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Updated: 5 hours 9 min ago

Researchers Test Smartphones for Earthquake Warning

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 14:15
Summary: Smartphones and other personal electronic devices could, in regions where they are in widespread use, function as early warning systems for large earthquakes according to newly reported research Crowdsourcing Smartphone Data Could Provide Valuable Advance Notice for People in Quake Zones

Contact Information:

Susan  Garcia, USGS ( Phone: 650-346-0998 ); Deborah Williams-Hedges, Caltech ( Phone: 626-395-3227 ); Jeannie  Kever, UH ( Phone: 713-743-0778 );



Additional contacts:  Alan Buis, JPL 818-354-0474, alan.d.buis@jpl.nasa.gov and Donna Sturgess, CMU-SI 412-551-7436, sturgessd@gmail.com

Note to Editors: This news release is available in Spanish and Chinese.

MENLO PARK, Calif.— Smartphones and other personal electronic devices could, in regions where they are in widespread use, function as early warning systems for large earthquakes according to newly reported research. This technology could serve regions of the world that cannot afford higher quality, but more expensive, conventional earthquake early warning systems, or could contribute to those systems.

The study, led by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey and published April 10 in the inaugural volume of the new AAAS journal Science Advances, found that the sensors in smartphones and similar devices could be used to build earthquake warning systems.  Despite being less accurate than scientific-grade equipment, the GPS (Global Positioning System) receivers in a smartphone can detect the permanent ground movement (displacement) caused by fault motion in a large earthquake.

Using crowdsourced observations from participating users’ smartphones, earthquakes could be detected and analyzed, and customized earthquake warnings could be transmitted back to users. “Crowdsourced alerting means that the community will benefit by data generated from the community,” said Sarah Minson, USGS geophysicist and lead author of the study. Minson was a post-doctoral researcher at Caltech while working on this study.

Earthquake early warning systems detect the start of an earthquake and rapidly transmit warnings to people and automated systems before they experience shaking at their location.  While much of the world’s population is susceptible to damaging earthquakes, EEW systems are currently operating in only a few regions around the globe, including Japan and Mexico. “Most of the world does not receive earthquake warnings mainly due to the cost of building the necessary scientific monitoring networks,” said USGS geophysicist and project lead Benjamin Brooks.

Researchers tested the feasibility of crowdsourced EEW with a simulation of a hypothetical magnitude 7 earthquake, and with real data from the 2011 magnitude 9 Tohoku-oki, Japan earthquake. The results show that crowdsourced EEW could be achieved with only a tiny percentage of people in a given area contributing information from their smartphones. For example, if phones from fewer than 5000 people in a large metropolitan area responded, the earthquake could be detected and analyzed fast enough to issue a warning to areas farther away before the onset of strong shaking. “The speed of an electronic warning travels faster than the earthquake shaking does,” explained Craig Glennie, a report author and professor at the University of Houston.

The authors found that the sensors in smartphones and similar devices could be used to issue earthquake warnings for earthquakes of approximately magnitude 7 or larger, but not for smaller, yet potentially damaging earthquakes.  Comprehensive EEW requires a dense network of scientific instruments.  Scientific-grade EEW, such as the U.S. Geological Survey’s ShakeAlert system that is currently being implemented on the west coast of the United States, will be able to help minimize the impact of earthquakes over a wide range of magnitudes.  However, in many parts of the world where there are insufficient resources to build and maintain scientific networks, but consumer electronics are increasingly common, crowdsourced EEW has significant potential.

“The U.S. earthquake early warning system is being built on our high-quality scientific earthquake networks, but crowdsourced approaches can augment our system and have real potential to make warnings possible in places that don’t have high-quality networks,” said Douglas Given, USGS coordinator of the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System. The U.S. Agency for International Development has already agreed to fund a pilot project, in collaboration with the Chilean Centro Sismológico Nacional, to test a pilot hybrid earthquake warning system comprising stand-alone smartphone sensors and scientific-grade sensors along the Chilean coast.

“The use of mobile phone fleets as a distributed sensor network — and the statistical insight that many imprecise instruments can contribute to the creation of more precise measurements — has broad applicability including great potential to benefit communities where there isn’t an existing network of scientific instruments,” said Bob Iannucci of Carnegie Mellon University, Silicon Valley.

