U.S. Geological Survey News Feed

"Mutant" Fossils Reveal Toxic Metals May Have Contributed to World's Largest Extinctions

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - August 31, 2015 - 12:29pm
Summary: A malformed (’teratological’) chitinozoan specimen of the genus Ancyrochitina (a) and a morphologically normal specimen (b) of the same genus. Both of these Silurian microfossils are from the A1-61 well in Libya and are about 415 Ma old. Scale bars are 0.1 mm. (High resolution image) Toxic metals such as iron, lead and arsenic may have helped cause mass extinctions in the world’s oceans millions of years ago, according to recent research from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Center for Scientific Research, France; and Ghent University, Belgium. These findings largely came from studying “teratological” or malformed fossil plankton assemblages corresponding to the initial stages of extinction events approximately 420 million years ago that killed off most marine species

Contact Information:

Aleeza  Wilkins ( Phone: 703-648-6106 ); Poul Emsbo ( Phone: 303-236-1113 );



A malformed (’teratological’) chitinozoan specimen of the genus Ancyrochitina (a) and a morphologically normal specimen (b) of the same genus. Both of these Silurian microfossils are from the A1-61 well in Libya and are about 415 Ma old. Scale bars are 0.1 mm. (High resolution image)

Toxic metals such as iron, lead and arsenic may have helped cause mass extinctions in the world’s oceans millions of years ago, according to recent research from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Center for Scientific Research, France; and Ghent University, Belgium. These findings largely came from studying “teratological” or malformed fossil plankton assemblages corresponding to the initial stages of extinction events approximately 420 million years ago that killed off most marine species

At that time, several mass extinction events shaped the evolution of life on our planet. Some of these short-lived events were responsible for eradication of up to 85 percent of marine species, however the exact kill-mechanism responsible for these crises remains poorly understood.

In a paper just published in Nature Communications, the scientists present evidence that malformed fossil remains of 415 million- year-old marine plankton contain highly elevated concentrations of heavy metals of the kind that can cause morphological abnormalities in today’s marine life. This led the authors to conclude that metal poisoning caused the observed malformation and may have contributed to the extinction of these and many other species.

“This paper is a testament to the power of multi-disciplinary research,” said USGS scientist Poul Emsbo, a lead author of the report. “Here, collaboration between a paleontologist and an ore-deposit geochemist has led to new data that unveils new processes that may ultimately explain the cause of catastrophic extinctions in earth history.”

The documented chemical behavior of the toxic metals correlates with previously observed disturbances in oceanic carbon, oxygen and sulfur signatures. Such behavior strongly suggests that these metal increases were a result of decreased oxygen in the ocean.

Thus, metal toxicity, and its expressions in fossilized malformations, could provide the missing link that relates organism extinctions to a widespread absence of ocean oxygen. As part of a series of complex systemic interactions accompanying oceanic geochemical variation, the mobilizations of metals in spreading low-oxygen waters may identify the early phase of the kill-mechanism that led to these catastrophic extinction events.

The recurring correlation between fossil malformations and Ordovician-Silurian extinction events raises the provocative prospect that toxic metal contamination may be a previously unrecognized contributing agent to many, if not all, extinction events in the ancient oceans.

The paper can be accessed here. For information about USGS mineral resources information, visit the USGS Mineral Resources Program Web site or follow us on Twitter.

New Sea-Level Rise Handbook Highlights Science and Models for Non-Scientists

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - August 27, 2015 - 11:29am
Summary: Coastal managers and planners now have access to a new U.S. Geological Survey handbook that, for the first time, comprehensively describes the various models used to study and predict sea-level rise and its potential impacts on coasts

Contact Information:

Tom Doyle ( Phone: 337-266-8647 ); Gabrielle Bodin ( Phone: 337-266-8655 );



Coastal managers and planners now have access to a new U.S. Geological Survey handbook that, for the first time, comprehensively describes the various models used to study and predict sea-level rise and its potential impacts on coasts.

Designed for the benefit of land managers, coastal planners, and policy makers in the United States and around the world, the handbook explains many of the contributing factors that account for sea-level change. It also highlights the different data, techniques, and models used by scientists and engineers to document historical trends of sea level and to forecast future rates and the impact to coastal systems and communities.

“Our goal was to introduce the non-expert to the broad spectrum of models and applications that have been used to predict environmental change for sea-level rise assessments,” said Thomas Doyle, Deputy Director of the National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, Louisiana, and the lead author of the guide. “We provide a simple explanation of the complex science and simulation models from published sources to help inform land management and adaptation decisions for areas under risk of rising sea levels.”

The scope and content of the handbook was developed from feedback received at dozens of training sessions held with coastal managers and planners of federal, state, and private agencies across the northern Gulf of Mexico. The sessions aimed to determine what tools and resources were currently in use and to explain the broad spectrum of data and models used in sea-level rise assessments from multiple disciplines, including geology, hydrology and ecology. Criteria were established to distinguish various characteristics of each model, including the source, scale and quality of information input and geographic databases, as well as the ease or difficulty of storing, displaying, or interpreting the model output.

“A handbook of this nature was identified as a high priority need by resource managers,” said Virginia Burkett, USGS Chief Scientist for Climate and Land Use Change. “[The handbook] will serve as a practical guide to the tools and predictive models that they can use to assess sea-level change impacts on coastal landscapes.”

The handbook can be found at online, while a presentation on the handbook can be found online.

The work was supported by the Department of Interior Southeast Climate Science Center, which is managed by the U.S. Geological Survey. The center is one of eight that provides scientific information to help natural resource managers respond effectively to climate change.

Increasingly Severe Disturbances Weaken World's Temperate Forests

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - August 24, 2015 - 3:00pm
Summary: A new paper published today in Science magazine has synthesized existing studies on the health of temperate forests across the globe and found a sobering diagnosis

Contact Information:

Carlos Milán, USFS ( Phone: 510-883-8855 ); Paul Laustsen, USGS ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



Drought- and bark-beetle-induced mortality in high- elevation whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) forests, northern Warner Mountains (Drake Peak), Oregon. (High resolution image)

SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON, Calif. — A new paper published today in Science magazine has synthesized existing studies on the health of temperate forests across the globe and found a sobering diagnosis. Longer, more severe, and hotter droughts and a myriad of other threats, including diseases and more extensive and severe wildfires, are threatening some of these forests with transformation. Without informed management, some forests could convert to shrublands or grasslands within the coming decades.

“While we have been trying to manage for resilience of 20th century conditions, we realize now that we must prepare for transformations and attempt to ease these conversions,” said Constance Millar, lead author and forest ecologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station.

Many forests are remarkably resilient, re-growing after years of logging. Yet, the researchers note from review of the enormous body of work on the subject, climate change and rising global temperatures are giving rise to “hotter” droughts — droughts that exhibit a level of severity beyond that witnessed in the past century. During a hotter drought, high air temperatures overheat leaves and also increase the stress on trees by drawing the moisture from their tissues at faster rates than normal. Snow that would normally act as emergency water storage for trees during the dry season instead falls as rain. 

Combined, these factors may cause abnormally high levels of forest mortality during hotter droughts.

“Some temperate forests already appear to be showing chronic effects of warming temperatures, such as slow increases in tree deaths,” said Nathan Stephenson, coauthor and ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “But the emergence of megadisturbances, forest diebacks beyond the range of what we’ve normally seen over the last century, could be a game-changer for how we plan for the future.”

Chronic stress from drought and warming temperatures also expose temperate forests to insect and disease outbreaks. And as temperatures rise in many regions, fires grow in frequency and severity causing losses in private property, natural resources and lives.

Losing temperate forests to worsening droughts, megafires and insect and disease outbreaks could lead to widespread losses of forest ecosystem services like national park recreational areas, the researchers caution. Forests also play an important role in storing atmospheric carbon dioxide and watershed protection, for example. The scientists encourage future studies identifying forests most vulnerable to the effects of mega-disturbances. In some cases, forest managers may be able to preserve ecosystem services like carbon storage as temperate forests transition to new ecological states.

The paper “Temperate Forest Health in an Era of Emerging Megadisturbance” was released in the journal Science. 

The Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, headquartered in Albany, Calif., develops and communicates science needed to sustain forest ecosystems and other benefits to society. It has research facilities in California, Hawaii and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands. 

Mercury and Selenium are Accumulating in the Colorado River Food Web of the Grand Canyon

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - August 19, 2015 - 3:24pm
Summary: Although the Grand Canyon segment of the Colorado River features one of the most remote ecosystems in the United States, it is not immune to exposure from toxic chemicals such as mercury according to newly published research in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 );



Although the Grand Canyon segment of the Colorado River features one of the most remote ecosystems in the United States, it is not immune to exposure from toxic chemicals such as mercury according to newly published research in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

The study, led by the U.S. Geological Survey, found that concentrations of mercury and selenium in Colorado River food webs of the Grand Canyon National Park, regularly exceeded risk thresholds for fish and wildlife. These risk thresholds indicate the concentrations of toxins in food that could be harmful if eaten by fish, wildlife and humans. These findings add to a growing body of research demonstrating that remote ecosystems are vulnerable to long-range transport and bioaccumulation of contaminants. 

“Managing exposure risks in the Grand Canyon will be a challenge, because sources and transport mechanisms of mercury and selenium extend far beyond Grand Canyon boundaries,” said Dr. David Walters, USGS research ecologist and lead author of the study. 

