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Updated: 3 hours 54 min ago

New Mineral Science Shows Promise for Reducing Environmental Impacts from Mining

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 10:00
Summary: Mining companies, land managers, and regulators now have a wealth of tools to aid in reducing potential mining impacts even before the mine gets started

Contact Information:

Bob Seal ( Phone: 703-648-6290 ); Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 );



Mining companies, land managers, and regulators now have a wealth of tools to aid in reducing potential mining impacts even before the mine gets started. USGS and various research partners released a special edition of papers specifically targeted at providing modern environmental effect research for modern mining techniques.

Minerals play an important role in the global economy, and, as rising standards of living have increased demand for those minerals, the number and size of mines have increased, leading to larger potential impacts from mining.

“Approaches to protecting the environment from mining impacts have undergone a revolution over the past several decades,” said USGS mineral and environmental expert Bob Seal. “The sustainability of that revolution relies on an evolving scientific understanding of how mines and their waste products interact with the environment.”

Many research conclusions are contained in the special issue, and some of the primary findings are listed here:

Pre-Mining Tools

  • USGS evaluated several tools for predicting pre-mining baseline conditions at a mine, even if no baseline was established. This will make it easier to remediate the mine after it closes.
  • USGS also took tools used to screen mine waste for contaminants and tested them  for predicting potential sources for contaminants before the mine even got started.

Mitigating while Mining

  • Because slag is the byproduct of mineral processing, its physical and chemical properties depend a lot on what the original mined mineral material was.
  • Slag from copper, zinc, or nickel may be less attractive for reuse, since it has a higher potential to negatively impact the environment than slag that came from iron or steel production.
  • Gold mining runs a lower risk of contaminating the environment with cyanide if mines give enough time for it to safely evaporate and be broken down by sunlight.

Mine Drainage

  • Mine drainage is incredibly complicated. It doesn’t come from a single source, but rather complex interactions between water, air, and micro-organisms like bacteria.
  • Mine drainage is not just acid mine drainage—it can be basic, neutral, or even high in salts. All of these drainage types have their own impacts.
  • Mine drainage concentrations in streams can actually change based on the time of day.

Toxic Transport

  • USGS tested many of the existing techniques for figuring out what toxic contaminants wind up in stream sediments so managers know the right one for the right job.
  • USGS also evaluated a new technique for predicting how toxic certain metals will be in aquatic environments.

The research papers are contained in a special issue of the journal Applied Geochemistry. This research was conducted by scientists from USGS and several collaborating organizations, including the Geological Survey of Canada, InTerraLogic, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Montana Tech, SUNY Oneonta, the University of Maryland, the University of Montana, and the University of Waterloo.

USGS minerals research can help to identify problems before they become problems, or at the very least, help address the impacts that do exist. Learn more about USGS minerals research here, or follow us on www.twitter.com/usgsminerals

Boom and Bust in the Boreal Forest: Climate Signals Seen in Bird Populations

Mon, 05/11/2015 - 15:00
Summary: Weaving concepts of ecology and climatology, recent interdisciplinary research by USGS and several university partners reveals how large-scale climate variability appears to connect boom-and-bust cycles in the seed production of the boreal (northern conifer) forests of Canada to massive, irregular movements of boreal birds

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Julio Betancourt ( Phone: 520-820-0943 );



A pine siskin stands on the branch of a northern conifer tree. Photo, USFWS National Digital Library. (High resolution image)

Weaving concepts of ecology and climatology, recent interdisciplinary research by USGS and several university partners reveals how large-scale climate variability appears to connect boom-and-bust cycles in the seed production of the boreal (northern conifer) forests of Canada to massive, irregular movements of boreal birds.

These boreal bird “irruptions” — extended migrations of immense numbers of birds to areas far outside their normal range — have been recorded for decades by birders, but the ultimate causes of the irruptions have never been fully explained. 

“This study is a textbook example of interdisciplinary research, establishing an exciting new link between climate and bird migrations” said USGS acting Director Suzette Kimball. “A vital strength of our organization is our ability to pursue scientific issues across the boundaries of traditional academic disciplines.”

