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Fire and Ice: Gauging the Effects of Wildfire on Alaskan Permafrost

Mon, 03/14/2016 - 08:51
Summary: USGS scientists, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Minnesota and University of Alaska Fairbanks, have mapped belowground permafrost in areas of Alaska that have been affected by wildfire, years-to-decades after the fires occurred.  

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Burke  Minsley ( Phone: 303-236-5718 );



USGS scientists, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Minnesota and University of Alaska Fairbanks, have mapped belowground permafrost in areas of Alaska that have been affected by wildfire, years-to-decades after the fires occurred.  

Scientists deploy geophysical equipment in the Nome Creek, Alaska area to assess the effect of wildfire on permafrost. Small electrical signals are injected into the ground through metal stakes connected to the orange cable in the foreground. The measured response is used to detect belowground permafrost conditions. USGS photo, Burke Minsley, 2014.

“There has been global concern for many years about the effects of the warming climate on high-latitude permafrost and its vast stores of organic carbon," said Virginia Burkett, USGS Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change. “When permafrost thaws, carbon currently locked up in the frozen ground is released to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide or methane.  Wildfires amplify carbon emissions from declining permafrost in ways we are just now beginning to understand." 

Exceptionally warm and dry weather caused hundreds of wildfires in Alaska and Canada in 2015.  Millions of acres of land were burned, causing immediate risk and disturbance to local residents and ecosystems, with plumes of smoke that carried all the way to the lower 48 states. 

During two years of extensive field surveys in interior Alaska, the research team combined field observations with geophysical measurements that crossed the boundaries of historical and recent fires to analyze the impacts of wildfire on the underlying permafrost. The impact of fire on permafrost can be highly variable across different landscapes.

“Data from the geophysical surveys give us a detailed picture of how permafrost is distributed in the subsurface. This new information helps improve our understanding of how permafrost has changed in response to fire,” said Burke Minsley, a USGS geophysicist and lead author of the study. 

“The geophysical techniques we used can be compared to medical imaging that probes the human body without surgery,” Minsley continued. “We can ‘see’ permafrost conditions underground without expensive and disruptive drilling. Data about wildfires and permafrost conditions can be combined with satellite remote sensing observations to help extend interpretations over much larger areas across the state.” 

Scientists have long known that severe fires can remove the layer of organic material at the ground surface that serves to insulate permafrost and maintain frozen conditions.  This study documented locations where permafrost appears to be resilient to disturbance from fire, areas where warm permafrost conditions exist that may be vulnerable to future change, areas where permafrost has thawed, and one location where permafrost appears to be recovering after fire. More information is needed to quantify fire impacts on permafrost in order to assess future vulnerabilities. 

The research article was recently published online in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface , a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Learn more

Recent USGS press releases on permafrost:
USGS Projects Large Loss of Alaska Permafrost by 2100  (11/30/15)
Arctic Tundra Fire Causes Widespread Permafrost Landscape Changes (11/12/15)
Ancient Permafrost Quickly Transforms to Carbon Dioxide upon Thaw (10/26/15)

USGS Assesses Baseline Conditions Prior to Uranium Mining near Grand Canyon National Park

Thu, 03/03/2016 - 14:00
Summary: Scientists have collected and analyzed 84 environmental samples to establish baseline data prior to any active uranium mining activities at the Canyon Uranium Mine, located south of Grand Canyon National Park.  This baseline information will play an important role in assessing if contaminants escape from the mine site and how they would move through the environment once mining operations begin.

Contact Information:

Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 ); Mike Focazio ( Phone: 703-648-6808 );



Scientists have collected and analyzed 84 environmental samples to establish baseline data prior to any active uranium mining activities at the Canyon Uranium Mine, located south of Grand Canyon National Park.  This baseline information will play an important role in assessing if contaminants escape from the mine site and how they would move through the environment once mining operations begin.

Canyon Mine is currently not producing any uranium ore. The mine is located within the public lands acreage in northern Arizona that the Department of the Interior withdrew in 2012 from consideration for new uranium mining claims for 20 years. However, Canyon Mine can still produce uranium ore, because it is one of four pre-existing mines that were permitted before the 2012 decision.

“A key factor in Interior’s 2012 decision was the limited amount of scientific data available to assess potential uranium extraction effects on the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas,” said USGS director Suzette Kimball. “Fortunately, the USGS has expertise across the country in collecting baseline data and analyzing samples for water and sediment quality.”

USGS scientists have worked with the mine owners to collect samples for the baseline data study.

“Getting into the Canyon Mine area before any ore is extracted has provided an excellent opportunity to get high-quality baseline data,” said USGS scientist Katie Walton-Day, who leads the research team on this project. “That data are necessary to quantitatively assess off-site migration, if any, of mine-related contaminants resulting from future ore extraction activities at the Canyon Mine.”