David Uberuaga, superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, added, “studies like this continue to educate the public and highlight the threats that face the park and its resources." 

The study examined food webs at six sites along nearly 250 miles of the Colorado River downstream from Glen Canyon Dam within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park in the summer of 2008. The researchers found that mercury and selenium concentrations in minnows and invertebrates exceeded dietary fish and wildlife toxicity thresholds. 

Although the number of samples was relatively low, mercury levels in rainbow trout, the most common species harvested by anglers in the study area, were below the EPA threshold that would trigger advisories for human consumption.  

“The good news is that concentrations of mercury in rainbow trout were very low in the popular Glen Canyon sport fishery, and all of the large rainbow trout analyzed from the Grand Canyon were also well below the risk thresholds for humans,” said Dr. Ted Kennedy, USGS researcher and co-author of the study. 

“We also found some surprising patterns of mercury in rainbow trout in the Grand Canyon. Biomagnification usually leads to large fish having higher concentrations of mercury than small fish. But we found the opposite pattern, where small, 3-inch rainbow trout in the Grand Canyon had higher concentrations than the larger rainbow trout that anglers target. This inverted pattern likely has something to do with the novel food web structure that has developed in Grand Canyon.” 

Airborne transport and deposition -- with much of it coming from outside the country -- is most commonly identified as the mechanism for contaminant introduction to remote ecosystems, and this is a potential pathway for mercury entering the Grand Canyon food web. Also, long-range downstream transport from upstream sources can deliver contaminants to river food webs. This is the case for selenium in this study, where irrigation of selenium-rich soils in the upper Colorado River basin contributes much of the selenium that is present in the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. 

Exposure to high levels of selenium and mercury has been linked to lower reproductive success, growth, and survival of fish and wildlife. No human consumption advisories are currently in place for fish harvested from the study area. However, to assess potential risks to humans that may consume fish from Grand Canyon or Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, additional studies are planned. 

Research partners in this study include the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Montana State University, and Idaho State University.

Map of study area showing sample location relative to Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, Grand Canyon (AZ, USA).

New Cowboy State Maps Add U.S. Forest Service Data

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - August 19, 2015 - 12:00pm
Summary: Newly released US Topo maps for Wyoming now feature more trails using data provided by the U.S. Forest Service such as the recreational trails in the Bridger-Teton National Forest

Contact Information:

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



Newly released US Topo maps for Wyoming now feature more trails using data provided by the U.S. Forest Service such as the recreational trails in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

“The USGS has expanded an excellent working relationship with the U.S. Forest Service to include adding their recreational trails to the data being integrated into The National Map and on our US Topo maps,” said Kari Craun, director of the USGS National Geospatial Technical Operations Center. “The value of adding trails in areas like Bridger-Teton is high because of the number of people using the trails. We are very excited about taking this first step toward incorporating U.S. Forest Service trails information on US Topo maps nationwide.”

The U.S. Forest Service has provided boundary and road data for the US Topo map series for the past five years, and is now working on a national dataset of recreational trails.

Also, a number of the new Wyoming maps contain segments of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST) and other selected public trails. Further substantial upgrades to the new quadrangles include map symbol redesign, enhanced railroad information and new road source data. Some of the data for the trails is provided to the USGS through a nationwide “crowdsourcing” project managed by the International Mountain Biking Association.

The 3,100-mile long CDNST runs from Canada to Mexico through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Crossing the spine of the North American continent numerous times, it traverses some of America's most spectacular and isolated scenery, offering views unlike any other trail in the world.

In Wyoming, the trail passes through Yellowstone National Park; the Bridger/Teton, Shoshone, and Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests; and public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

This NST joins the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail the North Country National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, the Arizona National Scenic Trail, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail and the New England National Scenic Trail as being featured on the new US Topo quads. The USGS hopes to eventually include all National Scenic Trails in The National Map products.

Additionally, the new Wyoming US Topo maps will continue the inclusion and improvement of Public Land Survey System data. Wyoming was one of the first states to display this topographic layer several years ago. PLSS is a way of subdividing and describing land in the US. All lands in the public domain are subject to subdivision by this rectangular system of surveys, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

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

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

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

Updated 2015 version of the Green River Lakes quadrangle with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale) (Larger image) Scan of the 1919 USGS quadrangle of the Fremont Peaks area from the USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection. (1:125,000 scale) (Larger image) Updated 2015 version of the Green River Lakes quadrangle with orthoimage turned off to better see the various trail networks. (1:24,000 scale) (Larger image)

The National Trails System was established by Act of Congress in 1968. The Act grants the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture authority over the National Trails System.  The Act defines four types of trails. Two of these types, the National Historic Trails and National Scenic Trails, can only be designated by Act of Congress.  National scenic trails are extended trails located as to provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of nationally significant scenic, historic, natural, and cultural qualities of the area through which such trails may pass.

There are 11 National Scenic Trails:

  • Appalachian National Scenic Trail
  • Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail
  • Continental Divide National Scenic Trail
  • North Country National Scenic Trail
  • Ice Age National Scenic Trail
  • Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
  • Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail
  • Florida National Scenic Trail
  • Arizona National Scenic Trail
  • New England National Scenic Trail
  • Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail

Insecticides Similar to Nicotine Found in about Half of Sampled Streams across the United States

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - August 18, 2015 - 1:00pm
Summary: USGS discovered insecticides known as neonicotinoids in a little more than half of both urban and agricultural streams sampled across the United States and Puerto Rico, according to a study by the agency published today in Environmental Chemistry

Contact Information:

Michelle Hladik ( Phone: 916-278-3183 ); Mike Focazio ( Phone: 703-648-6808 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



USGS discovered insecticides known as neonicotinoids in a little more than half of both urban and agricultural streams sampled across the United States and Puerto Rico, according to a study by the agency published today in Environmental Chemistry.

This study, conducted from 2011 to 2014, represents the first national-scale investigation of the environmental occurrence of neonicotinoid insecticides in agricultural and urban settings. The research spanned 24 states and Puerto Rico and was completed as part of ongoing USGS investigations of pesticide and other contaminant levels in streams. 

“In the study, neonicotinoids occurred throughout the year in urban streams while pulses of neonicotinoids were typical in agricultural streams during crop planting season,” said USGS research chemist Michelle Hladik, the report’s lead author.

“The occurrence of low levels in streams throughout the year supports the need for future research on the potential impacts of neonicotinoids on aquatic life and terrestrial animals that rely on aquatic life,” said USGS scientist Kathryn Kuivila, the research team leader. "These results will serve as an important baseline for that future work."

The foundational study is the first step needed to set priorities for environmental exposure experiments and the potential for adverse impacts to terrestrial and aquatic organisms. Scientists and others have raised concerns about potential harmful effects of neonicotinoids on non-target insects, especially pollinating honey bees and native bees.

In May, the White House released the Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, which includes a Pollinator Research Action Plan

"This research will support the overall goals of the Strategy, by helping to understand whether these water-borne pesticides, particularly at the low levels shown in this study, pose a risk for pollinators,” said Mike Focazio, program coordinator for the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program.

At least one of the six neonicotinoids tested by USGS researchers was found in more than half of the sampled streams. No concentrations exceeded the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s aquatic life criteria, and all detected neonicotinoids are classified as not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

Detections of the six neonicotinoids varied:  imidicloprid was found in 37 percent of the samples in the national study, clothianidin in 24 percent, thiamethoxam in 21 percent, dinotefuran in 13 percent, acetamiprid in 3 percent, and thiacloprid was not detected.

Use of neonicotinoids to control pest insects has been increasing over the past decade, especially on corn and soybeans. Much of this increase is due to a shift from leaf applications to using the insecticides prophylactically on seeds.

The paper, “First National-Scale Reconnaissance of Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Streams across the USA,” was published in Environmental Chemistry.  To learn more about the study, please see our science feature. To learn more about USGS environmental health science, please visit the USGS Environmental Health website and sign up for our GeoHealth Newsletter.

Global Vulnerability of Forests to Climate Change-Related Tree Mortality is Widely Underestimated

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - August 10, 2015 - 12:00pm
Summary: BALTIMORE -- Forests worldwide are vulnerable to growing risks of drought- and heat-induced tree mortality and forest die-off because of a rapidly warming Earth, according to just-published research in the scientific journal Ecosphere.  The paper is an invited “ESA Centennial Paper” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Ecological Society of America.

Contact Information:

Heidi Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Holly Fowler, AT ESA ONLY ( Phone: 571-265-7975 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



BALTIMORE -- Forests worldwide are vulnerable to growing risks of drought- and heat-induced tree mortality and forest die-off because of a rapidly warming Earth, according to just-published research in the scientific journal Ecosphere.  The paper is an invited “ESA Centennial Paper” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Ecological Society of America.

Researchers from the USGS, University of Arizona, and Los Alamos National Laboratory assessed more than 400 research studies on forest mortality to help answer the question about whether forests will be more or less vulnerable to projected climate change in the future, a subject of significant scientific debate.

Their in-depth assessment of diverse results from observational, experimental and modeling studies concludes that forest die-off events to date represent only the beginning of an increasing phenomenon of such mortality episodes. These tree mortality events will result primarily because of the combination of droughts with warmer temperatures due to projected climate change.

The researchers use the term “hotter drought” to indicate the integrated effects of drought and warmer temperatures associated with climate change.  Despite numerous compensatory processes that commonly allow trees to survive drought stress, during hotter droughts, warmer temperatures increase stress and mortality risk for trees both directly through many physiological impacts and indirectly through higher risks from pests and disease.