The investigation was based on statistical analysis of two million observations of the pine siskin (a finch, Spinus pinus) recorded since 1989 by Project FeederWatch, a citizen science program managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. By methodically counting the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April, FeederWatchers help scientists track continent-wide movements of winter bird populations.

One of several nomadic birds that breed during summer in Canadian boreal forests, pine siskins feed on seed crops of conifers and other tree species. When seed is abundant locally, pine siskins also spend the autumn and winter there. In other years, they may irrupt, migrating unpredictably hundreds or even thousands of kilometers to the south and east in search of seed and favorable habitat. “Superflights” is the term applied to winters (e.g.1997-1998, 2012-2013) when boreal species have blanketed bird feeders across the U.S. 

The irruptions of pine siskins and other boreal species follow a lagging pattern of  intermittent, but broadly synchronous, accelerated seed production (“masting”) by trees in the boreal forest. Widespread masting in pines, spruces, and firs is driven primarily by favorable climate during the two or three consecutive years required to initiate and mature seed crops. Leading up to masting events, the green developing cones and the promise of abundant seed stimulate higher reproductive rates in birds.

However, seed production is expensive for trees and tends to be much reduced in the years following masting. Consequently, meager seed crops in the years following masting drive boreal birds to search elsewhere for food and overwintering habitat.

The key finding of the new research is that the two principal pine siskin irruption modes – North to South and West to East – correlate closely with spatial patterns of climate variability across North America that are well understood by climatologists. Not surprisingly, severely cold winters tend to drive birds south during the irruption year.

More subtly, the researchers found that favorable and unfavorable climatic conditions of regularly juxtaposed regions called “climate dipoles” two years prior to the irruption also appear to push and pull bird migrations across the continent.

USGS co-author Julio Betancourt commented, “Our study underscores the value of continent-wide biological monitoring. In this case, avid birders across the U.S. and Canada have contributed sustained observations of birds at the same broad geographic scale in which weather and climate have also been observed and understood.”

Other similar examples of biological monitoring within USGS include the Breeding Bird Survey and the National Phenology Network.

The research study, authored by Court Strong (University of Utah), Ben Zuckerberg (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Julio Betancourt (USGS-Reston), and Walt Koenig (Cornell University), was published May 11 online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The Chemistry of Waters that Follow from Fracking: A Case Study

Mon, 05/11/2015 - 08:49
Summary: In a study of 13 hydraulically fractured shale gas wells in north-central Pennsylvania, USGS researchers found that the microbiology and organic chemistry of the produced waters varied widely from well to well

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Denise  Akob ( Phone: 703-648-5819 );



Storage tanks for produced water from natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale gas play of western Pennsylvania. USGS photo, Doug Duncan. (High resolution image)

In a study of 13 hydraulically fractured shale gas wells in north-central Pennsylvania, USGS researchers found that the microbiology and organic chemistry of the produced waters varied widely from well to well.

The variations in these aspects of the wells followed no discernible spatial or geological pattern but may be linked to the time a well was in production. Further, the study highlighted the presence of some organic compounds (e.g. benzene) in produced waters that could present potential risks to human health, if the waters are not properly managed.

Produced water is the term specialists use to describe the water brought to the land surface during oil, gas, and coalbed methane production. This water is a mixture of naturally occurring water and fluid injected into the formation deep underground to enhance production. A USGS Fact Sheet on produced water provides more background information and terminology definitions.

Although the USGS investigators found that the inorganic (noncarbon-based) chemistry of produced waters from the shale gas wells tested in the Marcellus region was fairly consistent from well to well and meshed with comparable results of previous studies (see USGS Energy Produced Waters Project), the large differences in the organic geochemistry (carbon-based, including petroleum products) and microbiology (e.g. bacteria) of the produced waters were striking findings of the study.

“Some wells appeared to be hotspots for microbial activity,” observed Denise Akob, a USGS microbiologist and lead author of the study, “but this was not predicted by well location, depth, or salinity. The presence of microbes seemed to be associated with concentrations of specific organic compounds — for example, benzene or acetate — and the length of time that the well was in production.”

The connection between the presence of organic compounds and the detection of microbes was not, in itself, surprising. Many organic compounds used as hydraulic fracturing fluid additives are biodegradable and thus could have supported microbial activity at depth during shale gas production. 