“Thirty years ago it took months to assemble a crude picture of the deformations from an earthquake. This new technology promises to provide a near-instantaneous picture with much greater resolution,” said Thomas Heaton, a coauthor of the study and professor of Engineering Seismology at Caltech.

“Crowdsourced data are less precise, but for larger earthquakes that cause large shifts in the ground surface, they contain enough information to detect that an earthquake has occurred, information necessary for early warning,” said study co-author Susan Owen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

This research was a collaboration among scientists from the USGS, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the University of Houston, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Carnegie Mellon University-Silicon Valley, and included support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. 

Caltech is a world-renowned research and education institution focused on science and engineering, where faculty and students pursue new knowledge about our world and search for the kinds of bold and innovative advances that will transform our future.

The University of Houston is a Carnegie-designated Tier One public research university recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the nation's best colleges for undergraduate education.

Carnegie Mellon University is a private, internationally ranked university with a top-tier engineering program that is known for our intentional focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration in research.

Managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has active programs in Earth science, space-based astronomy and technology development, and manages NASA’s worldwide Deep Space Network.

Crowdsourced Earthquake Warnings. Cell phones can detect ground motion and warn others before strong shaking arrives. Base map originally created by NASA. Artwork credit: Emiliano Rodriguez Nuesch with Pacifico. (High resolution image)

Científicos ponen a prueba los teléfonos móviles inteligentes para la advertencia de terremotos

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 14:00
Summary: Los teléfonos móviles y otros dispositivos electrónicos personales podrían ayudar en las regiones donde se encuentran en uso generalizado, y pueden funcionar como sistemas de alerta para terremotos mayor según la nueva investigación científica recien publicada Crowdsourcing los teléfonos móviles podrían proporcionar datos valiosos y notificación avanzadas para habitantes viviendo en zonas de terremotos

Contact Information:

Susan Garcia, USGS ( Phone: 650-346-0998 ); Deborah Williams-Hedges, Caltech ( Phone: 626-395-3227 ); Jeannie  Kever, UH ( Phone: 713-743-0778 );



Contactos adicionales:  Alan Buis, JPL 818-354-0474 alan.d.buis@jpl.nasa.gov, Donna Sturgess, CMU-SI 412-551-7436 sturgessd@gmail.com

MENLO PARK, California — Los teléfonos móviles y otros dispositivos electrónicos personales podrían ayudar en las regiones donde se encuentran en uso generalizado, y pueden funcionar como sistemas de alerta para terremotos mayor según la nueva investigación científica recien publicada. Esta tecnología podría se utíl en regiones del mundo que no tienen los recursos económicos necesarios para sostener un sistema de calidad alta de alerta temprana, que es mas costosas, y mas convencional y que tambien podría contribuir a otras sistemas.

El estudio, dirigido por científicos del Servicio Geológico de Los Estados Unidos (USGS) y publicado el 10 de abril en el volumen inaugural de la nueva revista AAAS Science Advances, encontró que los sensores en los teléfonos móviles y dispositivos similares se podrían utilizar para construir sistemas de EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System). A pesar de ser menos precisos que los instrumentos científicos, los receptores GPS (Global Positioning System; sistema de posicionamiento global) en un teléfono móvil puede detectar el movimiento de la tierra (desplazamiento) causado por el movimiento de la falla en un terremoto mayor.

Utilizando crowdsourcing observaciones que usan teléfonos móviles los terremotos podrían ser detectados y analizados, y las alertas de terremotos programadas se podrían transmitir de nuevo a los participantes que lo usan. “Crowdsourcing alertas significa que la comunidad se beneficiará por los datos generados por la comunidad", dijo Sarah Minson, geofísica del USGS y autora principal del estudio. Minson fue una investigadora antes de recibir su doctorado en Caltech mientras que trabajo en este estudio.

Sistemas de EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) detectan el comienzo de un terremoto y emiten rápidamente advertencias a las comunidades y a los sistemas automáticos antes de que se siente el sacudimiento de la tierra donde se ubican.  Aunque gran parte de la población mundial es susceptible a terremotos dañinos, EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) están operando actualmente en sólo unas pocas regiones del mundo, incluyendo a Japón y México. "La mayoría del mundo no recibe las alertas de terremotos debido principalmente al costo de la construcción de las redes operativas científicas necesarias", dijo el geofísico del USGS y líder del proyecto Benjamin Brooks.