“This synthesis leads us to conclude that the future broad-scale vulnerability of forests globally is being widely underestimated, including the vulnerability of forests in wetter regions,” said Craig D. Allen, a USGS forest expert and lead author of the research.

The scientists emphasize that their research is not saying that forests globally will collapse concurrently or that most forests in existence today are at risk of disappearing during this century. Instead they anticipate major reorganizations in forest ecosystems due to more tree mortality in coming decades from increasingly extreme hotter droughts.

“We expect to see widespread declines in forest productivity, changes in the species composition and dominance patterns of forest trees, a shift to smaller-sized trees, and reductions in forest extent in some regions,” Allen said.

The authors note that even when amplified tree mortality does not cause species range changes or shifts in forest biome boundaries, broad-scale tree mortality fundamentally affects a diverse suite of environmental processes and ecosystem services, including forest community and ecosystem dynamics, the diversity of species, radiation fluxes, biogeochemical processes and associated carbon sequestration, and global earth system consequences and feedbacks.

The paper, On underestimation of global vulnerability to tree mortality and forest die-off from hotter drought in the Anthropocene, was published in Ecosphere, and authored by Craig D. Allen, USGS; David D. Breshears, University of Arizona, Tucson; and Nate G. McDowell, Los Alamos National Laboratory. Breshears and Allen are presenting results from this paper at the ESA Annual Conference this week. 

USGS Science at Ecological Society of America's Conference

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - August 10, 2015 - 12:00pm
Summary: BALTIMORE -- This year, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey will present their research at the 100th annual Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting from Aug. 9-14, 2015, in Baltimore, Maryland. The theme is "Ecological Science at the Frontier: Celebrating ESA’s Centennial." ESA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of scientists founded in 1915 to promote ecological science. From Climate Change to Wind Energy, Wildfire and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Contact Information:

Holly Fowler, media contact at ESA 08-10 to 14 ( Phone: 571-265-7975 ); Anabella Tourkaman ( Phone: 703-648-4453 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



BALTIMORE -- This year, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey will present their research at the 100th annual Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting from Aug. 9-14, 2015, in Baltimore, Maryland. The theme is "Ecological Science at the Frontier: Celebrating ESA’s Centennial." ESA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of scientists founded in 1915 to promote ecological science.

This USGS tipsheet presents a select few of our exciting presentations at the ESA meeting. Please visit the 2015 ESA meeting website for a complete listing of USGS-related presentations.

ALL WEEK:

Research Conducted by the Department of the Interior’s Climate Science Centers

USGS manages the Department of the Interior’s eight climate science centers, and about 20 ESA presentations and posters center around CSC research. These and other CSC studies focus on providing scientific information to help natural resource manager respond effectively to climate change.

MONDAY

Projecting Responses to Climate Change: The Importance of Nonclimatic Factors

If the past is any indication of the future, the conifer forests of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) will be shaped not solely by climate change, but also by interactions occurring between climate and nonclimatic factors, including fire. Reconstructing early postglacial GYE conifer dynamics following the last glacial-interglacial transition (20,000 to 8000 cal yr BP), a period of rapid environmental change, offers new insights into how climate change, fire, and other factors interact to shape conifer forests. In this presentation of climate science supported by Interior Department’s Southwest Climate Science Center, USGS scientist Teresa Krause will discuss the importance of considering nonclimatic factors in making projections of conifer species response to future climate change. (Monday, Aug. 10, 2015: 1:30 p.m. / 337, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / tkrause@usgs.gov)

Protecting Amphibians from Climate Change

In many areas the distinctive calls of frogs and toads is a familiar marker of the changing seasons. But rising temperatures and changes to hydrologic regimes are combining with altered disease dynamics to threaten the persistence of amphibian populations globally. Maureen Ryan of the University of Washington, whose research was supported by the Interior Department’s Northwest Climate Science Center, will outline the primary threats that climate change poses to amphibians and the most urgent conservation research needs. She will also provide two case studies of amphibian research that draw on remote sensing, hydroclimatic modeling, and ecological modeling. (Monday, Aug. 10, 2015: 4:30-6:30 p.m. / Exhibit Hall, Baltimore Convention Center/ Online Paper / ambystomo@gmail.com)

Can Grass Phenology in the Western U.S. Track Climate Change?

Grasslands are important sources of biodiversity and productivity, but may be vulnerable to climate change. Shallow-rooted, short-lived grass species generally react quickly to the changes in their environment. Their ability to shift life cycle events can be an important indicator of their ability to persist under climate change. USGS scientist Lexine Long will highlight research she and lead USGS scientist Seth Munson conducted on how long-term records of grass reproductive phenology, dating back to the late 1800s, can help determine how grasses in the western United States have shifted their phenology in response to climate. Phenology is the timing of when plants and animals conduct their life events, such as reproduction. For the study, multiple species in the western U.S. were assessed for their phenological responses to climate, where responses were most pronounced and which aspects of climate were associated with phenological shifts. (Monday, Aug. 10, 2015: 4:30-6:30 p.m. / Exhibit Hall, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / smunson@usgs.gov / along@usgs.gov)

TUESDAY

Avian Response to Forest Disturbance Associated with Marcellus Shale Gas Development: A Long-term Case Study of Impacts on Area-sensitive Species

The Marcellus shale has been a hotspot for extracting natural gas in the last decade. The extraction has been significant in the central Appalachians, a region that is home to the largest expanses of deciduous forest remaining in the eastern United States. Many Neotropical migrants and several species of conservation concern rely on these forests as breeding habitat. Laura Farwell, a Ph.D. student with the USGS West Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, will share findings on the impacts of shale gas development on breeding forest songbird abundance in the region. Surveys were conducted annually during 2008 through 2014 at 142 different survey stations in a 4,500-hectare study area of primarily mature hardwood forest in northwestern West Virginia. Our results suggest that Marcellus shale gas development has the potential to affect regional forests and area-sensitive avian species, at multiple spatial scales.  (Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015: 9:20 a.m. / 337, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / pbwood@usgs.gov)

Navajo Tribal Elder Observations of Climate Change Impacts: Validating Local Knowledge and Informing Adaptation

People living on Native lands rely on an intimate knowledge of the ecosystem around them in order to maintain their traditional lifestyles. Some Indigenous communities have engaged in studies that combine this knowledge and conventional scientific data. These studies have led to an increase in local awareness of climate change impacts, spurring community action and increasing adaptive capacity. USGS scientist Margaret Hiza-Redsteer discusses one such example that incorporates the observations of 73 Navajo elders, together with long-term meteorological records and historical documentation from the region to examine impacts from climate change and drought. (Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015: 1:50 p.m. / 327, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Papermhiza@usgs.gov)

Same Shift, Different Disturbance: Experimental Warming, Altered Precipitation and Physical Disturbance Lead to a Similar Alternate State in Biological Soil Crust Communities

In drylands worldwide, where plant cover is sparse, large amounts of the ground surface are covered by specialized bacteria, mosses and lichens that form biological soil crusts, called biocrusts. These biocrusts fix carbon and nitrogen, stabilize soils and influence dryland hydrology. Extensive physical disturbance from livestock/human trampling and off-road vehicles is known to rapidly destroy biocrusts with dramatic consequences for ecosystem function. Recent work indicates that climate change can also affect biocrust communities. Contrary to expectations, experimental climate change and physical disturbance had strikingly similar impacts on biocrust communities, with both causing a shift toward highly degraded states. These results herald ecological state transitions in drylands as global temperatures rise. Ecologist Scott Ferrenberg will explain how ongoing global change pressures will affect biocrusts. Ferrenberg analyzed long-term data sets from the Colorado Plateau to compare the effects of experimental warming, altered precipitation and physical disturbance on biological soil crust community structure. (Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015: 2:50 p.m. / 320, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / sferrenberg@usgs.gov)

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s an Unmanned Aircraft System! UAS Applications in the Department of the Interior

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) come in all different sizes, shapes and configurations while serving various purposes. The USGS uses UASs for a variety of research activities from analyzing the impacts of climate change, responding to natural hazards, understanding landscape change rates and consequences, conducting wildlife inventories and supporting related land management activities. The systems have become an integral part of the Department of the Interior’s science sphere, making a particularly significant impact on earth science research. The USGS is a key player in conducting operational tests and evaluations of the UAS to see how this evolving technology can support the USGS and the DOI mission. Bruce Quirk, scientist and UAS liaison, will discuss how the UAS technology and infrastructure is being employed, pilot application projects already accomplished, lessons learned and the future of UAS within the DOI. (Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015: 4:30-6:30 p.m. / Exhibit Hall, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / quirk@usgs.gov)

Revealing and Translating Phenological Patterns and Predictions at the National Scale

Phenology is the study of seasonal life-cycle events such as leafing, flowering, reproduction and migration. The USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) is a national-scale science and monitoring initiative focused on phenology as a tool to understand the response to biodiversity to environmental variation and change. The USA-NPN provides a national monitoring framework that enables other organizations to leverage the capacity of the network for their own applications. Executive Director and USGS ecologist Jake Weltzin will discuss the development of phenology indicators in the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s National Climate Assessment as an example of how phenological information can be integrated, interpreted and translated as an indication of the impacts of climate change for a variety of stakeholders ranging from researchers, resource managers and the public. (Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015: 4:30-6:30 p.m. / Exhibit Hall, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / jweltzin@usgs.gov)