The notable differences in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the produced waters of the tested wells could play a role in the management of produced waters, particularly since VOCs, such as benzene, may be a health concern around the well or holding pond. In wells without VOCs, on the other hand, disposal strategies could concentrate on issues related to the handling of other hazardous compounds.

Microbial activity detected in these samples could turn out to be an advantage by contributing to the degradation of organic compounds present in the produced waters. Potentially, microbes could also serve to help mitigate the effects of organic contaminants during the disposal or accidental release of produced waters. Additional research is needed to fully assess how microbial activity can best be utilized to biodegrade organic compounds found in produced waters.

The research article can be found in the most recent edition of Applied Geochemistry, Special Issue on Shale Gas Geochemistry.

Asian Carp Would Have Adequate Food to Survive in Lake Erie

Wed, 05/06/2015 - 09:15
Summary: If invasive bighead carp and silver carp spread into Lake Erie, there would be enough food available for these species of Asian carp to survive, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey

Contact Information:

Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 ); Karl Anderson ( Phone: 573-441-2956 ); Duane Chapman ( Phone: 573-876-1866 );



If invasive bighead carp and silver carp spread into Lake Erie, there would be enough food available for these species of Asian carp to survive, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

This information is critical in helping resource managers mitigate effects of an Asian carp invasion. If bighead and silver carp were to populate Lake Erie, they have the potential to damage native fish populations and the Great Lakes economy.

USGS scientists used satellite imagery of Lake Erie showing algae on the surface to determine how much food would be available for Asian carp. Green algae and blue-green algae, specifically floating algal blooms that can be seen on the surface, are a preferred food source for Asian carp. The water temperatures and algal concentrations detected in Lake Erie from 2002-2011 show that the bighead and silver carps could not only live in this environment, but could continue to grow. The full report is available online.

“Remote sensing imagery shows that Lake Erie has huge areas of available food that are often several times more concentrated than necessary for Asian carp growth, particularly in the western basin,” said USGS scientist Karl Anderson.

Food availability and water temperature are the greatest sources of uncertainty for predicting fish growth potential. Water temperature is a big factor in determining how much bighead and silver carps need to eat. Models developed by USGS scientists helped determine how much algae bighead and silver carps need to eat to survive.

For the past 10 years, algal blooms in Lake Erie have been increasing. Remote sensing images showed that the amount of algae doubled, and in some places quadrupled, from 2002-2011. Throughout the lake, algal blooms encompass several hundred to several thousands square kilometers. Specifically, the western part of Lake Erie has algal concentrations that are several times greater than what is needed for bighead or silver carp to survive. 

Shorebird Science? iPlover is the App for That

Mon, 05/04/2015 - 08:06
Summary: The latest tool designed to help manage the threatened piping plover is only a download away; iPlover is the first smartphone data collection application developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and will help those managing plover populations

Contact Information:

Rob  Thieler ( Phone: 508-922-7108 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



RESTON, Va.-- The latest tool designed to help manage the threatened piping plover is only a download away; iPlover is the first smartphone data collection application developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and will help those managing plover populations.

iPlover supports a long-established network of partners working to address ongoing impacts on plover populations, such as habitat gain or loss due to storms. 

More importantly, data from the app is used to develop models that address long-term management concerns for habitat availability. It also improves the overall quality of coastal geologic information available to effectively manage this species. 

The piping plover is a small shorebird that depends on open coastal beaches to breed and raise its young. Listed as threatened along the Atlantic coast in 1986, the piping plover’s conservation has been mandated by the Endangered Species Act. Although Atlantic Coast piping plover numbers have more than doubled since their listing nearly 30 years ago, they are still at risk. Recent estimates place the population at fewer than 2000 pairs, and climate change has introduced new threats to their coastal habitat. 

Coastal beaches are dynamic systems and managing them for beach-dependent species like the piping plover requires collecting data on physical and biological characteristics that will be affected by sea level rise.  Given the extensive Atlantic breeding range of the piping plover – spanning from North Carolina to Newfoundland – biologists have a lot of ground to cover.

