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Technical Announcements
Updated: 29 min 4 sec ago

ASU, USGS Create Sharpest Map Ever of Mars Surface Properties

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 15:11
Summary: TEMPE, Ariz. – A heat-sensing camera designed at Arizona State University has provided data to create the most detailed global map yet of Martian surface properties. The map uses data from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), a nine-band visual and infrared camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. An online version of the map optimized for scientific researchers is also available.

Contact Information:

Robin Fergason ( Phone: 928-556-7034 );



TEMPE, Ariz. – A heat-sensing camera designed at Arizona State University has provided data to create the most detailed global map yet of Martian surface properties. The map uses data from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), a nine-band visual and infrared camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. An online version of the map optimized for scientific researchers is also available.

The new Mars map was developed by Robin Fergason of the U.S. Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, in collaboration with researchers at ASU's Mars Space Flight Facility. The work reflects the close ties between space exploration efforts at Arizona universities and the USGS. 

"We used more than 20,000 THEMIS nighttime temperature images to generate the highest resolution surface property map of Mars ever created," said Fergason, who earned her Ph.D. degree at ASU in 2006. "Now these data are freely available to researchers and the public alike."

Surface properties tell geologists about the physical nature of a planet or moon's surface. Is a particular area coated with dust, and if so, how thick is it likely to be? Where are the outcrops of bedrock? How loose are the sediments that fill this crater or that valley? A map of surface properties lets scientists begin to answer such questions.

The new map uses nighttime temperature images to derive the "thermal inertia" for football field-sized areas of Mars. Thermal inertia is a calculated value that represents how fast a surface heats up and cools off. As night follows day on Mars, loose fine-grain materials such as sand and dust change temperature quickly and thus have low values of thermal inertia. Bedrock has a high thermal inertia because it cools off slowly at night and warms up slowly by day.

"Darker areas in the map have a lower thermal inertia and likely contain fine particles, such as dust, silt or fine sand," said Fergason. “Brighter regions have higher thermal inertia surfaces, consisting perhaps of coarser sand, surface crusts, rock fragments, bedrock or combinations of these materials.”

The designer and principal investigator for the THEMIS camera is Philip Christensen, Regents' Professor of Geological Sciences in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on the Tempe campus. Four years ago, Christensen and ASU researchers used daytime THEMIS images to create a global Mars map depicting the planet's landforms, such as craters, volcanoes, outflow channels, landslides, lava flows and other features.

"A tremendous amount of effort has gone into this great global product, which will serve engineers, scientists and the public for many years to come," Christensen said. "This map provides data not previously available and will enable regional and global studies of surface properties. I'm eager to use it to discover new insights into the recent surface history of Mars."

Fergason noted that there's a practical side, too.

"NASA used THEMIS images to find safe landing sites for the Mars Exploration Rovers in 2004 and Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory rover, in 2012," she said. "THEMIS images are now helping to select a landing site for NASA's next Mars rover in 2020."

'Dry Ice' Cause of Gullies on Mars

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 16:00
Summary: Seasonal carbon dioxide frost, not liquid water, is the main driver in forming gullies on Mars today, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey study that relied on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (MRO) repeated high-resolution observations

Contact Information:

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



Seasonal carbon dioxide frost, not liquid water, is the main driver in forming gullies on Mars today, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey study that relied on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (MRO) repeated high-resolution observations.

Martian gullies are landforms typically consisting of steep channels, usually having a recessed head, that feed into a fan of material deposited at the bottom. The discovery of active gullies was first reported in 2000, which generated excitement due to consideration that they might result from action of liquid water. Mars has water vapor and plenty of water ice, but liquid water, a necessity for all known life, has not been confirmed on modern Mars. The new report, published in the journal Icarus, is available online.

"As recently as five years ago, I thought the gullies on Mars indicated activity of liquid water," said USGS scientist Colin Dundas, lead author of the new report. "We were able to get many more observations, and as we started to see more activity and pin down the timing of gully formation and change, we saw that the activity is in winter."

