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Updated: 5 hours 46 min ago

Birds in the Bakken: Oil Development Can Affect Critical Habitat

Wed, 10/14/2015 - 14:00
Summary: Many grassland bird species in the Bakken shale region, including some seriously declining populations, are displaced from their habitats as a result of oil and gas development, according to new U.S. Geological Survey research

Contact Information:

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



Many grassland bird species in the Bakken shale region, including some seriously declining populations, are displaced from their habitats as a result of oil and gas development, according to new U.S. Geological Survey research.

During 2012-2014, USGS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists studied Bakken grassland sites in northern North Dakota containing oil well pads, which are the gravel surfaces that house all oil extraction infrastructures. Overall, grassland birds avoided areas within 150 meters, or about 492 feet of gravel roads, 267 meters (about 876 feet) of single-bore well pads and 150 meters of pads with more than one well. These results suggest that detrimental effects of oil extraction on habitat extend considerably beyond the immediate oil well sites.

"Quantifying environmental degradation caused by oil development is a critical step in understanding how to better mitigate harm to valuable wildlife populations," said USGS scientist Sarah Thompson, the lead author of the report. "Our findings can help managers and developers determine the best locations for future infrastructure." 

The study focused on sites developed with unconventional methods, such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The most commonly detected species were the grasshopper sparrow, Savannah sparrow, clay-colored sparrow, bobolink, chestnut-collared longspur, western meadowlark, brown-headed cowbird, Baird's sparrow, Sprague's pipit and red-winged blackbird.

Specific findings include:

  • Individual species showed varying tolerance for oil wells.
  • Reduced population densities of the Baird’s sparrow, chestnut-collared longspur and grasshopper sparrow were observed as far as 550 meters from single-bore wells, which were the farthest distances surveyed.
  • Clay-colored sparrows and brown-headed cowbirds were tolerant of oil-related infrastructure.
  • Sprague’s pipit, which is a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act, showed reduced density within 350 meters of single-bore wells.

"Our findings suggest that reducing new road construction, concentrating wells along developed corridors, combining numerous wells on multi-bore pads and placing wells near existing roads could help minimize loss of suitable habitat for birds," Thompson said.

The Bakken oil-producing regions of North Dakota, Montana and Canada are home to a particularly high density and diversity of grassland bird species that are declining across North America. For more information on USGS ecosystem research in the Bakken, please visit the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center website.

USGS Seismologist Lucy Jones to Receive Prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal

Wed, 10/07/2015 - 16:51
Summary: To honor groundbreaking earthquake research by U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Dr. Lucile “Lucy” Jones, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will present Jones with the prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal (Sammies) at an awards ceremony this evening at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium Secretary Jewell will present award at ceremony tonight

Contact Information:

Arlene Compher ( Phone: 703-648-4282 );



To honor groundbreaking earthquake research by U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Dr. Lucile “Lucy” Jones, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will present Jones with the prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal (Sammies) at an awards ceremony this evening at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.

USGS Estimates 21 Million Barrels of Oil and 27 Billion Cubic Feet of Gas in the Monterey Formation of the San Joaquin Basin, California

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 12:00
Summary: The Monterey Formation in the deepest parts of California’s San Joaquin Basin contains an estimated mean volumes of 21 million barrels of oil, 27 billion cubic feet of gas, and 1 million barrels of natural gas liquids, according to the first USGS assessment of continuous (unconventional), technically recoverable resources in the Monterey Formation

Contact Information:

Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 ); Chris Schenk ( Phone: 303-236-5796 );



The Monterey Formation in the deepest parts of California’s San Joaquin Basin contains an estimated mean volumes of 21 million barrels of oil, 27 billion cubic feet of gas, and 1 million barrels of natural gas liquids, according to the first USGS assessment of continuous (unconventional), technically recoverable resources in the Monterey Formation.