Los investigadores probaron la viabilidad de crowdsourcing del EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) con una simulación de un terremoto hipotético de magnitud 7,0 y con datos reales del terremoto de magnitud 9 en 2011 Tohoku-oki, Japón. Los resultados muestran que crowdsourcing del sistema EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) podría lograrse solamente con un pequeño porcentaje de personas en un área determinada que contribuye información de sus teléfonos móviles. Por ejemplo, si los teléfonos móviles de menos de 5.000 personas en una área grande metropolitana respondieran, el terremoto podría ser detectado y analizado suficientemente rápido como para emitir una advertencia a las áreas más lejanas antes del fuerte sacudimiento de la tierra. "La velocidad de una alerta electrónica viaja más rápido que el sacudimiento de un terremoto", explicó Craig Glennie, autor y profesor de la Universidad de Houston, Tejas.

Los autores encontraron que los sensores en los teléfonos móviles y dispositivos similares se podrían utilizar para emitir alertas de terremotos para los temblores de magnitud aproximadamente 7 o más grande, pero no para terremotos de menos intensidad, sin embargo para terremotos potencialmente dañinos. Un sistema integral de EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) requiere una densa red de instrumentos científicos. Un sistema EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) científica de alto grado, como el sistema ShakeAlert del Servicio Geológico de los Estados Unidos (USGS) que se está aplicando actualmente en la costa oeste de los Estados Unidos, será capaz de ayudar a disminuir el impacto de los terremotos en un amplio rango de magnitudes. Sin embargo, en muchas partes del mundo donde no hay recursos suficientes para construir y mantener redes científicas, pero el consumo electronicos son cada vez más comunes, crowdsourcing sistema EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) tiene un significado potencial.

"El sistema EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) de los EE.UU. se está construyendo en nuestras redes de alta calidad científica, pero enfoques de crowdsourcing pueden aumentar nuestro sistema y tienen un potencial real para hacer advertencias posibles en lugares que no cuentan con redes de alta calidad", dijo Douglas Given, coordinador de USGS de ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System, el sistema EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System). La Agencia de los Estados Unidos para el Desarrollo Internacional ya ha acordado financiar un proyecto piloto, en colaboración con el Chilean Centro Sismológico Nacional, para poner a prueba una sistema híbrido de EEW (Earthquake Early Warning System) piloto que consiste de sensores de teléfonos móviles autónomos y sensores de grado científico a lo largo de la costa chilena.

"El uso de los teléfonos móviles como una red de sensores distribuidos - y la visión estadística de que muchos instrumentos imprecisos pueden contribuir a la creación de medidas más precisas - tienen una amplia aplicación incluyendo una potencia grande para beneficiar a las comunidades donde no existe una red de instrumentos científico", dijo Bob Iannucci de la Universidad Carnegie Mellon, Silicon Valley en California.

"Hace treinta años tomó meses para montar una imagen crudo de las deformaciones de un terremoto. Esta nueva tecnología promete ofrecer una imagen casi instantánea con una resolución mucho mayor," dijo Thomas Heaton, coautor del estudio y profesor de Ingeniería de Sismología en Caltech.

"Los datos de crowdsourcing son menos precisos, pero para los terremotos mayores que causan grandes cambios en la superficie del suelo, contienen suficiente información para detectar que se ha producido un terremoto, la información necesaria para la sistema alerta temprana de terremotos", dijo el coautor del estudio Susan Owen de la NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Esta investigación fue una colaboración entre científicos del USGS, Instituto de Tecnología de California (Caltech), la Universidad de Houston, Laboratorio de la NASA’s Jet Propulsion, y la Universidad Carnegie Mellon-Silicon Valley, y se incluye el apoyo de la Fundación Gordon y Betty Moore. 

Caltech es una institución renombrada de investigación y educación mundial centrado en la ciencia y la ingeniería, donde profesores y estudiantes persiguen nuevos conocimientos acerca de nuestro mundo y la búsqueda de los tipos de avances audaces e innovadoras que transformarán nuestro futuro.