A smaller type of seasonal flow seen on some slopes on Mars may involve liquid water, but is yet to be determined. These flows are called recurring slope lineae (RSL), and are sometimes found within small channels but not systematically associated with larger gullies.

Dundas and collaborators used the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on MRO to examine each of 356 Martian sites with gullies at least twice, beginning in 2006. Thirty-eight of the sites showed activity, such as cutting a new channel segment or adding material to the apron-shaped deposit at the downhill end of a gully. Wherever the timing of before-and-after observations enabled determining the season of gully activity, it was a time too cold for the possibility of melting water-ice, but consistent with seasonal carbon dioxide frost.

"RSL and mass movements in Martian gullies are two distinct types of slope activity,” said Dundas “It's not hard to tell them apart in HiRISE images. The classic Martian gullies are much larger than RSL. Many of them are more the size that you'd call ravines on Earth."

Frozen carbon dioxide, commonly called dry ice, does not exist naturally on Earth, but it is plentiful on Mars. It has been linked to active processes on Mars such as geysers of carbon dioxide gas from springtime sublimation of dry ice, and blocks of dry ice that plow lines on sand dunes by sledding down dunes on cushions of sublimated gas. One mechanism for how carbon dioxide frost might drive gully flows is by gas that is sublimating from the frost, providing lubrication for dry material to flow. Another might be slides due to accumulating weight of seasonal frost buildup on steep slopes.

Work by Dundas and others has previously pointed to winter timing of gully formation on dune and non-dune slopes, with suggested involvement of seasonal changes in frozen carbon dioxide. The new report adds evidence for the changes. The findings also make a new point that the pace of gully formation that has now been documented is swift enough that all of the fresh-appearing gullies seen on Mars can be attributed to current processes. Some earlier hypotheses attributing the gullies to action of liquid water have suggested they formed thousands to millions of years ago when climate conditions were possibly more conducive to Mars having liquid water due to variations in the planet's tilt and orbit. 

Dundas' co-authors on the new report are Serina Diniega of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson.  

"Much of the information we have about gully formation and other active processes on Mars comes from the longevity of MRO and other orbiters,” said Diniega. “This enables repeated observation of sites to examine changes over time." 

Data will appear in an upcoming special issue of Icarus with multiple reports about active processes on Mars, including RSL.

"I like that Mars can still surprise us," Dundas said. "Martian gullies are fascinating features where we can investigate a process that we just don't see on Earth." 

HiRISE is operated by the University of Arizona. The instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project is managed for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, by JPL. 

Visit the USGS Astrogeology Center to learn more.

Visit HiRISE for more information.

Additional information about MRO is available online.

These two images show changes in a gully on Mars, and illustrate that these landforms are evolving rapidly. A rubbly flow (noted by the arrows) has been deposited near the mouth of the channel between the time of the two images. Further up the slope, the channel system has been modified by both erosion and deposition. The timing of such changes is often in winter or early spring, suggesting that they are caused by the carbon dioxide frost that forms in and around most gullies every year. (High resolution image)

New Findings on Contaminants of Emerging Concern Featured in JAWRA

Mon, 04/28/2014 - 14:59
Summary: The environmental occurrence of contaminants of emerging concern, including pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and hormones, can have adverse effects on aquatic and terrestrial life and potentially human health. These contaminants continue to impact waterways across the United States according to articles featured in  the Journal of American Water Resources.

Contact Information:

William Battaglin ( Phone: 303-236-6872 );



The environmental occurrence of contaminants of emerging concern, including pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and hormones, can have adverse effects on aquatic and terrestrial life and potentially human health. These contaminants continue to impact waterways across the United States according to articles featured in  the Journal of American Water Resources.