“Understanding our domestic oil and gas resource potential is important for many reasons, including helping policy makers to make informed decisions about energy policy, leasing of federal lands, and impact on other resources such as water,” said Vito Nuccio, Acting USGS Energy Resources Program Coordinator. “That’s why the USGS maintains a strong oil and gas assessment team whose goal is to assess new domestic and global areas and continually update previous assessments as warranted.”

The volume estimated in the new study is small, compared to previous USGS estimates of conventionally trapped recoverable oil in the Monterey Formation in the San Joaquin Basin. Those earlier estimates were for oil that could come either from producing more Monterey oil from existing fields, or from discovering new conventional resources in the Monterey Formation.

The area of the potential continuous accumulation assessed in this study is limited to where the Monterey Formation is deeply buried, thermally mature, and thought to be generating oil.

The assessment team concluded that most of the petroleum that has originated from shale of the Monterey Formation in the assessment area has migrated from the source rock, so there is probably relatively little recoverable oil or gas remaining there, and most exploratory wells in the deep basin are unlikely to be successful.  

Geological data from more than 80 older wells that penetrated the deep Monterey Formation indicate that retention of oil or gas in the Monterey Formation shale source rock is poor, probably because of natural fracturing, faulting, and folding.

The oil and gas readily migrates from the deep Monterey Formation to fill the many shallower conventional reservoirs in the basin, including some in fractured Monterey Formation shale, and accounts for the prolific production there.

Although the data suggest that there is apparently not a large volume of unconventional oil and gas resources in the Monterey in the deep part of the basin, there are still substantial volumes of additional conventional oil and gas resources oil in the Monterey Formation in the shallower conventional traps in the San Joaquin Basin, as indicated by earlier assessments.

In 2003, USGS conducted an assessment of conventional oil and gas in the San Joaquin Basin, estimating a mean of 121 million barrels of oil recoverable from the Monterey. In addition, in 2012, USGS assessed the potential volume of oil that could be added to reserves in the San Joaquin Basin from increasing recovery in existing fields. The results of that study suggested that a mean of about 3 billion barrels of oil might eventually be added to reserves from Monterey reservoirs in conventional traps, mostly from a type of rock in the Monterey called diatomite, which has recently been producing over 20 million barrels of oil per year.

The estimate of undiscovered continuous oil in the deep Monterey ranges from 3 million to 53 million barrels (95 percent to 5 percent probability, respectively). The estimate of natural gas ranges from 5 to 72 billion cubic feet (95 percent to 5 percent probability, respectively), and the estimate of natural gas liquids ranges from 0 to 3 million barrels (95 percent to 5 percent probability, respectively).

These new estimates are for technically recoverable oil and gas resources, which are those quantities of oil and gas producible using currently available technology and industry practices, regardless of economic or accessibility considerations.

USGS is the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources of onshore lands and offshore state waters. The USGS Monterey Formation assessment was undertaken as part of a nationwide project assessing domestic petroleum basins using standardized methodology and protocol.

The new assessment of the Monterey Formation in the San Joaquin Basin may be found online. To find out more about USGS energy assessments and other energy research, please visit the USGS Energy Resources Program website, sign up for our Newsletter, and follow us on Twitter.

A map showing the extent of the San Joaquin Basin, as well as the location of the two assessment units of the Monterey Formation that were included. (High resolution image)

Atlantic Beaches Still Likely to be Affected by Hurricane Joaquin

Fri, 10/02/2015 - 18:16
Summary: As the path of Hurricane Joaquin continues to move farther offshore, making landfall in the U.S. less likely, U.S. Geological Survey coastal change experts say there’s still a high probability of dune erosion along parts of the Atlantic coast, from the North Carolina Outer Banks to Cape Cod

Contact Information:

Nathaniel Plant ( Phone: 727-502-8072 ); Hannah  Hamilton ( Phone: 703-314-1601 );



USGS coastal scientists visit Nags Head in the Outer Banks to examine coastal erosion impacts that occurred from Hurricane Isabel in 2003. (High resolution image)

As the path of Hurricane Joaquin continues to move farther offshore, making landfall in the U.S. less likely, U.S. Geological Survey coastal change experts say there’s still a high probability of dune erosion along parts of the Atlantic coast, from the North Carolina Outer Banks to Cape Cod.

