resources. Program priorities include conducting regional and national overviews, scientific assessments of critical groundwater issues, field methods and model development and improved access to fundamental groundwater data.

Who Will Come to Your Bird Feeder in 2075?

Wed, 11/05/2014 - 14:06
Summary: The distribution of birds in the United States today will probably look very different in 60 years as a result of climate, land use and land cover changes.

Contact Information:

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



The distribution of birds in the United States today will probably look very different in 60 years as a result of climate, land use and land cover changes.

A new U.S. Geological Survey study predicts where 50 bird species will breed, feed and live in the conterminous U.S. by 2075. While some types of birds, like the Baird’s sparrow, will likely lose a significant amount of their current U.S. range, other ranges could nearly double. Human activity will drive many of these shifts. The study was published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

"Habitat loss is a strong predictor of bird extinction at local and regional scales," said Terry Sohl, a USGS scientist and the author of the report. "Shifts in species’ ranges over the next several decades will be more dramatic for some bird species than others."      

Climate change will cause average temperatures to change by three degrees to seven degrees Fahrenheit by 2075, depending upon scenario and location within the conterminous U.S. Temperature increases will drive breeding ranges for many species to the north. Precipitation will increase in some regions and decline in others, resulting in substantial impacts on local and regional habitat.

Habitats for birds currently breeding in the far southern U.S., such as the desert-dwelling Gambel’s quail and cactus wren, will expand greatly by 2075 in the conterminous U.S. as a warming climate moves the overall range to the north. The chestnut-collared longspur, sharp-tailed grouse and gray partridge could all lose over 25 percent of their suitable breeding range in the northern U.S. as climate becomes more suitable in Canada for these species. The Baird’s sparrow may lose almost all of its current U.S. range.

Landscape changes resulting largely from human activity, including land use and land cover changes, will also significantly affect future U.S. bird distributions. The effects of landscape change will be more scattered, with very high loss of habitat at local and regional scales. 

"Changing landscape patterns such as deforestation and urban growth are likely to have at least as large of an impact on future bird ranges as climate change for many species," Sohl said.

The new study used climate and landscape data to create and compare U.S. distribution maps of 50 bird species in 2001 and 2075. The maps for each species are available online.

The species that will either gain or lose more than 20 percent of their conterminous U.S. ranges as compared to 2001 are:

  • Gambel’s quail: 61.8 percent gain
  • Cactus wren: 54.1 percent gain
  • Scissor-tailed flycatcher: 46.4 percent gain
  • Gray vireo: 44.9 percent gain
  • Painted bunting: 38.5 percent gain
  • Anna’s hummingbird: 27.2 percent gain
  • Black-capped chickadee: 21 percent loss
  • Ferruginous hawk: 21.2 percent loss
  • Sora: 22.8 percent loss
  • Northern harrier: 24.7 percent loss
  • Bobolink: 24.9 percent loss
  • Short-eared owl: 26.2 percent loss
  • Vesper sparrow: 26.4 percent loss
  • Savannah sparrow: 27.2 percent loss
  • Sedge wren: 29 percent loss
  • Gray partridge: 35.6 percent loss
  • Sharp-tailed grouse: 44.8 percent loss
  • Chestnut-collared longspur: 54.1 percent loss
  • Baird’s sparrow: 90.8 percent loss

For more information on species distribution modeling, please visit the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center website.

Who Will Come to Your Bird Feeder in 2075?

Wed, 11/05/2014 - 14:06
Summary: The distribution of birds in the United States today will probably look very different in 60 years as a result of climate, land use and land cover changes.

Contact Information:

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



The distribution of birds in the United States today will probably look very different in 60 years as a result of climate, land use and land cover changes.

A new U.S. Geological Survey study predicts where 50 bird species will breed, feed and live in the conterminous U.S. by 2075. While some types of birds, like the Baird’s sparrow, will likely lose a significant amount of their current U.S. range, other ranges could nearly double. Human activity will drive many of these shifts. The study was published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

"Habitat loss is a strong predictor of bird extinction at local and regional scales," said Terry Sohl, a USGS scientist and the author of the report. "Shifts in species’ ranges over the next several decades will be more dramatic for some bird species than others."      

Climate change will cause average temperatures to change by three degrees to seven degrees Fahrenheit by 2075, depending upon scenario and location within the conterminous U.S. Temperature increases will drive breeding ranges for many species to the north. Precipitation will increase in some regions and decline in others, resulting in substantial impacts on local and regional habitat.

Habitats for birds currently breeding in the far southern U.S., such as the desert-dwelling Gambel’s quail and cactus wren, will expand greatly by 2075 in the conterminous U.S. as a warming climate moves the overall range to the north. The chestnut-collared longspur, sharp-tailed grouse and gray partridge could all lose over 25 percent of their suitable breeding range in the northern U.S. as climate becomes more suitable in Canada for these species. The Baird’s sparrow may lose almost all of its current U.S. range.

Landscape changes resulting largely from human activity, including land use and land cover changes, will also significantly affect future U.S. bird distributions. The effects of landscape change will be more scattered, with very high loss of habitat at local and regional scales. 

"Changing landscape patterns such as deforestation and urban growth are likely to have at least as large of an impact on future bird ranges as climate change for many species," Sohl said.

The new study used climate and landscape data to create and compare U.S. distribution maps of 50 bird species in 2001 and 2075. The maps for each species are available online.

The species that will either gain or lose more than 20 percent of their conterminous U.S. ranges as compared to 2001 are:

  • Gambel’s quail: 61.8 percent gain
  • Cactus wren: 54.1 percent gain
  • Scissor-tailed flycatcher: 46.4 percent gain
  • Gray vireo: 44.9 percent gain
  • Painted bunting: 38.5 percent gain
  • Anna’s hummingbird: 27.2 percent gain
  • Black-capped chickadee: 21 percent loss
  • Ferruginous hawk: 21.2 percent loss
  • Sora: 22.8 percent loss
  • Northern harrier: 24.7 percent loss
  • Bobolink: 24.9 percent loss
  • Short-eared owl: 26.2 percent loss
  • Vesper sparrow: 26.4 percent loss
  • Savannah sparrow: 27.2 percent loss
  • Sedge wren: 29 percent loss
  • Gray partridge: 35.6 percent loss
  • Sharp-tailed grouse: 44.8 percent loss
  • Chestnut-collared longspur: 54.1 percent loss
  • Baird’s sparrow: 90.8 percent loss

For more information on species distribution modeling, please visit the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center website.