WEDNESDAY

Climate and Wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico

Hot and dry to cool and wet: the northern Gulf of Mexico spans a wide spectrum of climate conditions. These regional conditions could be affecting the important plants – mangrove trees and salt marsh grasses included -- who call tidal wetlands home. Chris Gabler shares how he and USGS researchers traveled from Texas to Florida to collect information from 70 study areas in estuaries ranging in temperature and rainfall to determine how regional climate conditions affect the presence and performance of these important plants, and why this is important for future management and restoration efforts for wetlands. (Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015: 8:40 a.m. / 310, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / cagabler@uh.edu / mosland@usgs.gov)

Mangrove Forests Versus Salt Marshes in the Northern Gulf of Mexico: Climate Change Influencing the Competition

Climate change is expected to lead to the northward expansion of black mangroves at the expense of some salt marshes in the tidal wetlands of the northern Gulf of Mexico. This change would alter the ecosystem’s properties and some of the current benefits it provides, so a better understanding is needed on how changing winter air temperatures will affect mangrove-marsh interactions. Scientists studied a transition zone in Louisiana to determine landscape positions where black mangrove forests are most resistant and resilient to winter climate extremes, which could lead to their dominance in those areas. USGS National Wetlands Research Center research ecologist Michael Osland will present details about this study that improves the understanding of current and potential future distribution of black mangrove forests and salt marshes in Louisiana and other parts of the northern Gulf of Mexico coast. (Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015: 9:00 a.m. / 310, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / mosland@usgs.gov)

Small Mammals Have a Big Impact on Landscapes Changed by Global Warming

This is the power of global warming: it can transform a tranquil alpine meadow into a busy woodland. Yet some very small creatures may have a pronounced effect on just how far global warming can take this transformation. USGS Western Ecological Research Center ecologist Robert Klinger discusses the hypothesis that small mammals, such as the yellow-bellied marmot, Belding's ground squirrel, golden-mantled ground squirrel, and American pika, can have big impacts on their changing habitat simply by eating seeds and seedlings. (Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015: 3:10 p.m. / 307, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / rcklinger@usgs.gov)

Identifying Areas Protected from Climate Change

With drought and heat hitting the western U.S. hard, wildlife managers with limited resources are looking to identify places they can focus their conservation efforts.  USGS research ecologist Toni Lyn Morelli, currently based at the Northeast Climate Science Center, will present her work on how to identify climate change refugia, places buffered from increasing temperatures and changing precipitation. Using a century of survey data plus recent genetic analyses, she not only mapped refugia but also tested whether they were protecting a montane meadow specialist, the Belding's ground squirrel, a species that in turn might help to mitigate California's drought - come find out how. (Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015: 4:10 p.m. / 307, Baltimore Convention Center/ Online Paper / tmorelli@usgs.gov)

THURSDAY

Factors Affecting Avian Fatality at Onshore Wind Turbines in the Contiguous United States

The wind energy industry is one of the fastest-growing sources of electricity in the United States, offering a renewable source of energy that does not produce greenhouse gas emissions. However, birds and bats sometimes fly into trouble as they collide with wind turbines. Mortality rates have varied among different facilities and turbines. Research ecologist Julie Beston will discuss her analysis and modeling of fatality records from 125 wind energy facilities in the United States and Canada. Such research can better understand and determine whether environmental variables are correlated with the number of fatalities caused by turbines. (Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015: 8:40 a.m. / 316, Baltimore Convention Center/ Online Paper / jbeston@usgs.gov)

Ravens as a Roadblock to Sage-Grouse Conservation

Greater sage-grouse are currently at the center of one of the nation’s greatest conservation concerns. However, transmission lines and other tall structures continue to spread into their habitat as the demand for wind, solar, and geothermal energy intensifies. These structures present tempting roosting spots for sage-grouse predators like common ravens, which prey on other birds’ eggs. USGS Western Ecological Research Center research biologist Peter Coates talks about the potential threats that ravens pose to sage-grouse populations as a result of spreading energy lines and other power structures. (Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015: 10:50 a.m. / 316, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / pcoates@usgs.gov)

Population Growth Effects on Wildfires in Southern California

Humans are responsible for nearly all wildfires in southern California, and the spiraling increase in population growth is likely to be a bigger factor in future fire damage than global warming. USGS Western Ecological Research Center fire ecologist Jon Keeley describes how a doubling of population size in the 21st century will impact wildfire losses of both property and natural resources in the region. (Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015: 10:50 a.m. / 340, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / jon_keeley@usgs.gov)

Climate Change, Conservation Planning, and Renewable Energy Development in the Mojave Desert

Renewable energy development in the desert southwest has raised concerns about potential impacts to sensitive biological resources. This research developed analytical approaches, decision support tools, and geospatial data to aid conservation planning for renewable energy development in the California deserts. As a part of the study, a model was created to map the relative degree of compatibility of new solar energy projects with current biological conservation values. Additionally, species distribution models were produced for 65 animal and plant species of potential conservation significance to the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan process. Research geographer Jason Kreitler will highlight how these models were applied to map both historical and projected future habitat suitability. The data and models created in this project support conservation decision-making to offset siting and the potential cumulative impacts of multiple solar energy projects given background climate and land use change. (Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015: 11:10 a.m. / 316, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / jkreitler@usgs.gov)

Response of Louisiana Waterthrush to Shale Gas Development

(Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015: 3:20 p.m. / 347, Baltimore Convention Center / Link / E-mail)

The effects of shale gas well and infrastructure development on the Louisiana waterthrush, a songbird that lives in streamside forests, was examined at the Lewis Wetzel Wildlife Management Area in West Virginia. Mack Frantz, a Ph.D. student at the USGS West Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, quantified waterthrush nesting survival, territory density and return rates on headwater streams from 2009 to 2014. The study found that habitat quality and territory density have declined and cowbird parasitism of nests has increased as shale gas development has increased on the study area.  Macroinvertebrate sampling in 2011 suggests shale gas development affected bottom-dwelling communities, which are home to the primary prey of waterthrush.  Preliminary results suggest differences in individuals from impacted and unimpacted streams that have the potential to affect survival and fitness. (Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015: 3:20 p.m. / 347, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / pbwood@usgs.gov)

FRIDAY

Chasing the Tail: The Importance of Extremes in a Changing Climate

Resource managers, policymakers, and conservation planners need robust frameworks for anticipating weather and climate extremes under global change. Climate extremes, ranging from heat waves and cold snaps to floods and multi-year droughts, have an outsized influence on natural systems, and they offer substantial challenges to forecasters and researchers trying to represent their behavior in climate models. USGS Southwest Climate Science Center principal investigator Alexander Gershunov will explore approaches to understanding extremes in a changing climate. (Friday, Aug. 14, 2015: 8:00 a.m. / 328, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper /   lmschmit@email.arizona.edu)    

Underestimating Global Vulnerability to Tree Mortality and Forest Die-off from Hotter Drought in the Anthropocene

A characteristic of the Anthropocene – today’s increasingly human-altered world – is “hotter drought,” the combination of drought with warmer temperatures. The ability of forests to adapt to projected much warmer temperatures globally this century has been subject to significant debate and a lack of scientific consensus, as diverse results from observational, experimental and modeling studies provide evidence supporting both lesser and greater vulnerability perspectives.  A new synthetic assessment of over 400 studies across the broad spectrum of tree mortality research, just released as a commissioned ESA Centennial Paper (Ecosphere 6(8):  Online Abstract), concludes that across the globe, forests increasingly are vulnerable to mortality from hotter droughts –– despite numerous compensatory processes. Study co-author David D. Breshears, along with lead author Craig D. Allen of USGS, will summarize key findings of this work, highlighting contrasting evidence and perspectives between those implying lesser versus greater levels of forest vulnerability to tree mortality from hotter drought. (Friday, Aug. 14, 2015: 8:20 a.m. / 328, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / craig_allen@usgs.gov)

Sea Level Rise and Wetlands

Flooding reduction, storm surge protection and nutrient cycling are a few of the services that tidal wetlands provide for people, and yet they are one of the most vulnerable habitats to rising sea level and changes to the surrounding landscape. With changes in sea level, river flow and land use, tidal freshwater forested wetlands will move inland, change to marsh, or disappear. Such changes affect the balance of carbon storage and movement in coastal landscapes. This presentation by USGS scientist Ken Krauss discusses how differences in salinity can affect habitat productivity, soil surface elevation and carbon sequestration, and nutrient cycling in wetlands. (Friday, Aug. 14, 2015: 9:50 a.m. / 317, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper / kraussk@usgs.gov)

Broadscale Disturbance and the Use of Near-term Climatic Predictability to Improve Treatments and Successional Outcomes

For at least the next couple of decades, climate variability may be more important than climate change at the regional level. Forecasting ecological consequences while optimizing management decisions could be more accurate/reliable with faster advances in predicting climate variability. There are numerous ecological disturbances that occur in forests, such as fire, insect and pathogen outbreaks and drought-induced tree mortality. The success of post-disturbance treatments often is contingent on climatic conditions in the ensuing months and years, hence the value of long-lead forecasts.  Senior USGS scientist Julio L Betancourt will discuss the current prospects and limitations for near-term climate predictability, where significant advances might occur and to what degree ecologists and managers are taking full advantage of currently available forecasting. (Friday, Aug. 14, 2005: 10:30 a.m. / 328, Baltimore Convention Center / Online Paper  / jlbetanc@usgs.gov)

 

New Simulations of 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquakes Show Strong and Prolonged Ground Shaking in Memphis and Little Rock

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - July 30, 2015 - 4:00pm
Summary: Computer simulations of earthquake shaking, replicating the quakes that occurred in 1811-1812 in the New Madrid seismic zone (NMSZ), indicate that future large earthquakes there would produce major, prolonged ground shaking

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 );



Computer simulations of earthquake shaking, replicating the quakes that occurred in 1811-1812 in the New Madrid seismic zone (NMSZ), indicate that future large earthquakes there would produce major, prolonged ground shaking. The 1811-1812 events were some of the largest in the United States since its settlement by Europeans, and the NMSZ spans portions of seven states: Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. 