The April collection, edited by U.S. Geological Survey scientist William Battaglin and University of Nebraska Professor Alan Kolak, features an introduction and 13 articles written by their colleagues.

The abstracts and links to all of the articles in the featured collection are provided below:

USGS Releases New National Produced Waters Geochemical Database

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 14:06
Summary: Scientists studying produced waters and their geochemical and environmental impacts have a powerful new tool in the newly released USGS Produced Waters Geochemical Database. This database is publicly available to all scientists and interested members of the public.

Contact Information:

Madalyn Blondes ( Phone: 703-648-6509 ); Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 );



Scientists studying produced waters and their geochemical and environmental impacts have a powerful new tool in the newly released USGS Produced Waters Geochemical Database. This database is publicly available to all scientists and interested members of the public.

Produced waters are those volumes of water that are typically recovered during oil and gas exploration, development, or production. This database is an update of the 2002 USGS Produced Waters Database, adding more than 100,000 new samples with greater spatial coverage and from both conventional and unconventional oil and gas development.

“This update of the database – with significantly more samples, types of analyses, and data from unconventional oil and gas wells – will be a tremendous tool for a number of stakeholders,” said USGS scientist Madalyn Blondes, who led the development of the database. “Industry can use the database to examine water quality for prospective plays and to plan for waste-water injection and recycling. Farmers can look up local produced water quality for possible remediation and reuse.  Local and national resource managers and economists will have new data to aid in tracking the composition of trace elements and quantifying strategic mineral commodities.”  

The USGS Produced Waters Geochemical Database has data on a comprehensive list of chemicals, including major elements, trace elements, isotopes, and time-series data. In addition, where available, each sample is identified according to what kind of well it was produced from, the properties of the rock formation it originated from, and the physical properties of the water in the sample.

The kind of well the sample originated from is important, as different well types involve different production methods and rock formations. The USGS Produced Waters Geochemical Database lists seven different well types: conventional oil and gas, shale gas, tight oil, tight gas, coal bed methane, geothermal, and groundwater.

The database is designed to be dynamic and easily updated with new data or corrections as needed. It is made up of 25 smaller databases, publications, and reports.

The Produced Waters project, as part of the USGS Energy Resources Program (ERP) examines the characterization, use, and impact of waters associated with oil and gas production.

The USGS Produced Waters Geochemical Database can be accessed here. To learn more about USGS produced waters and other energy research, please visit the USGS Energy Website, sign up for our Newsletter, or follow us on Twitter.

New DNA Tool Helps Scientists Identify Invasive Species of Aquatic Plants

Mon, 04/07/2014 - 07:00
Summary: A new DNA protocol developed by the U.S. Geological Survey helps biologists distinguish between native and invasive species of aquatic vegetation that have almost identical appearances

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 571-230-6831 ); Nancy Rybicki ( Phone: 703-648-5728 );



A new DNA protocol developed by the U.S. Geological Survey helps biologists distinguish between native and invasive species of aquatic vegetation that have almost identical appearances.  Until now, measuring the dispersal of these various invasive plants has been hampered by confusion about where and when the plants arrived. 

Invasive aquatic plants from Korea, Brazil, and the Indian subcontinent have been spreading through U.S. waterways for decades. The new DNA protocol will help biologists identify species, track their progress, and provide facts to local managers who can develop appropriate control measures.

“When invasive plants appear in a body of water, local people naturally are alarmed” said Nancy Rybicki, the USGS biologist who teamed up with molecular biologists to develop the new DNA testing technique. “Enormous amounts of money are spent on control. Some species may look very nearly identical, but they have unique reproductive and growth characteristics. Identification, the first step for control or eradication, needs to be precise.” 

Co-author and previous USGS employee, Mary Voytek has had extensive experience with the use of molecular tools for microbial identification. In the case of microbes, there are established standards for identification using portions of an organism’s DNA. Not so with plants. It was difficult to know where to start.