La Universidad de Houston es una universidad pública de investigación de alto grado designado por el Carnegie y reconocido por The Princeton Review como una de las mejores universidades de la nación para la educación de pregrado. 

Carnegie Mellon es una universidad privada, clasificada internacionalmente con programas en áreas que van desde la ciencia, la tecnología y los negocios al orden público, las humanidades y las artes.

Administrado por la NASA por el Instituto de Tecnología de California, el Laboratorio de Jet Propulsion tiene programas activos en ciencias de la tierra, astronomía basada en el espacio y el desarrollo tecnológico, y manejado por todo el mundo de la NASA Deep Space Network.

USGS ofrece la ciencia para un mundo cambiante. Visite USGS.gov, y síganos en Twitter @USGS, y nuestros otros canales de medios sociales.

Climate Change May Pose Substantial Future Risk to Sagebrush Habitat in Southwestern Wyoming

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 10:00
Summary: Climate change may pose a substantial future risk for sagebrush habitat in southwestern Wyoming, and thus adversely affect the regional summer habitat and nesting areas of sage-grouse, according to a new study by the United States Geological Survey

Contact Information:

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



Sioux Falls, SD. — Climate change may pose a substantial future risk for sagebrush habitat in southwestern Wyoming, and thus adversely affect the regional summer habitat and nesting areas of sage-grouse, according to a new study by the United States Geological Survey.  

For the study, scientists used nearly 30 years of Earth observation data to analyze past climate patterns in 3,216 square miles (8,330square kilometers) of southwestern Wyoming to forecast sagebrush abundance in 2050. Wyoming is a stronghold for populations of greater sage-grouse, a species being considered for listing as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The species is dependent upon sagebrush habitat.

“Historic disturbances of fire, development and invasive species have altered the sagebrush landscape, but climate change may represent the habitat’s greatest future risk,” said Collin Homer, the USGS scientist who led the study. “Warming temperatures, combined with less snow and rain, will favor species other than sagebrush, as well as increase sagebrush habitat’s vulnerability to fire, insects, disease and invasive species.”

The authors noted that intact, healthy sagebrush systems increase sage-grouse resilience to negative effects of climate change whereas less intact and more marginal habitats decrease the species’ resilience.

Homer and his colleagues examined the impact of historical precipitation change on key components of sagebrush ecosystems from 1984 to 2011. These historical patterns, discerned from long-term records of the Landsat satellite series (a joint effort of USGS and NASA), were then combined with IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) precipitation scenarios to model and forecast the most likely changes in sagebrush habitat from 2006 to 2050.

Researchers found that projected precipitation patterns for 2050 resulted in decreasing amounts of sagebrush and other shrubs, grasses, and flowering plants (forbs), while increasing the amount of bare ground.  When these changes were translated to sage grouse habitat, researchers found this resulted in a potential loss of 12 percent of sage-grouse nesting habitat and about 4 percent of sage-grouse summer habitat by 2050.  Results also demonstrate the vulnerability of semi-arid lands, such as sagebrush habitat, to precipitation changes because of their already low soil moisture content.

This new research explores how to bring climate change results to a more localized scale, in this case units as small as a quarter of an acre. “Using Landsat and downscaled climate scenarios to enable future forecasts of greater sage-grouse habitat can provide critical information on a more local or regional scale for managers to help them better plan now for the future,” said Homer.

Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces in western North America.  These birds rely on sagebrush ecosystems, which constitute the largest single North American shrub ecosystem and provide vital ecological, hydrological, biological, agricultural, and recreational ecosystem services. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally reviewing the status of greater sage-grouse to determine if the species is warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Multiple Satellite Eyes to Track Algal Threat to U.S. Freshwater

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 10:00
Summary: Four federal agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey have joined forces in an effort to transform satellite data into vital information to protect the American public from freshwater contaminated by harmful algal blooms. 

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Keith  Loftin ( Phone: 785-832-3543 );



Four federal agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey have joined forces in an effort to transform satellite data into vital information to protect the American public from freshwater contaminated by harmful algal blooms. 