“The storm’s winds are generating ocean swells capable of causing coastal erosion along the Outer banks, Virginia, and Maryland, as well as areas of the New England, most likely to see the effects,” said Nathaniel Plant, a USGS research oceanographer. “Isolated locations along the New Jersey and New York coast, areas that were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, could also experience dune erosion.”

As the hurricane’s track has shifted farther offshore, overwash due to wave runup overtopping the dunes is not currently expected to occur, except at isolated locations where dunes are relatively low.

The USGS coastal-change forecasts, which integrate information produced by both the USGS and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its National Hurricane Center, will continue to be updated daily and results will be posted to the Coastal Change Hazards Portal. The portal provides a wealth of information for coastal residents, emergency managers and community leaders. To access current forecasts, click on the Portal’s ‘Active Storm’ tab located on the upper right corner of the portal’s web page.

“We are collaborating with NOAA to explain what weather and storm conditions mean for coastal communities. Combining weather data with coastal process information enables us to make detailed predictions of the runup of waves along the coast” said Plant. “We are also developing a time series forecast of predicted high water levels, which we can use to forecast the timing and likelihood that storm waves will erode beaches, damage dunes, overtop the dunes and inundate the land with seawater or open breaches in barrier islands. The expected storm impacts from Joaquin are particularly interesting because high water levels are primarily due to Joaquin’s waves rather than storm surge.”

The researchers indicate that Joaquin is a perfect storm to test the accuracy of the coastal erosion forecasts.  Within the USGS, water scientists who are collecting wave and storm surge data from sensors developed using supplemental funding following Hurricane Sandy, along with scientists from the coastal-change hazards team, will be working together to evaluate and improve the accuracy of future coastal-change forecasts. 

The forecasts and updated information collected from Joaquin will better position the USGS to support emergency managers, coastal planners and community leaders, who can combine the information found on the portal with other data to identify where hazards pose the greatest risks to their communities, thereby allowing them to develop specific plans of action before a storm’s impacts threaten homes, schools, businesses and critical habitats.

Screenshot of portal entry page. (high resolution image) Forecast probability of overwash is reduced. (high resolution image) Forecast probability of dune erosion is still high in many areas from Outer Banks to Cape Cod. (high resolution image)

Media Advisory: USGS Deploys Crews in Advance of Hurricane Joaquin in Virginia

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 19:02
Summary: USGS field crews will be out deploying storm tide sensors along the Virginia coast near Virginia Beach, along the Western Chesapeake Bay, and on the Eastern Shore ahead of Hurricane Joaquin Reporters: Do you want to accompany a USGS crew as they prepare for flooding associated with Hurricane Joaquin? Please contact Shaun Wicklein or Hannah Hamilton.

Contact Information:

Shaun Wicklein ( Phone: 804-399-9929 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-314-1601 );



USGS scientist Carlos Rodriguez, deploying a sensor at Newmarket Creek at Mercury Boulevard in Hampton, VA. Credit: USGS(High resolution image)

USGS field crews will be out deploying storm tide sensors along the Virginia coast near Virginia Beach, along the Western Chesapeake Bay, and on the Eastern Shore ahead of Hurricane Joaquin. Storm tide sensors measure the tidal fluctuations and height of the tide relative to land surface.

Currently, Hurricane Joaquin’s track remains uncertain, and the National Hurricane Center is providing updates on potential future movement.

USGS is deploying storm tide sensors along the Virginia coast in an effort to measure storm-tides, which are expected to be above normal even if Hurricane Joaquin does not make landfall. The information these sensors collect is important to future models of coastal impacts from storms.