The authors were able to develop a simple protocol that was verified on voucher specimens and tested on numerous plant samples. The environmental implications of the results were clear as new information on the range and recent history of these invasive species was revealed.

Using this new protocol, Rybicki determined that hydrilla arrived in both the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay earlier than previously thought, a finding that revises earlier ideas of how it was first introduced into the area. 

The authors found that hydrilla was in the Potomac River in 1976. Thus, the original introduction of hydrilla to the Potomac was not from National Park Service experiments conducted in 1980 at Dyke Marsh on the tidal Potomac River as previously thought.  It is probable that hydrilla was already present, but was misidentified. It may still be undiscovered in many locations today.  

The two biotypes of hydrilla, one first introduced into Florida and the other first introduced into Washington, DC, are both spreading toward Canada, well beyond their predicted range.

 “We anticipate that hydrilla will continue to move into colder regions, including, the Great Lakes, where a native plant called elodea is common,” Rybicki explained. “Without DNA verification, misidentification of the two plants is likely.” 

DNA analysis to identify underwater grasses, a service provided at the USGS lab in Reston, VA, enables quick identification of these species.  Future use of DNA analysis will likely reveal that many more misidentifications have occurred and are waiting to be discovered.  Positive identification is the key first step in any discussion of management options to deal with invasive species. 

Learn more

Rybicki, N. B., Kirshtein, J. D., and Voytek, M. A., 2013, Molecular techniques to distinguish morphologically similar Hydrilla verticillata, Egeria densa, Elodea nuttallii, and Elodea canadensis, Journal of Aquatic Plant Management, v. 51, p. 94 -102.

Corresponding author, nrybicki@usgs.gov

Ecological Research on Wetlands and Submersed Aquatic Vegetation

National Research Program  

USGS Ecosystems

USGS Water Resources

 

 

Technical Announcement: USGS Awards Mineral Research Grants for 2014

Mon, 03/31/2014 - 09:00
Summary: To initiate new research projects on mineral resources important to the nation's economy, security, and land-use decisions, the U.S. Geological Survey has awarded $208,000 in research grants. 

Contact Information:

Diane Noserale ( Phone: 703-648-4333 ); Jeff Doebrich ( Phone: 703-648-6103 );



To initiate new research projects on mineral resources important to the nation's economy, security, and land-use decisions, the U.S. Geological Survey has awarded $208,000 in research grants. 

Recipients of the 2014 USGS Mineral Resources External Research Program grants will study rare earth elements in Colorado; scarce metals in the U.S. and global economies; and nickel, copper and platinum deposits in the Lake Superior region. These and other USGS mineral research projects are intended to provide science that can help the nation to avoid supply disruptions for minerals that are critical for national security and the economy, while reducing the effects of mining and other activities on the environment.  

A Rare Concentration of Rare Earth Elements Near Jamestown, Colorado

Julien Allaz of the University of Colorado, Boulder will investigate an unusual concentration of rare earth elements in veins near Jamestown, Colorado. These veins were first studied more than 70 years ago, but not since.  Allaz will investigate the origin of these veins using state-of-the-art methods.  Rare earth elements are essential for an expanding array of high-technology applications, for many alternative energy technologies and for a number of key defense systems, but they are rarely concentrated into mineable ore deposits. Understanding the origin of these veins will help us to assess where similar concentrations of rare earth elements occur.

Understanding the Life Cycle of Scarce Metals in the U.S. and Global Economies

Thomas Graedel of Yale University will lead a team of researchers to characterize the materials flow of four scarce metals: gallium, germanium, rhenium, and tungsten. While similar studies have been conducted for major metals such as iron and copper, no such study has been done for these scarce metals, which are used to make aircraft engines, medical equipment, fiber optics, solar technology, consumer electronics, and lighting.  This study will help to quantify potential supply strengths and weaknesses, to manage metal use more wisely, and to protect the environment. 