Scientists from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, the U.S. Geological Survey, San Diego State University, AECOM (formerly URS Corporation), and the University of Memphis simulated a set of 20 hypothetical, yet plausible earthquakes located along two currently active faults in the NMSZ. The hypothetical earthquake scenarios range in magnitude from 7.0 to 7.7, and consider various possible epicenters. 

”Based on our simulations, were the 1811-1812 earthquakes to repeat today, more than 8 million people living and working near the New Madrid seismic zone would experience potentially damaging ground shaking at modified Mercalli intensities ranging from VI to VIII,” said Leonardo Ramirez-Guzman, lead author of the paper that appears in the July 30 edition of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

“Strong ground shaking in the greater Memphis metropolitan area could last from 30 seconds to more than 60 seconds, depending on the magnitude and epicenter of a potential seismic event,” said Ramirez-Guzman, a professor at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and former USGS contract scientist.

The simulations also demonstrate the importance of fault rupture directivity (seismic energy focused along the direction of faulting), especially when combined with the wave channeling effects of the Reelfoot rift, a buried, northeast-southwest trending geologic valley in the NMSZ. In particular, future large earthquakes on the approximately 80-mile long NMSZ fault show strong shaking at vibration frequencies that pose a risk for mid-rise to high-rise buildings and tall bridges. This fault is thought to be responsible for the December 16, 1811 magnitude 7-7.7 earthquake. Some of the earthquake simulations showed strong shaking focused to the northeast as far as 100-200 miles away near Paducah, Kentucky and Evansville, Indiana, and to the southwest 150 miles toward Little Rock, Arkansas. An example of this earthquake shaking focusing effect can be seen here.

While it’s not possible to know which direction a fault will rupture once an earthquake starts, knowing that there is an increased chance of strong shaking along these geologically-defined corridors is a valuable aid in better characterizing seismic hazard and minimizing earthquake risk.

Earthquakes pose a significant risk to nearly 150 million Americans. The USGS and its partners in the multi-agency National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program are working to improve earthquake monitoring and reporting capabilities via the USGS Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS). More information about ANSS can be found on the ANSS website.

Peak ground-motion variability for a magnitude 7.7 earthquake. Warmer colors indicate stronger ground motions. The stronger ground motions are extended further northeast and southwest caused by the channeling effect of the Reelfoot rift (RFR) The fault is displayed as a thick black continuous straight line, with the epicenter indicated by the triangle. (high resolution image 1.3 MB)

USGS Awards $4 Million to Support Earthquake Early Warning System in California and Pacific Northwest

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - July 30, 2015 - 2:00pm
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey has awarded approximately $4 million this week to four universities – California Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley, University of Washington and University of Oregon – to support transitioning the “ShakeAlert” earthquake early warning system toward a production stage

Contact Information:

Leslie Gordon, USGS ( Phone: 650-329-4006 ); Deborah  Williams-Hedges, Caltech ( Phone: 626-395-3227 ); Robert  Sanders, UCB ( Phone: 510-643-6998 );



Additional Contacts: Hannah Hickey, UW, 206-543-2580, hickeyh@uw.edu and Jim Barlow, UO, 541-346-3481, jebarlow@uoregon.edu

RESTON, Va.— The U.S. Geological Survey has awarded approximately $4 million this week to four universities – California Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley, University of Washington and University of Oregon – to support transitioning the “ShakeAlert” earthquake early warning system toward a production stage. A functioning early warning system can give people a precious few seconds to stop what they are doing and take precautions before the severe shaking waves from an earthquake arrive.

The USGS has additionally spent about $1 million to purchase new sensor equipment for the EEW system. These efforts are possible because of a $5 million increase to the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program for EEW approved by Congress earlier this year.

Under the new cooperative agreements, the USGS and its four university partners will collaborate to improve the ShakeAlert EEW system across the west coast of the United States, and will continue to coordinate across regional centers in southern California, northern California, and the Pacific Northwest. The USGS and its university partners will continue development of scientific algorithms to rapidly detect potentially damaging earthquakes, more thoroughly test the system, and improve its performance. In addition, they will upgrade and construct approximately 150 seismic sensors to improve the speed and reliability of the warnings. They will also develop user training and education, and add additional test users. There are currently 70 organizations that are test users, from sectors such as utilities and transportation, emergency management, state and city governments, and industry.

In 2006 the USGS began funding multi-institutional, collaborative research to start the process of testing earthquake early warning algorithms on real-time seismic networks within the USGS Advanced National Seismic Network. Today, the ShakeAlert demonstration EEW system is issuing alerts to the group of test users across the U.S. west coast in California, Oregon and Washington. In California, this is a joint effort, where state legislation was passed directing the California Office of Emergency Services and USGS to partner on development of an early warning system. The new awards will expand the number of end users and is another step to improve the speed and reliability of ShakeAlert.  

During the August 2014 magnitude-6.0 South Napa earthquake, an alert was issued providing a nine-second warning to the City of San Francisco. During a May 3rd, magnitude-3.8 event in Los Angeles, an alert was issued 3.3 seconds after the earthquake began, meaning the warning was sent before the secondary, or “S” waves that have the potential for the strongest shaking, had even reached the Earth’s surface. An electronic alert message that travels at the speed of light can outrun the slower earthquake S-waves, providing valuable seconds of warning. Those few seconds of warning can be enough time to stop a commuter train or an elevator, open fire-house doors, stop delicate surgery and “duck, cover, and hold on.”

The plans for ShakeAlert were evaluated by a scientifically rigorous peer-review process: a panel of experts praised the progress achieved and recommended the proposed improvements. The successes of this effective ShakeAlert collaboration among the USGS and the universities led Congress to appropriate $5 million to the USGS in fiscal year 2015 to accelerate the process of migrating towards a public EEW system. In addition to USGS and university partners, the ShakeAlert system involves the participation of state and local governments, end users, and private-sector partners.

New England Maps Adding Trails

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - July 30, 2015 - 11:30am
Summary: Several of the new US Topo quadrangles for New Hampshire and Vermont now display parts of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) and other selected public trails Newly released US Topo maps for New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island now feature selected trails and other substantial updates

Contact Information:

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



Several of the new US Topo quadrangles for New Hampshire and Vermont now display parts of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) and other selected public trails. Also, parts of the new maps for Connecticut and Massachusetts feature segments of the New England National Scenic Trail as well as sections of the A.T. Further, all of these revised New England maps, to include new US Topo maps for Rhode Island, highlight significant additions to the new quads such as map symbol redesign, enhanced railroad information and new road source data.

“US Topo maps are the ‘gold standard’ for mapped information,” said Fred Dieffenbach, who coordinates environmental monitoring along the A.T. for the National Park Service, “And the inclusion of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in this latest update illustrates the significance of this prized resource to the American public.”

For East Coast residents, recreationalists and visitors who want to explore the featured New England trails by biking, hiking, horseback or other means, the new trail features on the US Topo maps will be useful.

The Appalachian NST is a public footpath that traverses more than 2,100 miles of the Appalachian mountains and valleys between Katahdin, Maine (northern terminus), and Springer Mountain, Georgia (southern terminus). The Trail winds through scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands along this ancient mountain range. With more than 99% of the A.T.’s corridor on Federal or State land, it is the longest continuously marked, maintained, and publicly protected trail in the United States.

“The National Park Service has committed significant resources to understanding the environmental health of the lands and resources that characterize the Appalachian Trail along its entire length,” Dieffenbach continued. “It is extremely gratifying to know that its inclusion in the most recent update was a high priority, and clearly validates the efforts of all the people involved with the management of the A.T.”

The New England NST covers 215 miles from Long Island Sound across long ridges to scenic mountain summits in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The trail offers panoramic vistas and close-ups of New England’s natural and cultural landscape: trap rock ridges, historic village centers, farmlands, unfragmented forests, quiet streams, steep river valleys and waterfalls 

The USGS partnered with the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and other organizations to incorporate the trail data onto the updated New England US Topo maps. These two NST’s join the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail the North Country National Scenic Trail, Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, and the Arizona National Scenic Trail as being featured on the new US Topo quads. The USGS hopes to eventually include all National Scenic Trails in The National Map products.

Some of the other data for new trails on the maps is provided to the USGS through a nationwide “crowdsourcing” project managed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA).  This unique crowdsourcing venture has increased the availability of trail data available through The National Map mobile and web apps, and the revised US Topo maps.

During the past two years the IMBA, in a partnership with the MTB Project, has been building a detailed national database of trails. This activity allows local IMBA chapters, IMBA members, and the public to provide trail data and descriptions through their website. MTB Project and IMBA then verify the quality of the trail data provided, ensure accuracy and confirm the trail is legal. 