These sensors are part of a relatively new USGS mobile network of rapidly deployable, experimental instruments that are used to observe and document hurricane-induced storm-surge, waves and tides as they make landfall and interact with coastal features.

This network, known as USGS SWATH, consists of water-level and barometric-pressure monitoring devices that are deployed in the days and hours just prior to a potential widespread storm-surge event, and then retrieved shortly after event occurrence. The network also includes a smaller number of Rapid Deployment Gauges, which are temporary water-stage sensors with autonomous data-transmission capacity. RDGs are set up in advance of an event to provide short-term water-level and meteorological data during the event for areas that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of storm surge.

The SWATH Network was supported by Congressional funding provided to the Department of the Interior post superstorm Sandy (2012).

WHO: USGS field crews

WHAT:  Reporters are invited to join USGS field crews deploying tidal sensors in advance of Hurricane Joaquin.

WHEN: Friday, October 2, 2015

WHERE: Virginia Beach, along the Western Chesapeake Bay, and on the Eastern Shore

Many Atolls May be Uninhabitable Within Decades Due to Climate Change

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 16:30
Summary: A new study shows that the combined effect of storm-induced wave-driven flooding and sea level rise on island atolls may be more severe and happen sooner than previous estimates of inundation predicted by passive “bathtub” modeling for low-lying atoll islands, and especially at higher sea levels forecasted for the future due to climate change

Contact Information:

Leslie  Gordon, USGS ( Phone: 650-329-4006 ); Mariska  van Gelderen, Deltares ( Phone: +31 (0)6 13 67 13 70 );



Photograph showing the impact of a large wave at the south shore of Laysan Island, with endangered Laysan teal in the foreground. (High resolution image)

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — A new study shows that the combined effect of storm-induced wave-driven flooding and sea level rise on island atolls may be more severe and happen sooner than previous estimates of inundation predicted by passive “bathtub” modeling for low-lying atoll islands, and especially at higher sea levels forecasted for the future due to climate change. More than half a million people live on atolls throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and although the modeling was based on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the results from the study apply to almost all atolls.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists and their colleagues at the Deltares Institute in the Netherlands, and the Hawaii Cooperative Studies Unit at University of Hawaii, Hilo report that numerical modeling reveals waves will synergistically interact with sea level rise, causing twice as much land forecast to be flooded for a given future sea level than currently predicted by models that do not take wave-driven water levels into account.

Observations show global sea level is rising due to climate change, with the highest rates in the tropical Pacific Ocean where many of the world’s low-lying atolls are located. Sea level rise is particularly critical for low-lying coral reef-lined atoll islands; these islands have limited land and water available for human habitation, limited food sources and ecosystems that are vulnerable to inundation from sea level rise. Sea level rise will result in larger waves and higher wave-driven water levels along atoll islands’ shorelines than at present.

“Many atoll islands will be flooded annually, contaminating the limited freshwater resources with saltwater, and likely forcing inhabitants to abandon their islands in decades, not centuries, as previously thought,” said USGS geologist and lead author of the study, Curt Storlazzi.

The study explored the combined effect of storm-induced wave-driven flooding and sea level rise on atoll islands within the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, including Laysan and Midway Islands, which are home to many threatened and endangered endemic species. The same modeling approach is applicable to most populated atolls around the world.

The study, “Many Atolls May Be Uninhabitable Within Decades Due to Climate Change,” was recently published in Nature’s Scientific Reports journal, and is available online.

Storms after Wildfire Lead to Impaired Water Quality

Mon, 09/28/2015 - 12:41
Summary: Water quality can be substantially diminished for several years after wildfire in response to relatively common local thunderstorms, according to a recent USGS study

Contact Information:

Sheila  Murphy ( Phone: 303-541-3023 ); Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



Water quality can be substantially diminished for several years after wildfire in response to relatively common local thunderstorms, according to a recent USGS study

USGS scientists led by research hydrologist Sheila Murphy collected extensive streamflow and water-quality data for three years after the Fourmile Canyon Fire, Colo., in a geographic setting typical of the American southwest. They then correlated the results with data from a high-density rain gage network. 

