Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-526-6694 );
New research can help water resource managers quantify critical groundwater resources and assess the sustainability of long-term water use in Minnesota.
U.S. Geological Survey scientists recently estimated annual rates of potential recharge, or the natural replenishment of groundwater, over 15 years across Minnesota. According the study, the statewide mean annual potential recharge rate from 1996‒2010 was 4.9 inches per year (in/yr). Recharge rates increased from west to east across the state and April generally had the highest potential recharge.
Improved estimates of recharge are necessary because approximately 75 percent of drinking water and 90 percent of agricultural irrigation water in Minnesota are supplied from groundwater.
“Resource managers in Minnesota can use this study to help inform water use or water conservation guidelines throughout the state,” said USGS scientist and lead author of the report, Erik Smith.
To maintain a stable supply of groundwater, recharge rates must be high enough to compensate for water that is lost to streams, lakes and other surface-water bodies, or removed for uses such as agriculture. The scientists used data about daily precipitation, minimum and maximum daily temperatures, land cover and soil to model Minnesota’s recharge rates.
During the study period, mean annual potential recharge estimates across Minnesota ranged from less than 0.1 to 17.8 in/yr. Other findings include:
- The highest annual mean recharge estimate across the state was in 2010 at 7 inches, and the lowest mean recharge estimate was 1.3 inches in 2003.
- Some of the lowest potential recharge rates were in the Red River of the North Basin in northwestern Minnesota, generally between 1 and 1.5 in/yr.
- The highest potential recharge rates were in northeastern Minnesota and the Anoka Sand Plain in central Minnesota.
- Eighty-eight percent of the mean annual potential recharge rates were between 2 and 8 in/yr.
- April had the greatest monthly mean at 30 percent of the yearly recharge.
The USGS partnered with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on the new study.
For more information on groundwater in Minnesota, please visit the USGS Minnesota Water Science Center website.
Following is a summary of key federal disaster aid programs that can be made available as needed and warranted under President Obama's disaster declaration issued for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Assistance for the Commonwealth and Affected Local Governments Can Include as Required:Language English
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that federal disaster aid has been made available to the Commonwealth of Kentucky to supplement commonwealth and local recovery efforts in the area affected by the severe winter storm, snowstorm, flooding, landslides, and mudslides during the period of March 3-9, 2015.Language English
The latest coal resource assessment of the Powder River Basin showcases the newly revised USGS’ assessment methodology, which, for the first time, includes an estimate of the reserve base for the entire basin.
The coal reserve base includes those resources that are currently economic (reserves), but also may encompass those parts of a resource that have a reasonable potential for becoming economically available within planning horizons. The complete, final assessment results are available in two USGS publications released today: Professional Paper 1809 and Data Series 912.
The Powder River Basin contains one of the largest resources of low-sulfur, low-ash, subbituminous coal in the world and is the single most important coal basin in the United States.
The most important distinction between this Powder River Basin coal assessment and other, prior assessments, was the inclusion of mining and economic analyses to develop an estimate of the portion of the total resource that is potentially recoverable, not just the original (in-place) resources. Prior resource assessments relied on net coal thickness maps for only selected beds, which provided only in-place resource estimates.
The key to performing the economic analyses was gathering and interpreting a sufficient amount of recent geological data from the extensive coal bed methane development over the past 20 years in the Powder River Basin. This wealth of new data was essential to enable modeling and mapping of all of the significant individual coal beds over the entire Powder River Basin for the first time.
The revised USGS assessment methodology resulted in an estimated original resource of about 1.16 trillion short tons in the Powder River Basin, of which 162 billion short tons are considered recoverable resources (coal reserve base) at a stripping ratio of 10:1 or less. An estimated 25 billion short tons of that coal reserve base met the definition of reserves. A 10:1 stripping ratio is approximately estimated by dividing the total thickness of rock mined to the total thickness of coal recovered.
The coal reserve base includes those resources that are currently economic (reserves), but also may encompass those parts of a resource that have a reasonable potential for becoming economically available. This reserve estimate does not mean that the total amount of coal left in the Powder River Basin could be produced by surface mining technologies. The costs of mining and coal sales prices are not static as both tend to increase over time if supported by demand. If future market prices continue to exceed mining costs, portions of the coal reserve base would be elevated to reserve status (and the converse).
The estimate of the current reserves along with the total coal reserve base provide more meaningful resource information for use by energy planners from local to national perspectives rather than just total in-place resource quantities..
Although no underground mining in the Powder River Basin is expected to occur in the foreseeable future, a substantial, deeper coal resource in beds 10–20 feet thick is estimated at 304 billion short tons in the region.
The USGS Energy Resources Program research efforts yield comprehensive, digital assessments of the quantity, quality, location, and accessibility of the Nation’s coal resources.
To learn more about this or other geologic assessments, please visit the USGS Energy Resources Program website. Stay up to date with USGS energy science by subscribing to our newsletter or by following us on Twitter.
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:
- 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 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.
- 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.
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.”
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.
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.
ATLANTA– Newly revised digital flood insurance rate maps for Polk County, Fla. will be available for residents to review at three public open houses during the week of May 11, 2015. Flood maps show the extent to which areas are at risk for flooding and are used to help determine flood insurance and building requirements.Language English
ATLANTA – The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved nine additional counties for the State of Tennessee’s recent disaster declaration from the severe winter storm of Feb. 15-22.
Claiborne, Cocke, Davidson, DeKalb, Greene, Hawkins, Pickett, Rhea and Wayne counties join the list of 36 other counties already receiving federal assistance as a result of the presidential disaster declaration signed April 2, 2015.Language English
ATLANTA—The Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will hold one workshop on June 10, 2015 to explain a hazard mitigation program that funds projects that reduce or eliminate damage from future disasters.
A portion of the federal funding made available for disaster response and recovery from the February winter storm is allocated for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). The program provides grants to state and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation projects.Language English
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – With the potential for severe weather across the plains and several Midwestern states the remainder of this week and into the weekend, staff at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Region VII office are coordinating with state and local officials in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska and urge the public to prepare to stay safe.Language English
DNREC now accepting applications for new wastewater and drinking water asset management incentive program
CHICAGO –Take a few minutes to commit to being ready for disasters that may threaten your community. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region V office in Chicago, Ill., is encouraging everyone to take part in America’s PrepareAthon! National Day of Action on April 30 and consider doing at least one activity to improve your resilience to potential disasters.
CHICAGO – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) released $2,999,810 in Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funds to the city of Des Plaines, Ill., for the acquisition and demolition of 13 residential structures in the Des Plaines River floodplain.