The iPlover app supports the need for coordinated, synchronized data collection. It is a powerful new tool to help scientists and coastal resource managers consistently measure and assess the birds’ response to changes to their habitat. Rather than compiling data from multiple sources and formats, the app gives trained resource managers an easy-to-use platform where they can collect and instantly share data across a diverse community of field technicians, scientists, and managers. iPlover improves scientists’ data gathering and analysis capabilities by simplifying and facilitating consistent data collection and management that interfaces with models of shoreline change and beach geomorphology.

“The data come in from all of our study sites basically in real-time,” said Rob Thieler, USGS scientist and lead developer of the app. “It's already formatted, so data can be quickly plugged into our research models. This should really shorten the time between collecting the data, doing the science, and turning it into actionable information for management.”

“The USGS worked with diverse project partners to incorporate specific data collection needs and enable important stakeholders and partners to contribute data from hundreds of field observations within the plover’s U.S. Atlantic coastal breeding range,” said Andrew Milliken, coordinator of the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative.  “This included getting inputs from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, state agencies and non-governmental organizations.”

“The app highlights the synergies and benefits of interagency and interdisciplinary science that advances conservation,” Milliken added. “The information collected will not only greatly improve our understanding of impacts from sea level rise, storms and beach management on piping plovers but also how managing for plovers can benefit other beach-dependent species, such as the American oystercatcher.”

Funding for iPlover was provided through the Department of Interior North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative as part of its Hurricane Sandy response.  The app was developed by the USGS’ Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center and the Center for Integrated Data Analytics.

“iPlover is a great example of the USGS’ ability to build and deliver a variety of science applications that use modern technology,” said Nate Booth, USGS Chief of Office of Water Information and former Lead Architect for the USGS Center for Integrated Data Analytics. “It offers research teams great gains in data collection efficiency so that more time can be spent on analyzing the data rather than managing it." 

Dam Removal Study Reveals River Resiliency

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 14:00
Summary: More than 1,000 dams have been removed across the United States because of safety concerns, sediment buildup, inefficiency or having otherwise outlived usefulness

Contact Information:

Jeff Duda, USGS ( Phone: 206-526-2532 ); Gordon Grant, USFS ( Phone: 541-750-7328 ); Ryan  McClymont, USGS ( Phone: 503-583-7944 );



SEATTLE, Wash. — More than 1,000 dams have been removed across the United States because of safety concerns, sediment buildup, inefficiency or having otherwise outlived usefulness. A paper published today in Science finds that rivers are resilient and respond relatively quickly after a dam is removed. 

“The apparent success of dam removal as a means of river restoration is reflected in the increasing number of dams coming down, more than 1,000 in the last 40 years,” said lead author of the study Jim O’Connor, geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “Rivers quickly erode sediment accumulated in former reservoirs and redistribute it downstream, commonly returning the river to conditions similar to those prior to impoundment.”

Dam removal and the resulting river ecosystem restoration is being studied by scientists from several universities and government agencies, including the USGS and U.S. Forest Service, as part of a national effort to document the effects of removing dams. Studies show that most river channels stabilize within months or years, not decades, particularly when dams are removed rapidly.

“In many cases, fish and other biological aspects of river ecosystems also respond quickly to dam removal,” said co-author of the study Jeff Duda, an ecologist with USGS. “When given the chance, salmon and other migratory fish will move upstream and utilize newly opened habitat.”

The increase in the number of dam removals, both nationally and internationally, has spurred the effort to understand the consequences and help guide future dam removals.

“As existing dams age and outlive usefulness, dam removal is becoming more common, particularly where it can benefit riverine ecosystems,” said Gordon Grant, Forest Service hydrologist. “But it can be a complicated decision with significant economic and ecologic consequences. Better understanding of outcomes enables better decisions about which dams might be good candidates for removal and what the river might look like as a result.”

Sponsored by the USGS John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis, a working group of 22 scientists compiled a database of research and studies involving more than 125 dam removals. Researchers have determined common patterns and controls affecting how rivers and their ecosystems respond to dam removal. Important factors include the size of the dam, the volume and type of sediment accumulated in the reservoir, and overall watershed characteristics and history. 