Baseline data from the study includes analysis of 33 contaminants in the 84 samples, including uranium, arsenic, molybdenum and vanadium. The following chart provides some of the results:

Chemical constituent

   Inside mine perimeter (n = 3)

         Low         Mean        High

 Outside mine perimeter (n = 72)

       Low         Mean          High

Uranium

          3.3            5.6            9.9

        1.4            2.0              6.2

Arsenic

        23             35             58

        7.1          10               18

Molybdenum

          1.4            2.1            3.2

         0.75         1.1              2.4

Vanadium

        43             52             57

       29             45              59

 

In addition to establishing the baseline in soils and stream sediments around the mine site, USGS scientists are studying the plant and animal life in the area to determine which species to monitor once mining begins.

“Biologists are looking at what types of species live here, how many of each species there are, and even what levels of contaminants are already in their tissues,” said USGS scientist David Naftz, lead author of the study. “When combined with the soil and sediment samples, we’ll have a really clear snapshot of what conditions are like here before any uranium ore is extracted.”

The results of the study were published this week in the journal Geoderma Regional. More information about the study can be found here. The approach and baseline data are part of a long-term comprehensive study designed by USGS to establish radiological and chemical baselines and environmental pathways of exposure within and surrounding the Canyon Uranium Mine, in northern Arizona prior to ore extraction.

The USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program and Environmental Health Mission Area provide objective scientific information on environmental contamination to improve characterization and management of contaminated sites, to protect human and environmental health, and to reduce potential future contamination problems.

Snake Fungal Disease Found in Louisiana

Tue, 03/01/2016 - 21:36
Summary: Snake fungal disease, or SFD, a disease causing high mortality rates in some species of snakes, has been found in Louisiana for the first time, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey scientists. SFD now has been confirmed in at least 16 states in the Eastern and Midwestern United States. Disease now confirmed in at least 16 states

Contact Information:

Brad  Glorioso ( Phone: 337-266-8836 ); Gabrielle  Bodin ( Phone: 337-266-8655 );



Snake fungal disease, or SFD, a disease causing high mortality rates in some species of snakes, has been found in Louisiana for the first time, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey scientists. SFD now has been confirmed in at least 16 states in the Eastern and Midwestern United States.

Wild snakes play important roles in ecosystems as both predator and prey. They provide direct benefits to humans such as consuming crop-destroying pests. Snakes are efficient predators upon various rodents, which may damage property, ruin crops and spread disease. In addition, snake venom research has provided several medicines that are used to halt heart attacks and prevent blood clots and continues to show promise in other areas of medicine.

“Snakes may not be everyone’s favorite animal, but they are undeniably important in a well-balanced ecosystem,” said USGS Ecologist Brad “Bones” Glorioso, lead author of the study. “They deserve our respect and understanding.”

SFD is characterized by scabs or crusty scales, nodules below the skin, cloudy eyes, abnormal molting, and areas of thickened skin. Snakes infected with SFD, besides being lethargic and lacking an appetite, will attempt to bask in the sun to raise their body temperatures despite unsuitable conditions. This behavior, in addition to the fact that infected snakes are often in poor body condition, makes them more vulnerable to predators.

“SFD is an emerging threat to wild snake populations particularly in the eastern United States,” Glorioso added. “We don’t know yet how the disease affects various species, but in at least one species, an estimated 80 to 90 percent of infected snakes die from the disease.”

In Louisiana, the first confirmed case of the disease was in a juvenile snake from the Cypress Island Preserve near Lafayette. It is one of the few documented cases in the US of the disease in a juvenile snake.

“Finding the disease in a juvenile snake is of particular concern. If younger snakes die from the disease before reaching reproductive age, it could have devastating effects on snake populations,” said Glorioso.

Since completing the initial study, the researchers have confirmed the presence of the disease in snakes from other locations in the state.

In the last two decades, fungal and fungal-like diseases, including chytridiomycosis in amphibians, white-nose syndrome in bats, and colony collapse disorder in bees, have caused some of the most severe die-offs and extinctions ever observed in wild species.

USGS scientists recently identified the specific fungus responsible for causing snake fungal disease.

The disease was implicated in recent die-offs and declines in populations of two protected species of pit viper in the Midwest and Northeast. In Midwest populations of the massasauga, a candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act, infected snakes have an estimated 80 percent to 90 percent mortality rate. Mortality rates of infected timber rattlesnakes in the Northeast are estimated between 30 percent and 70 percent.

To date, the disease has been confirmed in at least 14 snake species including the northern water snake; racer; rat snake; timber rattlesnake; massasauga; pygmy rattlesnake; milk snake; plains garter snake; mud snake and southern water snake. It is believed to be more widespread than is currently documented as snakes showing signs of infection have been reported in other states and in other species.