“Unfortunately, wildfires have become a common occurrence in the western United States,” said William Werkheiser, USGS Associate Director for Water. “We need to better understand the drivers of post-wildfire water quality and find ways to adjust to this challenge.” 

About half of the water supply in the southwestern U.S. is supplied by water conveyed from forests, which generally yield higher quality water than any other land use. However, forests are vulnerable to wildfire; more than 12 million acres of land, including important forested water-supply watersheds, have burned in the southwestern U.S. in the past 30 years. Wildfires increase susceptibility of watersheds to both flooding and erosion, and thus can impair water supplies. 

The USGS investigators found that hydrologic and water-quality responses downstream of the burned area were primarily driven by small, brief convective storms that had relatively high, but not unusual, rainfall intensity. Suspended sediment, dissolved organic carbon, nitrate, and manganese concentrations were 10-156 times higher downstream of the burned area compared to upstream, and reached concentrations that could impair the ability of water-treatment plants to effectively treat water for human consumption. 

Results from this study quantitatively demonstrate that water quality can be altered for several years after wildfire, even in a watershed that was only 23% burned. Because wildfire frequency and size, and possibly storm frequency and intensity, are projected to increase in the southwestern U.S. in the future, post-wildfire water-quality impacts may become more common, compounding water supply and quality problems related to projected decreases in runoff and continued population growth. 

Recently published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the study suggests potential adaptation strategies to avoid the introduction of problematic constituents into water-treatment facilities or reservoirs after wildfire. 

Declines and Slow Recovery in Little Brown Bat Populations Predicted

Mon, 09/28/2015 - 12:30
Summary: Populations of bats diminished by white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease of hibernating bats, are unlikely to return to healthy levels in the near future, according to new U.S. Geological Survey research Highlights Severity of White-Nose Syndrome and Critical Research Needs

Contact Information:

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



Populations of bats diminished by white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease of hibernating bats, are unlikely to return to healthy levels in the near future, according to new U.S. Geological Survey research

USGS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists recently evaluated the potential for populations of little brown bats in the eastern United States that survive WNS outbreaks to repopulate. The scientists estimated that between 2016 and 2018, little brown bat populations that once contained millions of bats could decrease to lower than 100,000 animals. Also, some populations may not begin to increase again until around 2023. Populations east of the 100th meridian, the designation between the drier western and wetter eastern states, would likely consist of sparse remnant communities, some of which may be less than 1.5 percent of their original sizes. 

This scarcity of surviving bats can negatively affect reproduction rates and make survivors more vulnerable to threats.

“With so few surviving animals, little brown bats could cease to be a dominant bat species in the eastern United States,” said USGS scientist Robin Russell, the lead author of the report. “These small bat population sizes are problematic because they are more likely to be wiped out by events such as poor weather conditions and landscape development.” 

Animals in small communities could also have trouble finding mates. Female bats gathering in maternity roosts during the summer can include several hundred bats, and the inability to form these colonies due to reduced populations may negatively impact overall reproduction rates. 

Bats pollinate plants, spread seeds and save us billions of dollars in pest control each year by eating harmful insects. WNS, caused by the Pseudogymnoascus destructans fungus, can cause up to 100 percent mortality in some little brown bat populations. It has already killed millions of hibernating bats in North America and continues to spread.

As part of a coordinated response to WNS, scientists from around the world are working to further understand the disease and conserve bat species affected by it. The USGS and USFWS are among numerous state, federal, tribal, private and university partners engaged in WNS research and response. Members of this community are pursuing multiple approaches to manage the disease, with treatment strategies to both reduce impacts of the disease and to improve the potential for bat populations to survive and eventually recover. This new study emphasizes the importance of continuing research on bat species affected by WNS to finding a solution for managing the disease. 

For more information about USGS WNS research, please visit the USGS National Wildlife Health Center website.