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

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

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

Updated 2015 version of the Mount Washington, New Hampshire quadrangle with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1.1 MB) Scan of the 1893 USGS quadrangle of the Mount Washington, New Hampshire area from the USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection(1:62,500 scale) (high resolution image 1.8 MB) Updated 2015 version of the Mount Washington, New Hampshire with orthoimage turned off to better see the various trail networks. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1.2 MB)

The National Trails System was established by Act of Congress in 1968. The Act grants the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture authority over the National Trails System.  The Act defines four types of trails. Two of these types, the National Historic Trails and National Scenic Trails, can only be designated by Act of Congress.  National scenic trails are extended trails located as to provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of nationally significant scenic, historic, natural, and cultural qualities of the area through which such trails may pass.

There are 11 National Scenic Trails:

  • Appalachian National Scenic Trail
  • Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail
  • Continental Divide National Scenic Trail
  • North Country National Scenic Trail
  • Ice Age National Scenic Trail
  • Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
  • Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail
  • Florida National Scenic Trail
  • Arizona National Scenic Trail
  • New England National Scenic Trail
  • Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail

Landslides Triggered by Nepal Earthquakes

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - July 28, 2015 - 4:18pm
Summary: A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey provides critical landslide-hazard expertise to Nepalese agencies and villages affected by the April 25, magnitude 7.8 earthquake that shook much of central Nepal A Scientific Look at What Happened and What Could Happen this Monsoon Season

Contact Information:

Dave Frank ( Phone: (509) 368-3107 ); Leslie Gordon ( Phone: (650) 329-4006 );



Villagers in Kerauja, Nepal standing below a large rock slide that resulted in one fatality. (high resolution image 8.7 MB)

MENLO PARK, Calif. — A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey provides critical landslide-hazard expertise to Nepalese agencies and villages affected by the April 25, magnitude 7.8 earthquake that shook much of central Nepal. The earthquake and its aftershocks triggered thousands of landslides in the steep topography of Nepal, and caused nearly 8,900 fatalities. Hundreds of those deaths were due to landslides, which also blocked vital road and trail lifeline routes to affected villages.

Landslides caused by the earthquakes continue to pose both immediate and long-term hazards to villages and infrastructure within the affected region. Several landslides blocked rivers, creating temporary dams, which were a major concern for villages located downstream. The report provides a rapid assessment of landslide hazards for use by Nepalese agencies during this current monsoon season.

With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, and in collaboration with earthquake-hazard organizations from both the United States and Nepal, the USGS responded to this landslide crisis by providing expertise to Nepalese agencies and affected villages. In addition to collaborating with an international group of remote-sensing scientists to document the extent and spatial distribution of landsliding in the first few weeks following the earthquake, the USGS conducted in-country landslide hazard assessments for 10 days in May and June. Much of the information obtained by the USGS in Nepal was conveyed directly to affected villages and government agencies as opportunities arose. Upon return to the United States, data organization, interpretation and synthesis immediately began in order to publish a final report.

This new report provides a detailed account of the assessments performed in May and June, with a particular focus on valley-blocking landslides because they have the potential to pose considerable hazard to many villages in Nepal. The results include an overview of the extent of landsliding, a presentation of 74 valley-blocking landslides identified during the work, and a description of helicopter-based video resources that provide over 11 hours of high resolution footage of approximately 1,000 km (621 miles) of river valleys and surrounding areas affected by the earthquakes. A description of site-specific landslide-hazard assessments conducted while in Nepal and detailed descriptions of five noteworthy case studies are also included. The report ends with an assessment of the expectation for additional landslide hazards in the summer monsoon season following the earthquakes.

The full report, USGS OFR 2015-1142, “Assessment of Existing and Potential Landslide Hazards Resulting from the April 25, 2015 Gorkha, Nepal Earthquake Sequence” is available online, as well as the video footage collected during the research.

Aerial photographs showing landslides triggered by the April and May 2015 Gorkha earthquake sequence in central Nepal. A, Widespread ridgetop landsliding in Gorkha district. The Kerauja rock slide (cover image of report) is wide scar on ridge visible in photograph background (arrow). B, Partially breached Gogane landslide dam in Rasuwa district of Nepal. Top of scarp below village (arrow) is approximately 400 m above river level. C, Rock falls in the Urkin Kangari Valley, Sindhupalchok district. Image shows approximately 1,200 m relief between top of foreground cliffs and valley floor. (high resolution image 3 MB) Photographs showing the Langtang, Nepal debris avalanche, which destroyed the entire village of Langtang. An estimated 200 people were killed in this single event. A, Oblique northwest view of deposit with cliff in which the debris became airborne. Homes in foreground were pushed over by the ensuing airblast. B, Aerial view of debris avalanche deposit showing location of the Langtang River tunnel through ice and debris. (high resolution image 2.2 MB)

New Magnolia State Maps Adding Trails

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - July 28, 2015 - 11:30am
Summary: Several of the 772 new US Topo quadrangles for Mississippi now display parts of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail and other selected public trails. Further significant additions to the new quadrangles include map symbol redesign, enhanced railroad information and new road source data Newly released US Topo maps for Mississippi now feature selected trails and other substantial updates

Contact Information:

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



Several of the 772 new US Topo quadrangles for Mississippi now display parts of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail and other selected public trails. Further significant additions to the new quadrangles include map symbol redesign, enhanced railroad information and new road source data. For Gulf Coast residents, recreationalists and visitors who want to explore the featured Mississippi trails by biking, hiking, horseback or other means, the new trail features on the US Topo maps will be useful.

Historically, the 450-mile foot trail that became known as the Natchez Trace was the lifeline through the Old Southwest. The Old Natchez Trace footpath ran through Choctaw and Chickasaw lands, connecting Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. Today, the current trail network consists of five separate trails totaling more than 60 miles.

"The inclusion of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail onto the US Topo maps will be an excellent tool for publicizing the trail to visitors,” said Greg Smith, Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail Coordinator for the National Park Service. “ The trail traverses three states and provides an opportunity for users to experience the unique cultural and natural aspects of the Old Natchez Trace."

The USGS partnered with the National Park Service to incorporate the trail data onto the Mississippi US Topo maps. The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail joins the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail the North Country National Scenic Trail, Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, and the Arizona National Scenic Trail as being featured on the new US Topo quads. The USGS plans to eventually include all National Scenic Trails in The National Map products.

Some of the other data for new trails on the maps is provided to the USGS through a nationwide “crowdsourcing” project managed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA).  This unique crowdsourcing venture has increased the availability of trail data available through The National Map mobile and web apps, and the revised US Topo maps.

During the past two years the IMBA, in a partnership with the MTB Project, has been building a detailed national database of trails. This activity allows local IMBA chapters, IMBA members, and the public to provide trail data and descriptions through their website. MTB Project and IMBA then verify the quality of the trail data provided, ensure accuracy and confirm the trail is legal. 

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

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

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

Updated 2015 version of Tupelo, Mississippi US Topo quadrangle with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale). (high resolution image 1.4 MB) Scan of the 1921 legacy topographic map quadrangle of the Tupelo, Mississippi area from the USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection. (high resolution image 2 MB) Updated 2015 version of Tupelo, Mississippi US Topo quadrangle with orthoimage turned off. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1.2 MB)

The National Trails System was established by Act of Congress in 1968. The Act grants the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture authority over the National Trails System.  The Act defines four types of trails. Two of these types, the National Historic Trails and National Scenic Trails, can only be designated by Act of Congress.  National scenic trails are extended trails located as to provide for maximum outdoor recreation potential and for the conservation and enjoyment of nationally significant scenic, historic, natural, and cultural qualities of the area through which such trails may pass.

There are 11 National Scenic Trails:

  • Appalachian National Scenic Trail
  • Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail
  • Continental Divide National Scenic Trail
  • North Country National Scenic Trail
  • Ice Age National Scenic Trail
  • Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
  • Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail
  • Florida National Scenic Trail
  • Arizona National Scenic Trail
  • New England National Scenic Trail
  • Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail

Mount McKinley Elevation Survey Results Coming Soon

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - July 23, 2015 - 11:30am
Summary: A team of four climbers has recently returned from the highest point in North America with new survey data to determine a more precise summit height of Mount McKinley. It is anticipated the new elevation finding will be announced in late August Climbers return from the top of Mount McKinley to begin data analysis

Contact Information:

Mark Newell, USGS ( Phone: 573-308-3850 ); Sue Mitchell, UAF GI ( Phone: 907-474-5823 ); Vicki Childers, NOAA/NGS ( Phone: 301-713-3211 x161 );



A team of four climbers has recently returned from the highest point in North America with new survey data to determine a more precise summit height of Mount McKinley. It is anticipated the new elevation finding will be announced in late August.

The ability to establish a much more accurate height has grown with advances in surveying technologies since 1953 when the last official survey of Mount McKinley was recorded. The new elevation will eventually replace the formerly accepted elevation of 20,320 feet.

”Determining an updated elevation for the summit of Mount McKinley presents extraordinary challenges,” said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the USGS.  “The USGS and its partners are using the best available modern GPS survey equipment and techniques to ensure the new elevation will be determined with a high level of accuracy and confidence.”