The authors have begun a more detailed capture-mark-recapture study on snakes at Palmetto Island State Park that includes taking swabs of all snakes, including those that appear healthy, to be tested for the presence of the fungus that causes SFD. This protocol will allow them to model survival probability based on whether the snake was positive or negative for the fungus, and to determine population trends.

The study, “First Documented Case of Snake Fungal Disease in a Free-ranging Wild Snake in Louisiana,” was published in Southeastern Naturalist.

 

A juvenile Broad-banded Watersnake that tested positive for snake fungal disease (SFD) exhibiting ulceration of the skin on the head from St. Martin Parish, Louisiana. SFD has proven lethal in many snakes, and the disease is recognized as an emerging threat to wild snake populations.

Deadly Amphibian Fungus Abroad Threatens Certain U.S. Regions

Mon, 02/22/2016 - 12:00
Summary: An unknown hybrid species of salamander captured in Olympic National Park, Washington. The eft stage of a red-spotted newt in Walker County, Georgia (Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area) The areas of the United States that are most at risk of a potentially invasive salamander fungus are the Pacific coast, the southern Appalachian Mountains and the mid-Atlantic regions, according to a recently published U.S. Geological Survey report.

Contact Information:

Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-202-4765 ); Gail Moede Rogall ( Phone: 608-270-2438 );



An unknown hybrid species of salamander captured in Olympic National Park, Washington. The eft stage of a red-spotted newt in Walker County, Georgia (Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area)

The areas of the United States that are most at risk of a potentially invasive salamander fungus are the Pacific coast, the southern Appalachian Mountains and the mid-Atlantic regions, according to a recently published U.S. Geological Survey report.

These findings can help managers protect already declining amphibians in the U.S. from the Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, or Bsal, fungus. Bsal is decimating wild salamander populations in Europe and could emerge in the U.S. through the captive amphibian trade. The new USGS study identifies areas of the U.S. with high likelihoods of two risks: Bsal introduction and severe consequences for local salamanders.

“The eastern U.S. has the highest diversity of salamanders in the world, and the introduction of this new pathogen is likely to be devastating,” said Katherine Richgels, a USGS researcher and the lead author of the study. “Our findings can help with early Bsal detections by highlighting high-risk areas.”

Scientists developed a county-specific Bsal risk assessment for the U.S. by analyzing characteristics of Bsal ecology, such as optimal temperatures for fungal growth, and data on amphibian imports, pet trade establishments and the regional diversity of salamander species. They found that if Bsal enters the country:

  • The total risk of Bsal to salamanders is highest throughout the eastern U.S., particularly the mid-Atlantic states of New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.
  • The Pacific coast and Appalachian Mountains are likely to have significant population declines due to high concentrations of diverse salamander species and mild climates that are well suited to Bsal growth.

“Amphibians are the most endangered vertebrates in the world,” Richgels said. “Disease risk assessments like ours can help managers prevent and mitigate losses of vulnerable U.S. salamanders.”  

Bsal was first identified in 2013 as the cause of mass wild salamander die-offs in the Netherlands and Belgium. Captive salamander die-offs due to Bsal have occurred in the United Kingdom and Germany. Scientists believe Bsal originated in Asia and spread to wild European populations through the import and export of salamanders.

Bsal represents one of the most significant disease threats to U.S. wildlife since the emergence of white-nose syndrome, which has devastated hibernating bat populations in the eastern U.S.,” said Anne Kinsinger, Associate Director of Ecosystems for the USGS.

The USGS risk assessment informed a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service interim rule prohibiting the importation and interstate transport of certain salamander species. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center is leading early detection surveillance for the potential introduction of Bsal in the U.S. Early detection would allow for rapid management actions to prevent and control the spread of the fungus should it be found.

Among the hundreds of invasive species already established in the U.S. is the microscopic chytrid fungus that has devastated amphibian populations. On February 18, the Department of the Interior released an interdepartmental report. The report proposes to stop the introduction and spread of invasive species through a coordinated set of actions to find and eradicate potential invasive species before they spread and cause harm.

For more information on emerging wildlife diseases, please visit the USGS National Wildlife Health Center website

A three-lined salamander (Eurycea guttolineata) discovered in Prince William Forest Park, VA. Aneides aeneus (Green salamander) Howards Waterfall Cave, Southeastern Cave Conservancy Preserve, Dade County, Georgia 1. This black-bellied salamander (Desmognathus quadramaculatus) was found in the Citico Creek Wilderness, Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee.

Algal Toxins Detected in One-Third of Streams Assessed in Southeastern United States

Wed, 02/17/2016 - 11:00
Summary: USGS scientists have detected toxins known as microcystins produced by various forms of algae in 39 percent of the small streams assessed throughout the southeastern United States. Their recent study looked at 75 streams in portions of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

Contact Information:

Keith Loftin ( Phone: 785-832-3543 ); Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 );



USGS scientists have detected toxins known as microcystins produced by various forms of algae in 39 percent of the small streams assessed throughout the southeastern United States. Their recent study looked at 75 streams in portions of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

“This is the first systematic stream survey of algal toxins in the southeastern United States,” said Keith Loftin, the USGS research chemist who led the study. “It’s important, because it provides a better understanding of the occurrence of these microcystins in aquatic ecosystems with flowing waters.”