The $3.6 million research project is a collaborative effort among NASA, NOAA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and USGS. Using methods and technology established to analyze ocean color satellite data, scientists from the four agencies will work to develop an early warning indicator for toxic and nuisance algal blooms in freshwater systems and build an information distribution system to expedite public health advisories. 

Algal blooms are a worldwide environmental problem causing human and animal health risks, fish kills, and noxious taste and odor in drinking water. In the United States, the cost of freshwater degraded by harmful algal blooms is estimated at $64 million annually. In August 2014, officials in Toledo, Ohio, banned the use of drinking water supplied to more than 400,000 residents after it was contaminated by an algal bloom in Lake Erie

“Harmful algal blooms have emerged as a significant public health and economic issue that requires extensive scientific investigation,” said Suzette Kimball, acting USGS Director. “USGS uses converging lines of evidence from ground to space to assess changes in water quantity and quality, ecosystems, natural hazards, and environmental health issues important to the nation.” 

Ocean color satellite data are currently available to scientists, but are not routinely processed and produced in formats that help state and local environmental and water quality managers. Through this project, satellite data on harmful algal blooms developed by the partner agencies will be converted to a format that stakeholders can use through mobile devices and web portals. 

“The vantage point of space not only contributes to a better understanding of our home planet, it helps improve lives around the world,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We’re excited to be putting NASA’s expertise in space and scientific exploration to work protecting public health and safety.”

The new network builds on previous NASA ocean satellite sensor technologies created to study the global ocean’s microscopic algal communities, which play a major role in ocean ecology, the movement of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and ocean, and climate change. These sensors detect the color of the sunlit upper layer of the ocean and are used to create indicators that can help identify harmful algal blooms. 

NOAA and NASA pioneered the use of satellite data to monitor and forecast harmful algal blooms. Satellites allow for more frequent observations over broader areas than water sampling. Satellite data support NOAA’s existing forecasting systems in the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes. 

“Observing harmful algae is critical to understanding, managing, and forecasting these blooms. This collaboration will assure that NOAA’s efforts will assist the coastal and inland public health officials and managers across the country to distribute this information to the community in an easily understandable fashion,” said Holly Bamford, acting NOAA Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management and Deputy Administrator in Washington. 

Under certain environmental conditions, algae naturally present in marine and fresh waters rapidly multiply to create a bloom. Some species of algae called cyanobacteria produce toxins that can kill wildlife and domestic animals and cause illness in humans through exposure to contaminated freshwater or by the consumption of contaminated drinking water, fish, or shellfish. Cyanobacteria blooms are a particular concern because of their dense biomass, toxins, taste, and odor. 

“EPA researchers are developing important scientific tools to help local communities respond quickly and efficiently to real-time water quality issues and protect drinking water for their residents,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Working with other federal agencies, we are leveraging our scientific expertise, technology and data to create a mobile app to help water quality managers make important decisions to reduce negative impacts related to harmful algal blooms, which have been increasingly affecting our water bodies due to climate change.” 

The project also includes a research component to improve understanding of the environmental causes and health impacts of cyanobacteria and phytoplankton blooms across the United States. Blooms in lakes and estuaries are produced when aquatic plants receive excess nutrients under suitable environmental conditions. Various land uses, such as urbanization and agricultural practices, change the amount of nutrients and sediment delivered in watersheds, which can influence cyanobacterial growth. 

Researchers will compare the new freshwater algal blooms data with satellite records of land cover changes over time to identify specific land-use activities that may have caused environmental changes linked to the frequency and intensity of blooms. The results will help to develop better forecasts of bloom events. 

“Algal blooms pose an expensive, unpredictable public health threat that can affect millions of people,” said Sarah Ryker, USGS Deputy Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change. “By using satellite-based science instruments to assess conditions in water and on adjacent land, we hope to improve detection of these blooms and to better understand the conditions under which they occur.”  

The Landsat satellite series, a joint effort of USGS and NASA, has provided a continuous dataset of land use and land cover conditions since 1972. The latest satellite, Landsat 8, has demonstrated promising new capabilities for water quality assessment.

Seeing into Water in New Ways: The Visualizing Nutrients Challenge

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 09:59
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Blue Legacy International (a nonprofit organization) announce the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge, an innovation competition with $15,000 in cash prizes. 