Unique circumstances and variables such as the depth of the snow pack and establishing the appropriate surface that coincides with mean sea level must be taken into account before the new Mount McKinley elevation can be determined.

In 2013, an elevation was calculated for Mount McKinley using a technology known as Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (ifsar). The 2013 elevation was slightly lower than the summit’s 20,320 foot height. Ifsar is an extremely effective tool for collecting map data in challenging areas such as Alaska, but it does not provide precise spot or point elevations. This new survey used GPS instruments that were placed directly on the summit to measure a specific point on the surface, thus giving a more defined spot elevation. 

The USGS, along with NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey (NGS), and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), are the primary partners supporting the survey of McKinley’s summit. The survey party included three GPS experts and mountaineers from CompassData (a subcontractor for Dewberry), and a scientist/climber from UAF’s Geophysical Institute.

Now that the data collection expedition is completed, the NGS, UAF, USGS and CompassData are in the process of analyzing the data.

"CompassData was honored to help the USGS and NOAA on this nationally important project,” said Blaine Horner, a member of the climbing team. “Our experience surveying around the world put us in a unique position to perform this work."

The team began their ascent, with the needed scientific instruments in tow, on June 16. With diligent work and mostly favorable weather, the team safely returned to their starting point ahead of schedule.

"We had nearly perfect weather on the mountain,” said Tom Heinrichs, Director of the UAF Geographic Information Network of Alaska and part of the climbing team. “The logistics on the mountain all went well. The summit survey was successful and our preliminary look at the data indicates we will get a good solution for the summit elevation."

Mount McKinley is part of Denali National Park. The Park hosts more than 530,000 visitors each year, with about 1,200 who attempt to climb Mount McKinley. In a typical year, about half of those who begin a McKinley climb reach the summit. The six million acre park will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2017. The mountain was first summited in 1913.

Agustin (Udi) Karriere (front) and Rhett Foster from CompassData establishing the 11,000 foot camp, preparing to move to the next camp and summit ascent. (Photo: Tom Heinrichs, UAF) (Larger image) Rhett Foster from CompassData on a ridge leading to the 17,000 foot base camp. (Photo: Tom Heinrichs, UAF) (Larger image) Tom Heinrichs from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Agustin (Udi) Karriere from CompassData traveling low on the mountain towards the next base camp, towing needed science and camp equipment. (Photo: Rhett Foster, CompassData) (Larger image) On top of North America! Blaine Horner from CompassData poses with GPS equipment on the top of Mount McKinley. (Photo: Agustin Karriere, CompassData) (Larger image)

Climate Change Reduces Coral Reefs' Ability to Protect Coasts

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - July 22, 2015 - 3:00pm
Summary: Coral reefs, under pressure from climate change and direct human activity, may have a reduced ability to protect tropical islands against wave attack, erosion and salinization of drinking water resources, which help to sustain life on those islands

Contact Information:

Mariska  van Gelderen, Deltares ( Phone: +31 (0)6 13 67 13 70 ); Leslie Gordon, USGS ( Phone: 650-329-4006 ); Nanci  Bompey, AGU ( Phone: 202-777-7524 );



Aerial photograph of Kwajalein Atoll showing its low-lying islands and coral reefs. (High resolution image) Aerial photograph of Kwajalein Atoll showing its low-lying islands and coral reefs. (High resolution image)

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — Coral reefs, under pressure from climate change and direct human activity, may have a reduced ability to protect tropical islands against wave attack, erosion and salinization of drinking water resources, which help to sustain life on those islands. A new paper by researchers from the Dutch independent institute for applied research Deltares and the U.S. Geological Survey gives guidance to coastal managers to assess how climate change will affect a coral reef’s ability to mitigate coastal hazards.  

About 30 million people are dependent on the protection by coral reefs as they live on low-lying coral islands and atolls. At present, some of these islands experience flooding due to wave events a few times per decade. It is expected that this rate of flooding will increase due to sea level rise and coral reef decay, as the remaining dead corals are generally smoother in structure, and do less to dissipate wave energy. Loss of coral cover not only causes increased shoreline erosion but also affects the sparse drinking water resources on these islands, which may eventually make these islands uninhabitable.  In order to prevent or mitigate these impacts, coastal managers need know to what extent their reef system may lose its protective function so that they can take action. The new study gives guidance on a local reef’s sensitivity to change. The new research has been accepted for publication in “Geophysical Research Letters,” a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

To gain insight into effects of changing conditions on coral reefs, the study authors used Xbeach (an open-source wave model). The computer model was first validated using field measurements obtained on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean, and was then used to investigate what the effects on water levels, waves, and wave-driven runup would be if certain reef properties change. Reef roughness, steepness, width and the total water level on the reef platform are all important factors for coastal managers to consider when planning mitigating measures.

The results suggest that coasts fronted by relatively narrow reefs with steep faces and deeper, smoother reef flats are expected to experience the highest wave runup and thus potential for island flooding. Wave runup increases for higher water levels (that are expected with sea level rise), higher waves, and lower bed roughness (as coral degrades and becomes smoother), which are all expected effects of climate change. Rising sea levels and climate change will have a significant negative impact on the ability of coral reefs to mitigate the effects of coastal hazards in the future.

The research paper, “The influence of coral reefs and climate change on wave-driven flooding of tropical coastlines,” is published as an open-access paper and available online.

Quataert, E., C. Storlazzi, A. van Rooijen, O. Cheriton, and A. van Dongeren (2015), The influence of coral reefs and climate change on wave-driven flooding of tropical coastlines, Geophysical Research Letters, 42, doi:10.1002/2015GL064861

Deltares is an independent institute for applied research in the field of water and subsurface. Visit http://www.deltares.nl and follow us on Twitter @deltares or LinkedIn.

Detailed Flood Information Key to More Reliable Coastal Storm Impact Estimates

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - July 21, 2015 - 5:30pm
Summary: CORAM, N.Y. -- A new study that looked in part at how damage estimates evolve following a storm puts the total amount of building damage caused by Hurricane Sandy for all evaluated counties in New York at $23 billion. Study Looks at NY Sandy Impacts and Losses by County

Contact Information:

Christopher  Schubert ( Phone: 631-736-0783 x109 ); Ronald  Busciolano ( Phone: 631-736-0783 x104 ); Vic  Hines ( Phone: 813-855-3125 );



CORAM, N.Y. -- A new study that looked in part at how damage estimates evolve following a storm puts the total amount of building damage caused by Hurricane Sandy for all evaluated counties in New York at $23 billion. Estimates of damage by county ranged from $380 million to $5.9 billion.

The U.S. Geological Survey study, done in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, marks the first time the agency has done this type of analysis and cost estimation for a coastal storm.

"We looked at how estimates of building damage change depending on the amount of information available at the time of the estimate, looking at three time periods -- storm landfall, two weeks later, and then three months later," said Chris Schubert, a USGS hydrologist and lead author of the study. "What we found was that the biggest jump in estimate reliability comes between the initial estimate and the two-week mark, but that the additional information available three months after an event greatly help refine the estimates even further."

The USGS researcher called the study a "proof of concept" that really showcased the value of gathering storm data before and after a storm.

"FEMA funded the sensor placement we did prior to the storm and our assessment of how high the water reached after the storm," Schubert said. "The results from this new study demonstrated how the additional resolution and accuracy of flood depictions resulting from these efforts greatly improved the damage estimates."

Damage estimates can be used by FEMA and other stakeholders to help prioritize relief and reconstruction efforts following a storm. The results can also assist with resiliency planning that helps communities prepare for future storms.

The researchers came up with the estimates by using census data and FEMA’s HAZUS modeling software program.  The HAZUS program is used to estimate potential loss from disasters such as earthquakes, wind, hurricanes and floods.  This program allows for an assessment of building loss on a block-by-block level.

Hurricane Sandy’s impact was the first time in recent memory, and record, that coastal water levels had reached the heights they attained in many places in the state of New York. Flood effects of Hurricane Sandy, in comparison to those from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, were significantly more extensive, with most water levels rising at least 2.5 feet higher than in the 2011 storm.

With the latest USGS analysis, a comprehensive picture of the magnitude of Sandy’s impact is now available. Without the sensor placement before the storm, and assessment of high-water marks after, this level of understanding wouldn’t be possible.

"This is the first time USGS has done this type of analysis and cost estimation for a coastal storm," said Schubert. "The effort incorporates what we learned from previous storms going back to Katrina, and the storm-tide information we provided to FEMA in the immediate aftermath of Sandy is one of the building blocks for this research. The additional fidelity of the damage estimate underscores the tremendous value of the dataset for this storm."

Interpretation of storm-tide data from a variety of tools such as tide gauges, stream gauges, and temporary sensors combined with high-water marks showed the extreme nature of storm-tide flooding and, at some sites, the severity and arrival time of the storm surge.  Storm surge is the height of water above the normal astronomical tide level due to a storm. Storm tide is the storm surge in addition to the regular tide.

"Timing matters, though every storm is different," said Schubert. "Throughout southeastern New York, we saw that timing of the surge arrival determined how high the storm tide reached. The worst flooding impacts occurred along the Atlantic Ocean-facing parts of New York City and western Long Island, where the peak storm surge arrived at high tide. So the resulting storm tide was five to six feet higher than it would have been had the peak surge arrived at low tide."