Microcystins are a well-known public health concern. Public health practitioners and medical researchers have observed a range of symptoms in humans after exposure to microcystins.  Symptoms can include nausea, dermatitis and, in severe cases, liver failure.  Toxicity issues have been reported for humans, companion animals, livestock and wildlife. 

Although the maximum microcystin concentration measured in this study (3.2 µg/L) did not exceed World Health Organization moderate risk thresholds (10 µg/L) in the streams sampled, further research is needed to understand the potential effects on water quality and related environmental health concerns in downstream aquatic ecosystems, lakes and drinking water reservoirs.   

Previous research indicated that cyanobacteria, a form of algae capable of producing microcystins, were found in 74 percent of the streams assessed throughout the southeastern United States. However, that research did not include the study of microcystins.

This is the first of several regional assessments of algal toxins, which will provide context for the design of future environmental health studies. These studies will investigate land-use and other factors that may influence or create new environmental pathways of exposures to cyanobacteria and associated toxins.  Ongoing work by the USGS in the Pacific Northwest and planned work in the northeastern United States and California will expand our understanding of cyanobacteria and toxins in a wider variety of aquatic ecosystems. 

More information about this study can be found here. Support for this work was provided by the USGS’ Toxic Substances Hydrology Program and the National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA).

The Fate of Sediment When Freshwater Meets Saltwater

Wed, 02/17/2016 - 11:00
Summary: Two recent USGS investigations have measured sedimentation rates along the barely perceptible slope of rivers as they empty into estuaries. The findings of these studies have important implications for the restoration of estuaries — for example, the Chesapeake Bay — and their resilience in the face of sea level rise. 

Contact Information:

Greg Noe ( Phone: 703-648-5826 ); Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



Two recent USGS investigations have measured sedimentation rates along the barely perceptible slope of rivers as they empty into estuaries. The findings of these studies have important implications for the restoration of estuaries — for example, the Chesapeake Bay — and their resilience in the face of sea level rise. 

The studies compared the sedimentation rates found in upriver tidal freshwater swamps (located at the furthest inland reach of tides) to the rate found in brackish water marshes downstream at the lowest reaches of the rivers. 

Areas like this tidal freshwater swamp, along the Pocomoke River in Maryland, provide important ecosystem services including improving water quality by trapping watershed sediment before it reaches the Chesapeake Bay. However, a sediment shadow along tidal rivers may limit their resilience to the impacts of sea level rise. Photo: Scott Ensign, USGS.

“Sediment trapping in tidal freshwater wetlands is critical for protecting the water quality of estuaries and enhancing the resilience of those wetlands to sea level rise,” said Scott Phillips, USGS science coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay. “These wetlands help reduce nutrients and contaminants from reaching the Bay and also provide critical habitat for waterfowl.” 

A study by Ensign et al demonstrated sediment transport bottlenecks in tidal rivers of Maryland. The bottleneck occurs where watershed sediment is trapped by tidal freshwater swamps at the head-of-tide and where estuarine sediment transported upriver by tidal action is trapped by brackish wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay. 

This process leaves minimal sediment availability to tidal freshwater wetlands just below the head-of-tide, producing a “sediment shadow” that reduces the resilience of wetlands to the impacts of sea level rise. The shadow of reduced sediment accumulation also means that Atlantic Coastal Plain watersheds have very little of their watershed sediment delivered to estuaries and the coastal zone. 

Research by Noe et al found a difference in the basic chemistry of sediment deposited in tidal freshwater swamps compared to brackish wetlands in South Carolina and Georgia, a determination that further supports the conclusion that watershed sediment is trapped out by tidal freshwater wetlands while estuarine sediment is delivered upstream to brackish wetlands. 

Moreover, the Noe study found, sediment accumulation rates have changed over time. Historically, even more sediment was trapped by the upriver tidal freshwater wetlands. The change is likely due to greater availability in the past of “legacy” sediment from post-colonial land use and soil erosion. Modern sediment trapping is greatest overall in downriver brackish wetlands, likely due to sea level rise that has moved the estuarine turbidity maximum upstream. 

Together these studies, along with others, show that tidal freshwater wetlands downstream of the head-of-tide have the lowest sediment accumulation rates along river-to-estuarine gradients. Consequently, these areas may have the least resilience to increased rates of sea level rise. In general, sediment trapping helps tidal wetlands increase in elevation to keep pace with rising sea levels. The effect of excessive saltwater exposure on tidal freshwater swamps is easily seen in places where tree death has produced spindly “ghost forests” that eventually convert into brackish marshes. 