Contact Information:

Nate Booth ( Phone: 703-648-5014 ); Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



The U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Blue Legacy International (a nonprofit organization) announce the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge, an innovation competition with $15,000 in cash prizes. 

Harnessing the competitive instinct for the public good, this contest focuses on inventive ways to organize and analyze existing data of nutrient levels in water. Participants will tap open government data sources to create compelling visualizations that inform citizens, communities, and resource managers about conditions of nitrogen and phosphorus in the nation’s waters. The outcomes of this tournament of ideas are expected to help educate and inspire action to address algal blooms, hypoxia, and other nutrient-related water quality issues. 

First Place will receive $10,000, and a People’s Choice Award will receive $5,000. Both winners will have special opportunities to highlight their work in a number of important forums. The competition starts today and will stay open through 11:59 p.m. on June 8, 2015.  

Visualizing Nutrients builds on the activities of the Open Water Data Initiative that seeks to further integrate existing water datasets and make them more accessible to innovation and decision making. The Open Water Data Initiative works in conjunction with the President's Climate Data Initiative

This prize competition is also part of the National Day of Civic Hacking, as well as the broader work of the Challenging Nutrients Coalition. Under the directive of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the coalition was organized with the goal of bringing innovative approaches to the issue of nutrient pollution. The group consists of federal agencies, universities, and non-profits. 

For additional information and to submit a solution, visit the prize competition website.

Quick-Action Helps Maintain Key Mining Industries during Ebola Outbreak

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 09:07
Summary: The important mining industries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were able to largely maintain their operations during the deadly 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey

Contact Information:

Steven M.  Fortier ( Phone: 703-648-4920 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



The important mining industries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were able to largely maintain their operations during the deadly 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey. In addition, quick, coordinated actions on the part of the mining companies operating in all three countries helped surrounding communities and national health organizations in their efforts to contain the virus.

In this outbreak, the first laboratory-confirmed case of Ebola was reported by the Ministry of Health in Guinea on March 21, 2014, and, as of January 18, 2015, nearly 22,000 cumulative cases had been reported. Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone were the three countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak.

“Although the mining industry continued to operate throughout the Ebola crisis, the effects of the crisis and changing market conditions could substantially reduce prospects for growth and planned investments in the mineral sector of these three countries in the future,” said Steven M. Fortier, Director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center. 

The mineral industries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are important sectors to these countries’ economies. In 2013 alone, the estimated contribution of the mineral sector to GDP in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone was about 13, 11, and 23 percent, respectively.

Mineral development projects were the underpinnings for the World Bank’s forecasts of GDP increases in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone through 2017. In 2012, it was estimated that for Guinea the development of these projects had the potential to double the country’s real GDP by 2015 and to greatly enhance the prospects for future GDP growth through 2017.

Uncertainty regarding the status of mining and mineral exploration operations in the three countries following the onset of the Ebola outbreak and changes in mineral market conditions raised questions regarding the prospects for such growth and future foreign direct investment in the region.

However, mining companies in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone acted quickly to help their staff and ensure the mines stayed open. They secured the perimeter of the mining operations; established health and preventative screening to prevent the spread of Ebola; and provided safety training to staff in and around mining facilities and nearby communities.

In addition, a group of mining companies created an advocacy group to coordinate their efforts to address the Ebola outbreak and work with the United Nations.

The new report is entitled “The Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak and the Mineral Sectors of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone,” and can be accessed online.

The USGS National Minerals Information Center collects, analyzes, and disseminates information on the domestic and international supply of and demand for minerals and mineral materials essential to the U.S. economy and national security. Learn more by visiting our website or by following us on Twitter @USGSMinerals.

Circulation of Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu in North American Birds

Thu, 04/02/2015 - 11:45
Summary: Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 viruses of Eurasian origin continue to circulate and evolve in North American wild birds Viral Changes Make Current Situation More Complex

Contact Information:

Marisa Lubeck, USGS ( Phone: 303-202-4765 ); Gail Moede Rogall, USGS ( Phone: 608-270-2438 ); Joelle Hayden, USDA ( Phone: 301-851-4040 );



Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 viruses of Eurasian origin continue to circulate and evolve in North American wild birds. 