Burmese Python Habitat Use Patterns May Help Control Efforts

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 09:00
Summary: The largest and longest Burmese Python tracking study of its kind -- here or in its native range -- is providing researchers and resource managers new information that may help target control efforts of this invasive snake, according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey Largest Tracking Study of its Kind Provides New Information on Pythons' Home Range, Use

Contact Information:

Kristen Hart ( Phone: 954-236-1067 ); Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-498-5019 );



EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Fla.— The largest and longest Burmese Python tracking study of its kind -- here or in its native range -- is providing researchers and resource managers new information that may help target control efforts of this invasive snake, according to a new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Among the findings, scientists have identified the size of a Burmese python’s home range and discovered they share some “common areas” that multiple snakes use. 

“These high-use areas may be optimal locations for control efforts and further studies on the snakes’ potential impacts on native wildlife,” said Kristen Hart, a USGS research ecologist and lead author of the study. “Understanding habitat-use patterns of invasive species can aid resource managers in designing appropriately timed and scaled management strategies to help control their spread.”

Using radio and GPS tags to track 19 wild-caught pythons, researchers were able to learn how the Burmese python moved within its home range. The 5,119 days of tracking data led researchers to conclude that python home ranges are an average of 22 square kilometers, or roughly an area 3 miles wide-by-3 miles long, all currently within the park. 

The study found pythons were concentrated in slough and coastal habitats, with tree islands being the principal feature of common-use areas, even in areas where they were not the predominant habitat type. The longest movements of individual pythons occurred most often during dry conditions, but took place during “wet” and “dry” seasons.

Burmese pythons are long-lived, large-bodied constricting snakes native to Southeast Asia. Highly adaptable, these ambush predators can reach lengths greater than 19 feet and produce large clutches of eggs that can range from eight to 107 eggs. Burmese pythons were first observed in South Florida’s Everglades National Park in 1979. Since then, they have spread throughout the park. Although recent research indicates the snakes may be having a significant effect on some populations of mid-sized mammals, it has also shown there is little risk to people who visit Everglades National Park. 

Invasive species compete with native wildlife for food, and they threaten native biodiversity across the globe. With nearly 50 percent of the imperiled species in the US being threatened by exotic species, a major concern for land managers is the growing number of exotics that are successfully invading and establishing viable populations.

Florida is home to more exotic animals than any other state. Snakes in particular have been shown to pose a high risk of becoming invasive species. The establishment of Burmese pythons in South Florida poses a significant threat to both the sensitive Everglades ecosystem and native species of conservation concern. For example, in the park, wood storks, Florida panthers and Cape Sable seaside sparrows are all species of conservation concern that have home ranges near the common-use areas of the radio-tracked pythons.

The study, “Home Range, Habitat Use, and Movement Patterns of Non-Native Burmese Pythons in Everglades National Park, Florida, USA,” with authors from the USGS, University of Florida, National Park Service, and Davidson College, was published in the journal Animal Biotelemetry.

New Insight on Ground Shaking from Man-Made Earthquakes

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 09:00
Summary: Significant strides in science have been made to better understand potential ground shaking from induced earthquakes, which are earthquakes triggered by man-made practices

Contact Information:

Jessica Robertson ( Phone: 703-648-6624 ); Mark Petersen ( Phone: 303-273-8546 );



Significant strides in science have been made to better understand potential ground shaking from induced earthquakes, which are earthquakes triggered by man-made practices.

Earthquake activity has sharply increased since 2009 in the central and eastern United States. The increase has been linked to industrial operations that dispose of wastewater by injecting it into deep wells.

The U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a report today that outlines a preliminary set of models to forecast how hazardous ground shaking could be in the areas where sharp increases in seismicity have been recorded. The models ultimately aim to calculate how often earthquakes are expected to occur in the next year and how hard the ground will likely shake as a result. This report looked at the central and eastern United States; future research will incorporate data from the western states as well.

This report also identifies issues that must be resolved to develop a final hazard model, which is scheduled for release at the end of the year after the preliminary models are further examined. These preliminary models should be considered experimental in nature and should not be used for decision-making.

USGS scientists identified 17 areas within eight states with increased rates of induced seismicity. Since 2000, several of these areas have experienced high levels of seismicity, with substantial increases since 2009 that continue today. This is the first comprehensive assessment of the hazard levels associated with induced earthquakes in these areas. A detailed list of these areas is provided in the accompanying map, including the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Scientists developed the models by analyzing earthquakes in these zones and considering their rates, locations, maximum magnitude, and ground motions.