The sediment shadow also means that little of the watershed sediment and associated nutrient loads in lowland coastal rivers actually reaches estuaries. For example, in the smaller rivers that empty into the Chesapeake Bay (characterized by extensive tidal freshwater wetlands in contrast to minimal tidal freshwater wetlands found in large embayed tributaries), a large portion of the watershed sediment load (and associated phosphorus and nitrogen) is removed by tidal wetlands prior to reaching the bay. 

These new insights about the complexity of sediment, carbon, and nutrient transport from watersheds to estuaries can help water quality managers to more accurately forecast the effects of watershed changes on estuarine water quality and improve adaptive management. 

Learn more 

President's 2017 Budget Proposes $1.2 Billion for the USGS

Tue, 02/09/2016 - 14:00
Summary: WASHINGTON—The President’s fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget request for the U.S. Geological Survey reflects the USGS's vital role in addressing some of the most pressing challenges of the 21st Century by advancing scientific discovery and innovation. The $1.2 billion FY 2017 request supports USGS' ability to maintain the diversity of its scientific expertise so it can continue the large-scale, multi-disciplinary investigations it is uniquely qualified to carry out and provide impartial science to resource managers and planners. Reflects the ongoing commitment to scientific discovery and innovation to support decision making for critical societal needs

Contact Information:

Diane Noserale ( Phone: 703-648-4333 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-278-0165 ); Cynthia Lodge ( Phone: 571-524-2289 );



WASHINGTON—The President’s fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget request for the U.S. Geological Survey reflects the USGS's vital role in addressing some of the most pressing challenges of the 21st Century by advancing scientific discovery and innovation. The $1.2 billion FY 2017 request supports USGS' ability to maintain the diversity of its scientific expertise so it can continue the large-scale, multi-disciplinary investigations it is uniquely qualified to carry out and provide impartial science to resource managers and planners.

“This is a smart, innovative and forward-looking budget that invests in Interior’s key missions – now and in the future – so we can continue to serve the American people,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “The President’s budget provides targeted investments to create economic opportunities by growing our domestic energy portfolio, building climate resilient communities, and revitalizing America’s national parks as we mark their 100th anniversary. Consistent with the President’s abiding commitment to Indian Country, this budget provides critical support for Tribal self-determination and economic advancement, including a historic transformation of the Bureau of Indian Education school system to help improve education for Indian children.”

“Our diversity of scientific expertise uniquely positions the USGS to help address today's critical natural resource issues,” said Suzette Kimball, USGS Director. “From earthquakes to invasive species, from water quality to critical minerals, USGS science plays a pivotal role and this budget request supports that important mission." 

The FY 2017 budget request allows the USGS to advance priorities set forth in the USGS Science Strategy Plans, such as: developing the ground system for Landsat 9; informing the management of water for the 21st century; understanding climate and land-use change; investigating new and emerging invasive species and disease; improving science for rapid disaster response and prevention; developing enhanced mapping tools and products; advancing landscape-level sciences; conducting critical mineral and energy resources research; and pursuing studies that protect environmental health.

This budget is also designed to keep core USGS science programs intact. These programs provide valuable services to the Nation and include science that helps decision makers minimize loss of life and property, manage natural resources, and protect and enhance our quality of life.

Key increases in the FY 2017 budget are summarized below. For more detailed information on the President’s FY 2017 budget, visit the USGS Budget, Planning, and Integration website.

Water Resources

The FY 2017 USGS budget request provides an increase of $17.3 million above the FY2016 enacted level for Water Resources research for a total of $228 million. The budget requests $60.2 million for Water Resources programs to use in matching State, municipality, and Tribal contributions for cooperative water efforts. This includes a $4 million increase under the Water Availability and Use Science Program to develop a near real-time assessment of regional and national water-use trends during drought periods. Other increases totaling $8.1 million would integrate water information from multiple agencies, provide state water resource agencies with the necessary base data at the resolution needed for decision making, and would develop better methods for sampling, estimating, aggregating, and presenting water use data. This increase also supports efforts to assess water budgets across snow-dominated regions of the Nation; including assessing systems, anticipating future changes, and extrapolating from monitored to unmonitored locations across critical landscapes in the Arctic.

The USGS budget also includes a $1.4 million increase for the Groundwater and Streamflow Information Program to expand the use of flood inundation mapping and rapidly deployable streamgages, which provide crucial data to help manage flood response. In addition, the increase will also target the use of enhanced streamflow information to help decision makers support tribal water needs.

The National Water Quality Program increase of $3.5 million will enhance long-term surface- and groundwater-quality monitoring in Cycle 3 of the Program. This increase will further support cooperative and urban-waters activities by providing streamflow and water-quality data to state and local partners. The data are used to plan economic revitalization and restore urban waters. Additionally, the NWQP increase funds research to understand the effects of unconventional oil and gas extraction on streams and groundwater.