The U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Department of Agriculture published the genetic analysis of a mixed-origin HPAI H5N1 avian flu virus in the journal Genome Announcements today. This novel virus was discovered in a green-winged teal in Washington State that was sampled at the end of 2014. It is a mixed-origin virus containing genes from the Eurasian HPAI H5N8 and genes from North American low pathogenic avian influenza from wild birds. This H5N1 virus is different from the well-known Asian H5N1 HPAI virus that emerged in 1996. 

This new publication follows a recent article describing the introduction of Eurasian HPAI H5N8 into North America at the end of 2014 and the detection of a different mixed-origin virus (HPAI H5N2) in wild birds. In March 2015, the HPAI H5N2 virus was detected in commercial turkey flocks in Minnesota, Missouri and Arkansas, in a backyard flock of mixed poultry in Kansas and in a wild bird in Wyoming. 

“Such findings are not unexpected and might continue as the Eurasian lineage H5 circulates in the United States,” said co-author Mia Kim Torchetti, a USDA Animal and Plant Inspection Service scientist. 

The term ‘highly pathogenic’ refers to the ability of an avian influenza virus strain to produce disease in chickens. The population-level impact of these viruses on free-living wild bird species is currently unknown. 

“This report describes the first detection of HPAI H5N1 virus in North America, and this virus has since been detected in a backyard flock in British Columbia, Canada,” said Hon Ip, a USGS National Wildlife Health Center scientist. 

As with the parental Eurasian H5N8 virus, no human infections with this H5N1 virus have been detected. However, similar viruses have infected people in other countries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The public health risk posed by these domestic HPAI outbreaks is considered low at this time, but it is possible that human infections with these viruses may occur.  

Each mixed-origin virus might carry different risks and surveillance of circulating HPAI viruses is ongoing. The USGS and USDA scientists continue to monitor Eurasian H5 lineage viruses and provide stakeholders with timely information for management purposes. 

For more information about avian influenza, please visit the USGS National Wildlife Health Center website or the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service avian influenza page

Polar Bears Unlikely to Thrive on Land-based Foods

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 13:00
Summary: A team of scientists led by the U.S. Geological Survey found that polar bears, increasingly forced on shore due to sea ice loss, may be eating terrestrial foods including berries, birds and eggs, but any nutritional gains are limited to a few individuals and likely cannot compensate for lost opportunities to consume their traditional, lipid-rich prey—ice seals

Contact Information:

Karyn Rode ( Phone: 907-786-7106 ); Paul  Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



Polar bear laying down to dry after a swim in the Chukchi sea. (High resolution image)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A team of scientists led by the U.S. Geological Survey found that polar bears, increasingly forced on shore due to sea ice loss, may be eating terrestrial foods including berries, birds and eggs, but any nutritional gains are limited to a few individuals and likely cannot compensate for lost opportunities to consume their traditional, lipid-rich prey—ice seals.

“Although some polar bears may eat terrestrial foods, there is no evidence the behavior is widespread,” said Dr. Karyn Rode, lead author of the study and scientist with the USGS. “In the regions where terrestrial feeding by polar bears has been documented, polar bear body condition and survival rates have declined.”

The authors detail their findings in a review article in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The scientists noted that over much of the polar bear’s range, terrestrial habitats are already occupied by grizzly bears. Those grizzly bears occur at low densities and are some of the smallest of their species due to low food quality and availability. Further, they are a potential competitor as polar bears displaced from their sea ice habitats increasingly use the same land habitats as grizzly bears. 

“The smaller size and low population density of grizzly bears in the Arctic provides a clear indication of the nutritional limitations of onshore habitats for supporting large bodied polar bears in meaningful numbers,” said Rode. “Grizzly bears and polar bears are likely to increasingly interact and potentially compete for terrestrial resources.”

The study found that fewer than 30 individual polar bears have been observed consuming bird eggs from any one population, which typically range from 900 to 2000 individuals. “There has been a fair bit of publicity about polar bears consuming bird eggs. However, this behavior is not yet common, and is unlikely to have population-level impacts on trends in body condition and survival,” said Rode.