“This new report describes for the first time how injection-induced earthquakes can be incorporated into U.S. seismic hazard maps,” said Mark Petersen, Chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Modeling Project. “These earthquakes are occurring at a higher rate than ever before and pose a much greater risk to people living nearby. The USGS is developing methods that overcome the challenges in assessing seismic hazards in these regions in order to support decisions that help keep communities safe from ground shaking.”

In 2014, the USGS released updated National Seismic Hazard Maps, which describe hazard levels for natural earthquakes. Those maps are used in building codes, insurance rates, emergency preparedness plans, and other applications. The maps forecast the likelihood of earthquake shaking within a 50-year period, which is the average lifetime of a building. However, these new induced seismicity products display intensity of potential ground shaking from induced earthquakes in a one-year period. This shorter timeframe is appropriate because the induced activity can vary rapidly with time and is subject to commercial and policy decisions that could change at any point.

These new methods and products result in part from a workshop hosted by the USGS and the Oklahoma Geological Survey. The workshop, described in the new report, brought together a broad group of experts from government, industry and academic communities to discuss the hazards from induced earthquakes.

Wastewater that is salty or polluted by chemicals needs to be disposed of in a manner that prevents contaminating freshwater sources. Large volumes of wastewater can result from a variety of processes, such as a byproduct from energy production. Wastewater injection increases the underground pore pressure, which may lubricate nearby faults thereby making earthquakes more likely to occur. Although the disposal process has the potential to trigger earthquakes, most wastewater disposal wells do not produce felt earthquakes.

Many questions have been raised about whether hydraulic fracturing—commonly referred to as “fracking”—is responsible for the recent increase of earthquakes. USGS’s studies suggest that the actual hydraulic fracturing process is only occasionally the direct cause of felt earthquakes.

Read the newly published USGS report, “Incorporating Induced Seismicity in the 2014 United States National Seismic Hazard Model—Results of 2014 Workshop and Sensitivity Studies.”

Cumulative number of earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or larger in the central and eastern United States, 1973-2014. The rate of earthquakes began to increase starting around 2009 and accelerated in 2013-2014. (high resolution image) Research has identified 17 areas in the central and eastern United States with increased rates of induced seismicity. Since 2000, several of these areas have experienced high levels of seismicity, with substantial increases since 2009 that continue today. (high resolution image)

Model Offers More Ease, Precision for Managing Invasive Asian Carp

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 15:30
Summary: The likelihood of Asian carp eggs being kept in suspension and hatching in the St. Joseph River in Michigan has been further evaluated using a model that examines a range of multiple flow and water temperature scenarios

Contact Information:

Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 ); Elizabeth Murphy ( Phone: 217-328-9726 );



The likelihood of Asian carp eggs being kept in suspension and hatching in the St. Joseph River in Michigan has been further evaluated using a model that examines a range of multiple flow and water temperature scenarios. Results illustrate the highest percentage of Asian carp eggs at risk of hatching occurs when the streamflow is low and when the water temperature is high. This new study by the University of Illinois and the U.S. Geological Survey is published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

“In this study, the Fluvial Egg Drift Simulator (FluEgg) model allowed us to examine the complex dependencies between flow, temperature and egg development,” said USGS hydrologist Ryan Jackson. “This information provides resource managers with a range of conditions under which the St. Joseph River is vulnerable to Asian carp reproduction."

The FluEgg model was used to evaluate egg movement and the likelihood of successful Asian carp reproduction under different streamflow and temperature conditions representative of historical spawning seasons in the St. Joseph River, a tributary to Lake Michigan. Results show that eggs develop faster at warmer water temperatures, therefore requiring less time to drift in the river until hatching. Low streamflows can also be conducive to reproduction when the streamflow is just fast enough to keep most of the eggs in suspension while allowing for the greatest amount of drift time before reaching the lake, thus increasing the likelihood of hatching.

The FluEgg model, developed by University of Illinois researchers in collaboration with the USGS, was first introduced in 2013. The latest version of the model is available online, and includes a user-friendly interface and improved predictions of egg transport in rivers.