Natural Hazards

The FY 2017 USGS budget request for Natural Hazards includes a $10.7 million increase above the FY 2016 enacted level for a total of $149.7 million. It funds science to help protect the Nation’s safety, security, and economic well-being, to make the United States more resilient to natural hazards, and to develop user driven tools to make communities safer.

The Earthquake Hazards Program increase of $1.7 million would fund induced seismicity research related to unconventional oil and gas production and improve earthquake monitoring by assuming long-term operations of about 160 seismographs in the Central and Eastern U.S. An additional $860,000 would fund sensors at select Global Seismographic Network sites. The budget continues funding of $8.2 million to implement a limited earthquake early warning system on the West Coast by expanding seismometer coverage outward around major urban areas, integrating fault slip data into the system, developing and testing the system to improve reliability, and end-user education efforts on how to understand and use alerts.

The Natural Hazards budget increase includes a Coastal and Marine Geology Program increase of $5.8 million, which would benefit coastal communities, including those in the Arctic, dealing with sea-level rise, severe storms, and melting permafrost. The increase would also fund research and modeling to apply findings from Hurricane Sandy to other parts of the U.S. coastline.

An increase of $1.7 million for the Geomagnetism Program would enhance USGS monitoring of electrical currents in the Earth’s crust, and improve global magnetic field data. This monitoring by USGS is an integral component of the National Space Weather Strategy to protect against the harmful effects of magnetic storms. The Sun is always emitting a wind of electrically charged particles, but when a large sunspot emerges on the face of the Sun, there is an increased chance for abrupt emission of strong solar wind and a magnetic storm. An intense magnetic storm can affect many technological systems. In particular, storms can overload and interfere with the operation of electric-power grids on the Earth, sometimes causing blackouts.

In addition, an increase of $0.5 million in the Landslide Hazards Program would expand post-wildfire debris-flow hazard assessments and bolster the USGS capacity to respond to landslide crises.

Energy and Minerals Resources, and Environmental Health

The FY 2017 budget request for Energy and Minerals Resources, and Environmental Health (EMEH) is $5 million above the FY 2016 enacted level, for a total of $99.5 million. This includes a $1.6 million increase to the Mineral Resources Program for identifying and evaluating new sources of critical minerals and for new science and tools to reduce the impacts of minerals extraction, production, and recycling on the global environment and human health. The Energy Resources Program’s proposed $1.4 million increase includes funds for unconventional oil and gas (UOG) research and assessments, evaluation of waters produced during UOG development, and assessments of undiscovered UOG on Alaska’s North Slope. It funds scientific data-gathering needed for other domestic assessments of shale and tight oil and gas, geothermal energy research to support land management decisions about alternative energy permitting on Federal lands, and the application of an ecosystem services approach to enhance resilience of coastal infrastructure and evaluate green infrastructure investments. These increases are partially offset by reductions to lower priority programs.

The increase includes an additional $3.1 million for Environmental Health research, with $1.3 million under the Contaminant Biology Program and $1.8 million under the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program. This research will assess potential biological effects of UOG on living organisms, including humans; study environmental contamination from spills and other releases of liquid and solid wastes from UOG development in West Virginia and North Dakota; and establish real-time water-quality monitoring along the northeast U.S. coast. These studies also will examine mercury and pesticide contamination in the Columbia River basin, and assess impacts of uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region. This research will inform decisions on new uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region.

Core Science Systems

The FY 2017 budget request for Core Science Systems is $6.8 million above the FY2016 enacted level, for a total of $118.4 million. Of the increase, $4.9 million would fund elevation data acquisition within the National Geospatial Program. This includes a $1.5 million increase to modernize mapping and collect ifsar (interferometric synthetic aperture radar) elevation data in Alaska. Improved mapping products are urgently needed in Alaska for aircraft navigation, since weather conditions deteriorate quickly and pilots frequently need to fly using only their instruments and GPS. It also includes $2.4 million to acquire lidar data (measuring distance by illuminating a target with a laser and analyzing the reflected light) and enhance landscape-scale 3-D maps for the Nation. Accelerating national elevation data coverage will also enable decision making to manage infrastructure and construction, provide more accurate and cost effective application of chemicals in farming, help to develop energy resources, and support aviation safety and vehicle navigation. The proposed increase also provides $1 million to collect lidar data along the U.S. coast. These data help to understand and mitigate the effects of coastal erosion and storm surge and support management of the Chesapeake Bay. An additional increase of $1 million would complete the National Hydrography Database at a 1:24,000 scale for the conterminous 48 states, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. This achievement would enable full integration of hydrography and elevation data in support of water resource managers throughout the Nation. The overall increase for Core Science Systems also funds research addressing pollinators and drought response.