How Did Copper Deposits Form in Sedimentary Rocks in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan

John Ridley of Colorado State University will investigate the nature and extent of fluids that transported and deposited copper in the Nonesuch Formation of northern Wisconsin and Michigan. Though two deposits, Copperwood and White Pine, occur in the Nonesuch, the fluid flow associated with these types of copper deposits is typically much more extensive than the deposits themselves. Copper has long been the key to improved living conditions. Today, nearly every building and house in the U.S. contains copper. It is used in plumbing, electrical wiring, cars, cell phones, and in wind turbines. This research will help evaluate the potential for similar copper deposits in the nation’s mid-continent region.

Determining the Source of Nickel, Copper and Platinum in Deposits of the Lake Superior Region

Edward Ripley and Chusi Li of Indiana University will research the source of nickel, copper and platinum group metals in the Lake Superior region of Minnesota and Michigan. They will apply state-of-the-art copper isotope analysis to determine if the metals originated from igneous rock intrusions in which they are now concentrated or from sedimentary rocks that surround the intrusions.  Platinum group metals are used to reduce motor vehicle emissions and in technology. Nickel is used to produce strong alloys and stainless steel.  This research project will help to assess and explore for deposits in similar geologic environments in the mid-continent region and elsewhere.

The MRERP invited research proposals that addressed the following topics:

  • The Mid-continent Rift of the U.S.—Multidisciplinary studies to image and characterize the mineral resource potential of this significant crustal feature.
  • Alaska as a mineral resource frontier—Core science investigations as a foundation for documenting mineral resource potential
  • Hyperspectral imaging or other geophysical investigations of selected regions of the U.S.—State-of-the-art tools for mineral resource and mineral environmental investigations
  • Materials flow studies—Investigations to address supply chain analysis (including risk analysis) and sustainable mineral supplies
  • Critical Mineral Resources—Research to better understand the genesis and regional controls on the distribution of critical mineral-bearing systems. For the purpose of this solicitation, critical mineral commodities are defined as follows (in alphabetical order): cobalt, gallium, indium, lithium, niobium, platinum group elements, rare earth elements, rhenium, tantalum, and tellurium.

USGS accepted proposals from academia, State agencies, industry, or other private sector organizations and scientists. Visit the USGS Mineral Resources External Research Program for more information.

The USGS Mineral Resources Program delivers unbiased science and information to understand mineral resource potential, production, consumption, and how minerals interact with the environment.

USGS Seeks Earthquake Hazards Research Proposals

Wed, 03/26/2014 - 09:44
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey will award up to $5 million in grants for earthquake hazards research in 2015.  Applications due May 22, 2014

Contact Information:

Elizabeth Lemersal ( Phone: 703-648-6701 ); Jessica Robertson ( Phone: 703-648-6624 );



The U.S. Geological Survey will award up to $5 million in grants for earthquake hazards research in 2015. 

“The grants offered through the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program are an established and long-standing effort that have proven to be a success every year, with talented, scientific applicants who significantly contribute to the advancement of earthquake research,” said Bill Leith, USGS Senior Science Advisor for Earthquake and Geologic Hazards. “Every year we are rewarded by innovative proposals from across the country, so we encourage the continued submission of new ideas to help earthquake science evolve and, ultimately, reduce earthquake losses.” 

Interested researchers can apply online at GRANTS.GOV under funding opportunity number G14AS00036. Applications are due May 22, 2014. 

Each year the USGS awards earthquake hazards research grants to universities, state geological surveys, and private institutions. Past projects included investigating the Central Virginia Seismic Zone to develop a better understanding of this active seismic zone; examining the paleoseismic record in the Prince William Sound area of Alaska to characterize earthquakes prior to the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 to better understand future earthquakes in this hazard-prone area; and using GPS to measure ground deformation in the greater Las Vegas area and provide information on how faults will rupture in large, damaging earthquakes. 

complete list of funded projects and reports can be found on the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program external research support website.