Invasive Asian carp consume plankton from the base of the food web and reproduce prolifically which could pose substantial environmental risks and economic impacts to the Great Lakes if they become established. 

"This work focuses on the early life stages of Asian carp," said USGS research fish biologist Duane Chapman. "Targeting early life stages can include disrupting spawning activities or egg development in rivers where Asian carp spawn."

Several factors affect the viability of the eggs. The temperature of the water affects how long the eggs need to hatch, and the velocity of the river affects the movement of the eggs and whether the eggs remain in suspension or sink to the bottom. Eggs that settle on the riverbed will likely die, and eggs that are transported down the river and into a lake may not have enough time to develop to the hatching stage before settling to the lakebed.

The reproduction assessment of Asian carp eggs in the St. Joseph River demonstrated the complexity of the problem where the length of the river, velocity and water temperatures cannot be assessed individually. Rather, a holistic analysis is required, where egg development, water-quality characteristics and the hydrodynamics of the river are interconnected and analyzed together. 

“Successful reproduction requires a fine balance between the rate of egg development and the variable flow conditions present in a river required to maintain the eggs in suspension,” said Tatiana Garcia, USGS research hydrologist and lead author of the paper.

The paper, “Application of the FluEgg model to predict transport of Asian carp eggs in the St. Joseph River (Great Lakes tributary)” by Tatiana Garcia, Elizabeth A. Murphy, Patrick R. Jackson and Marcelo H. Garcia, is available online. 

Coal-Tar-Sealant Runoff Causes Toxicity and DNA Damage

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 08:00
Summary: Runoff from pavement with coal-tar-based sealant is toxic to aquatic life, damages DNA, and impairs DNA repair, according to two studies by the U.S. Geological Survey published in the journals Environmental Science and Technology and Science of the Total Environment

Contact Information:

Barbara Mahler ( Phone: 512-927-3566 ); Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 );



Runoff from pavement with coal-tar-based sealant is toxic to aquatic life, damages DNA, and impairs DNA repair, according to two studies by the U.S. Geological Survey published in the journals Environmental Science and Technology and Science of the Total Environment.

Pavement sealant is a black liquid sprayed or painted on the asphalt pavement of parking lots, driveways and playgrounds to improve appearance and protect the underlying asphalt. Pavement sealants that contain coal tar have extremely high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  Coal tar is a known human carcinogen; several PAHs are probable human carcinogens and some are toxic to fish and other aquatic life.

Rainwater runoff collected as long as three months after coal-tar-sealcoat application caused 100% mortality to minnows and water fleas, which are part of the base of the food chain, when the test organisms were exposed to ultra-violet radiation to simulate sunlight. The full study, reported in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology, is available online.

Exposure of fish cells to coal-tar sealant runoff damaged their DNA and impaired the ability of the cells to repair DNA damage. “The simultaneous occurrence of DNA damage and impairment of DNA repair has important implications for cell health,” said Sylvie Bony, who led the study at the Ecole Nationale des Travaux Publics de l’Etat (ENTPE), a French research agency in Lyon, France. The study is reported in the scientific journal Science of the Total Environment.

The studies were done to address the concern that rainfall runoff occurring within hours or days of coal-tar-based sealant application might be toxic to fish and other organisms in streams. The two studies collected and tested simulated runoff at various times beginning just hours after coal-tar-sealant application. 

"The USGS has been studying coal-tar-sealcoat as a source of PAHs for 10 years, and findings from these two studies are consistent with what is known about toxicity and genotoxicity of these chemicals," said USGS scientist Barbara Mahler.

A previous publication detailed the chemical concentrations in runoff from coal-tar-sealed pavement at a range of times following sealant application. The results, reported in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution, are available online.

Coal-tar sealants have significantly higher levels of PAHs and related compounds compared to asphalt-based pavement sealants and other urban sources, including vehicle emissions, used motor oil, and tire particles. Previous studies have concluded that coal-tar sealants are a major source of PAHs to lake sediments in commercial and residential settings, and that people living near pavement sealed with coal-tar sealant have an elevated risk of cancer.

To learn more, visit the USGS website on PAHs and sealcoat.

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