Ecosystems

The FY 2017 USGS budget request for Ecosystems is $13.7 million above the FY 2016 enacted level for a total of $173.9 million. This includes a $4.9 million increase to the Environments Program for critical landscapes such as sage steppe and the Arctic. The increase for sage steppe supports the priority needs of managers to design conservation and management strategies for greater sage grouse; address changing fire regimes, drought and shifting climates; control the spread of invasive cheatgrass; and restore and manage the sage steppe landscape. The Arctic increase would fund research to inform communities and land managers about changes in the Arctic and how they affect the broader physical environment: altering stream flows, disrupting ocean currents and the fisheries that depend on them, changing ecosystems, and affecting the availability of resources. The Environments Program increase also funds research to support drought and wildfire response.

The Ecosystems budget request includes $3.2 million in new funding for the Fisheries Program to develop decision support tools for water ecology, to assess Great Lakes fisheries, and to process offshore samples that could provide an early warning for harmful algal blooms.

The budget increase for Ecosystems includes an additional $2.5 million under the Invasive Species Program for research on new and emerging invasive species of national concern and to develop and improve tools for early detection and control, such as advanced molecular detection of sea lamprey and other invasive species found at very low densities in the field.

The proposed Ecosystems increase also includes a $1.7 million increase through the Status and Trends Program for research to maintain native pollinators that help the Nation maintain its food supplies.

Climate and Land-Use Change

The FY 2017 USGS budget provides an increase of $31.5 million over the FY 2016 enacted level for Climate and Land-Use Change (CLU) research, for a total of $171.4 million. This includes a $15.4 million increase to develop the Landsat 9 ground system to accelerate the satellite’s launch from 2023 to 2021 and to ensure access to the Nation’s remote sensing data. An increase of $2.2 million would enable access to Sentinel-2 satellite data from the European Space Agency, and an increase of $3 million would allow the development of the computing and online storage resources necessary to rapidly produce and widely disseminate a set of Landsat-based information products.

The CLU increase also provides an additional $4.2 million to better understand patterns and manage the effects of drought. This includes new tools to better manage water nationwide such as near real-time satellite based drought monitoring. Drought impacts on natural and agricultural systems that would be assessed include soil moisture, evapotranspiration rates, vegetation response, and other metrics. The research would help water managers identify the onset and severity of drought events and effectively allocate scarce water resources. The increase includes $1.8 million for new tools to improve water management nationwide and use remote sensing to support additional aspects of the National Water Census.

The budget includes a $1.5 million increase to establish a Great Lakes Climate Science Center to help increase and improve focus on the many climate-related natural resource challenges in the Great Lakes region and a $1.4 million increase would fund work with tribes on climate adaptation. In addition, $2.4 million would go to critical landscape studies in the Arctic to develop predictive models of changes to the environment from the conversion of ice and snow to water and to estimate glacier loss in Alaska and potential changes in freshwater input. A $500,000 increase would fund imagery datasets and analytical tools for improved coastal resource management and planning for resilient coastal landscapes and communities.

The proposed USGS budget is part of the President’s FY 2017 request of $13.4 billion for the Department of the Interior, reflecting his commitment to meet Federal trust responsibilities to Native Americans, conserve vital national landscapes across the Nation, support the next century of our public lands, and allow for responsible management of energy development on public lands and offshore areas. The Budget in Brief is online: www.doi.gov/budget and www.doi.gov/budget/2017/Hilites/toc.html.

Food for Billions: Inland Fisheries and World Food Security

Tue, 02/09/2016 - 08:00
Summary: Reporters: A video abstract is available here.

Contact Information:

Abigail Lynch, USGS ( Phone: 703-268-3913 ); Steven  Reid, Carleton University ( Phone: 613-520-3660 ); Sue  Nichols, MSU ( Phone: 517-432-0206 );



Reporters: A video abstract is available here.

Fisherman on the Mekong River, Lao PDR Vientiane fish market, Lao PDR Artisanal Fishing in Lao PDR Pond cultured Pangasius catfish, Lao PDR

 

Reston, VA – Inland capture fisheries are much more crucial to global food security than realized, according to the first global review of the value of inland fish and fisheries.

The article, published today in Environmental Reviews, showed that although aquaculture and inland capture fisheries contribute more than 40 percent of the world’s reported finfish production, their harvest is greatly under-reported and value is often-ignored.

Inland waters, which comprise about 0.01 percent of the earth’s water, are lakes, rivers, streams, canals, reservoirs and other land-locked waters.

Topping the list of the value of inland fish and fisheries is food and economic security: these fisheries provide food for billions of people and livelihoods for millions worldwide. They are a primary animal protein consumed by many of the world’s rural poor, especially those in developing countries.