Few foods are as energetically dense as marine prey. Studies suggest that polar bears consume the highest lipid diet of any species, which provides all essential nutrients and is ideal for maximizing fat deposition and minimizing energetic requirements. Potential foods found in the terrestrial environment are dominated by high-protein, low-fat animals and vegetation. Polar bears are not physiologically suited to digest plants, and it would be difficult for them to ingest the volumes that would be required to support their large body size.

“The reports of terrestrial feeding by polar bears provide important insights into the ecology of bears on land,” said Rode. “In this paper, we tried to put those observations into a broader context.  Focused research will help us determine whether terrestrial foods could contribute to polar bear nutrition despite the physiological and nutritional limitations and the low availability of most terrestrial food resources. However, the evidence thus far suggests that increased consumption of terrestrial foods by polar bears is unlikely to offset declines in body condition and survival resulting from sea ice loss.”

The review article was developed by researchers at the USGS, Washington State University, and Polar Bears International.

The USGS is leading studies of polar bear response to sea ice loss through its Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative. Current studies include examination of polar bear nutritional and behavioral ecology, linked to population-level consequences. For further information, visit the USGS Polar Bear Program.

Golden State Quads Add Trails

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 09:30
Summary: Several of the 2,798 new US Topo quadrangles for California now display public trails along with segments of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail Newly released US Topo maps for California now feature selected trails and other substantial updates.

Contact Information:

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



Several of the 2,798 new US Topo quadrangles for California now display public trails along with segments of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Also the new maps now show improved data layers such as public land survey information, map symbol redesign, enhanced railroad information and new road source data. Some of the data for the trails is provided to the USGS through a nationwide “crowdsourcing” project managed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA).

“The USGS 7.5-minute quads have been the long time gold standard for wall to wall mapping in the United States.” said Tom Lupo, Deputy Director, Data and Technology Division, California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “To me, they are the second best thing the Federal government has ever done!”

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

Another trail system, provided through a USGS partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, is the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This west-coast long NST joins the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the North Country National Scenic Trail, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail as being featured on the new US Topo quads around the nation. The USGS hopes to eventually include all National Scenic Trails in The National Map products.

The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail is a treasured pathway through some of the most scenic terrain in the nation. Beginning in southern California at the Mexican border, the PCT travels a total distance of 2,650 miles through California, Oregon, and Washington until reaching the Canadian border. The PCT is one of the original National Scenic Trails established by Congress in the 1968 National Trails System Act and fifty-four percent of the trail lies within designated wilderness

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

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

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

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

Updated 2015 version of El Capitan, California quadrangle with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1.4 MB) Scan of the 1909 USGS quadrangle of the Yosemite, California area, to include El Capitan, from the USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection. (1:250,000 scale) (high resolution image 2 MB) Updated 2015 version of the El Capitan, California quadrangle with orthoimage turned off to better see the various trail networks. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1.3 MB) The National Trails System was established by Act of Congress in 1968. The Act grants the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture authority over the National Trails System. The Act defines four types of trails. Two of these types, the National Historic Trails and National Scenic Trails, can only be designated by Act of Congress. National scenic trails are extended trails located as to provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of nationally significant scenic, historic, natural, and cultural qualities of the area through which such trails may pass.

There are 11 National Scenic Trails:
  • Appalachian National Scenic Trail
  • Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail
  • Continental Divide National Scenic Trail
  • North Country National Scenic Trail
  • Ice Age National Scenic Trail
  • Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
  • Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail
  • Florida National Scenic Trail
  • Arizona National Scenic Trail
  • New England National Scenic Trail
  • Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail
(high resolution image 64 KB)

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

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

Contact Information:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated Information on Cuba Mineral and Petroleum Resources Released

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

Contact Information:

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



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

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

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

A few key points from the report are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Information:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Information:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Study Sheds Light on Mammal Declines in Everglades National Park

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

Contact Information:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frozen Heat Features USGS Science

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

Contact Information:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Bat Monitoring Research Group Receives

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

Contact Information:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Contact Information:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Information:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Science-Based Mitigation Techniques Benefit Greater Sage-Grouse

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

Contact Information:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces in western North America.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally reviewing the status of greater sage-grouse to determine if the species is warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.