“Inland capture fisheries and aquaculture are fundamental to food security globally,” said Abigail Lynch, a fisheries research biologist with the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center.  “In many areas of the world, these fisheries are a last resort when primary income sources fail due to, for instance, economic shifts, war, natural disasters and water development projects.”

Inland fisheries, the review showed, support at least 21 million fishers, many of whom live in low-income countries and rely on these fisheries for both subsistence and their livelihood.

Other important benefits that inland fisheries and aquaculture provide include recreation, cultural and even spiritual values, and their contribution to species’ and ecosystem diversity. Because sustainable inland aquaculture is more efficient, it is also often “greener” than raising poultry, pigs or cows.

The authors cautioned, however, that inland fisheries are more important than current research is able to document because harvest amounts are vastly underestimated, particularly in remote areas and in developing countries. For example, only one-third of countries with inland fisheries submit catch statistics to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.

“The limitations to valuing the benefits that inland fish and fisheries provide make it difficult to incorporate them into resource planning on a national or global scale, author Carleton University’s Steve Cooke noted. “What is of great concern is that more than half of the inland fisheries’ habitat is moderately or highly threatened, so populations may be lost even before they are documented.”

The article, “The social, economic, and environmental importance of inland fish and fisheries,” was authored by Abigail Lynch, USGS; Steven Cooke, Carleton University; Andrew Deines, Michigan State University, and others. 

 

Conceptual diagram of the importance of inland fishes and fisheries to the individual, society, and the environment. Proportional contribution of global finfish production from marine capture fisheries, marine aquaculture, inland capture fisheries, and inland aquaculture in 2012 (excluding plants, mammals, crustaceans, and mollusks; FAO-FIGIS 2014) with the global proportion of salt and fresh water (note only 0.01% of water is habitable for inland fish; Stiassny 1996).

USGS Increases Public Access to Scientific Research

Mon, 02/08/2016 - 06:43
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey is implementing new measures that will improve public access to USGS-funded science as detailed in its new public access plan. The plan enables the USGS to expand  its current on-line gateways to provide free public access to scholarly research and supporting data produced in full or in part with USGS funding, no matter how it is published.

Contact Information:

Diane Noserale ( Phone: 703-648-4333 ); Keith  Kirk ( Phone: 831-335-4276 );



The U.S. Geological Survey is implementing new measures that will improve public access to USGS-funded science as detailed in its new public access plan. The plan enables the USGS to expand  its current on-line gateways to provide free public access to scholarly research and supporting data produced in full or in part with USGS funding, no matter how it is published.

The USGS plan  “Public Access to Results of Federally Funded Research at the U.S. Geological Survey: Scholarly Publications and Digital Data,” stipulates that, beginning October 1, the USGS will require that any research it funds be released from the publisher and  available free to the public no later than 12 months after initial publication. The USGS will also require that data used to support the findings be available free to the public when the associated study is published.

The plan applies to research papers and data authored or co-authored by USGS, contract employees, award or grant recipients, partners and other entities. It includes materials published by any non-USGS entity, including scientific journals, professional society volumes, cooperating agency series, and university or commercial publishers.

Exceptions are permitted only if the USGS agrees that a demonstrated circumstance restricts the data from public release, for example in rare cases where access must be restricted because of security, privacy, confidentiality, or other constraints.

The plan responds to a February 2013 Office of Science and Technology Policy memorandum that directed federal agencies with annual research and development budgets above $100 million to increase public access to peer-reviewed scientific publications and digital data resulting from federally funded research. On January 8, OSTP approved the USGS plan.

Specifically, this plan requires that an electronic copy of either the accepted manuscript or the final publication of record is available through the USGS Publications Warehouse. Digital data will be available in machine readable form from the USGS Science Data Catalog. The plan will require the inclusion of data management plans in all new research proposals and grants.

Much of the plan refers to requirements or activities that already exist or are being implemented. The mandate to publish data and findings from USGS science activities dates to the Bureau's creation by the signing of the Sundry Civil Bill on March 3, 1879, establishing the USGS. This bill also defined the requirement to report the results of investigations by the USGS to the public.  

The results of USGS research, generally released in the form of publications, maps, data, and models, are used by policymakers at all levels of government and by the private sector to support appropriate decisions about how to respond to natural hazards, manage natural resources, and to spur innovation and economic growth.

This plan builds on existing USGS policy, which requires public access be provided for any scholarly publications and associated data that arise from research conducted directly by USGS or by others using USGS funding, is published by the USGS or externally by USGS scientists or USGS funded scientists. This existing policy requires that data must be made available at the time of publication to support scholarly conclusions.

USGS already has the portals it needs to implement public access. USGS scholarly publications and associated data are discoverable online. Currently, citations for the more than 50,000 USGS series publications are available, and 10,000 of these are also available free to the public as downloadable digital files. In addition, more than 41,000 scholarly publications authored by the USGS but published externally are cataloged in the Publications Warehouse, and links to original published sources are provided.