The new research is available online in, Analysis of Storm-Tide Impacts from Hurricane Sandy in New York, SIR 2015-5036, by C.E. Schubert, R. Busciolano, P.P. Hearn Jr., A.N. Rahav, R. Behrens, J. Finkelstein, J. Monti Jr., and A. E. Simonson. It examined damage estimates from those counties with depictions of flood extent available from FEMA and the National Hurricane Center.

The USGS is also conducting a study in New Jersey that examines similar topics, including the estimated flood frequency of documented peak storm-tide elevations, comparisons of Sandy to historic coastal storms, the timing of storm surge, and changes in HAZUS damage estimates with the use of USGS sensor and high-water-mark data.   That study is expected to be completed and released later this year.

As Climate Warms Hawaiian Forest Birds Lose More Ground to Mosquitoes

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - July 17, 2015 - 3:00pm
Summary: Hawai‘i, the name alone elicits images of rhythmic traditional dancing, breathtaking azure sea coasts and scenes of vibrant birds flitting through lush jungle canopy. Unfortunately, the future of many native Hawaiian birds looks grim as diseases carried by mosquitoes are due to expand into higher elevation safe zones

Contact Information:

Wei Liao ( Phone: 608-265-2130 ); David  Helweg ( Phone: 808-342-7606 ); Ryan McClymont ( Phone: 503-251-3237 );



ISLAND OF HAWAI‘I, Hawaii — Hawai‘i, the name alone elicits images of rhythmic traditional dancing, breathtaking azure sea coasts and scenes of vibrant birds flitting through lush jungle canopy. Unfortunately, the future of many native Hawaiian birds looks grim as diseases carried by mosquitoes are due to expand into higher elevation safe zones.

A new study published in Global Change Biology, by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, assesses how global climate change will affect future malaria risk to native Hawaiian bird populations in the coming century.

Mosquito-carried diseases such as avian pox and avian malaria have been devastating native Hawaiian forest birds. A single mosquito bite can transfer malaria parasites to a susceptible bird, where the death rate may exceed 90 percent for some species. As a result, many already threatened or endangered native birds now only survive in disease-free refuges found in high-elevation forests where mosquito populations and malaria development are limited by colder temperatures. Unlike continental bird species, island birds cannot move northward in response to climate change or increased disease stressors, but must adapt or move to less hospitable habitats to survive.

“We knew that temperature had significant effects on mosquitoes and malaria, but we were surprised that rainfall also played an important role,” said USGS Wisconsin Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit scientist Michael Samuel. “Additional rainfall will favor mosquitoes as much as the temperature change.”

With warming temperatures, mosquitoes will move farther upslope and increase in number. The authors expect high-elevation areas to remain mosquito-free, but only until mid-century when mosquito-friendly temperatures will begin to appear at higher elevations. Future increases in rainfall will likely benefit the mosquitoes as well.

Scientists know that historically, malaria has caused bird extinctions, but changing climates could affect the bird-mosquito-disease system in unknown ways. “We wanted to figure out how climate change impacts birds in the future,” said Wei Liao, post-doctorate at University of Wisconsin-Madison and lead author of the article.

As more mosquitoes move up the mountainside, disease-free refuges will no longer provide a safe haven for the most vulnerable species. The rate of disease infection is likely to speed up as the numbers of mosquitoes increase and more diseased birds become hosts to the parasites, continuing the cycle of infection to healthy birds.

Researchers conclude that future global climate change will cause substantial decreases in the abundance and diversity of remaining Hawaiian bird communities. Without significant intervention many native Hawaiian species, like the scarlet ‘I‘iwi with its iconic curved bill, will suffer major population declines or extinction due to increasing risk from avian malaria during the 21st century.

There is hope for the birds. Because these effects are unlikely to appear before mid-century, natural resource managers have time to implement conservation strategies to protect these unique species from further decimation. Land managers could work toward preventing forest bird number declines by restoring and improving habitat for the birds, reducing mosquitoes on a large scale and controlling predators of forest birds. 

“Hawaiian forest birds are some of the most threatened forest birds in the world,” said Samuel. “They are totally unique to Hawai‘i and found nowhere else. They are also important to the Hawaiian culture. And at this point, we still don’t fully understand what role they play as pollinators and in forest dynamics.”

The article, “Will a Warmer and Wetter Future Cause Extinction of Native Hawaiian Forest Birds?” can be found in the online edition of Global Change Biology.

The work was supported by the Department of Interior Pacific Islands Climate Science Center, which is managed by the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center. The center is one of eight that provides scientific information to help natural resource managers respond effectively to climate change.

40 Years of North Pacific Seabird Survey Data Now Online

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - July 16, 2015 - 2:30pm
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey today released the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database — a massive online resource compiling the results of 40 years of surveys by biologists from the United States, Canada, Japan and Russia

Contact Information:

John  Piatt ( Phone: 360-774-0516 ); Ryan McClymont ( Phone: 503-251-3237 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The U.S. Geological Survey today released the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database — a massive online resource compiling the results of 40 years of surveys by biologists from the United States, Canada, Japan and Russia. The database documents the abundance and distribution of 160 seabird and 41 marine mammal species over a 10 million-square-mile region of the North Pacific. 

“The database offers a powerful tool for analysis of climate change effects on marine ecosystems of the Arctic and North Pacific, and for monitoring the impact of fisheries, vessel traffic and oil development on marine bird communities over a vast region,” said Dr. John Piatt, head of the Seabird and Forage Fish Ecology Research Program at the USGS Alaska Science Center. “It also creates an unprecedented opportunity to study the biogeography and marine ecology of dozens of species of seabirds and marine mammals throughout their range in continental shelf waters of the United States.” 

Hundreds of scientists and observers conducted surveys, gathering data on more than 350,000 transects ranging from the Channel Islands of southern California westward to the coast of South Korea, and from the Hawaiian Islands northward to the North Pole. The majority of data collection occurred over the U.S. continental shelves stretching from California to Arctic Alaska, where concerns over the possible impact of human activities at sea have long fueled wildlife research and monitoring efforts.

The surveys were conducted over four decades as part of focused studies, for various purposes and in specific regions within the North Pacific.  Hundreds of observers from dozens of international, federal and state wildlife agencies, universities and consulting companies contributed data. Because similar observational methods were used, the data could be compiled into a single database, shedding light on broader patterns of seabird distribution and abundance.

USGS scientists started compiling the data into the NPPSD in 2001 and published the first version in 2005.  This is the first time the database has been made available online.  The current version includes surveys conducted in the last decade and from additional regions. The compilation of data from surveys spanning 40 years makes the NPPSD one of the largest marine wildlife censuses ever conducted in terms of the number of animals observed and spatial extent of the survey area.

“Contributors to the NPPSD can now examine large-scale phenomena that were previously impossible for individual studies to assess because they were conducted on smaller temporal and spatial scales,” said Dr. Gary Drew, database manager for the Seabird and Forage Fish Ecology Research Program at the USGS Alaska Science Center.

The value of the NPPSD for understanding the ecology of the North Pacific and the impacts of human activities in this region has just begun to be realized. Recent analyses using NPPSD data included a risk analysis of shipping traffic on seabirds in the heavily traveled Aleutian Islands conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a study commissioned by the National Audubon Society to identify “Important Bird Areas” from California to Alaska.  Future analysis of the database by USGS scientists aims to yield many insights into the status of seabird and marine mammal populations, while the live online database meets the Obama Administration’s directive of "Expanding Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research."

The NPPSD and Users Guide are available from the USGS Alaska Science Center website.

Power of Prediction: Avian Fatalities at Wind Facilities

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - July 8, 2015 - 11:31am
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has released a study that will enable ecologists, managers, policy makers, and industry to predict the bird fatalities at a wind facility prior to it being constructed

Contact Information:

Leslie New ( Phone: 360-546-9309 ); Brian Milsap ( Phone: 505-559-3963 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



The U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has released a study that will enable ecologists, managers, policy makers, and industry to predict the bird fatalities at a wind facility prior to it being constructed.

The study examined golden eagles as a case study because they are susceptible to collisions with wind turbines in part because of their soaring and hunting behavior. 

Bird fatalities due to collisions with rotating turbine blades are a leading concern for wildlife and wind facility managers. This new model builds upon previous approaches by directly acknowledging uncertainty inherent in predicting these fatalities. Furthermore, the computer code provided makes it possible for other researchers and managers to readily apply the model to their own data. 

The model looks at only three parameters:  hazardous footprint, bird exposure to turbines and collision probability. “This simplicity is part of what makes the model accessible to others,” said Leslie New, assistant professor of statistics at Washington State University, who led the research project as a USGS postdoctoral fellow. “It also allows wind facility developers to consider ways to reduce bird fatalities without having to collect a complicated set of data.”

High rates of bird fatalities do not occur at every wind facility. The geographic location, local topographic features, the bird species and its life history, as well as other factors all play a role in the number of fatalities.

Taking advantage of publically available information, research scientists incorporated a wealth of biological knowledge into their model to improve fatality predictions.

“Uncertainty in this model can be reduced once data on the actual number of fatalities are available at an operational wind facility,” said New.

To establish the utility of their approach, the scientists applied their model to golden eagles at a Wyoming wind facility. Their long-life span combined with delayed reproduction and small brood size means that there are potential population-level effects of this additional source of mortality.  

Golden eagles are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The combination of law, conservation concerns, and renewable-energy development led the USFWS to develop a permitting process for wind facilities.  The USFWS permitting process requires that fatality predictions be made in advance of a wind facility’s construction. This allows the facility’s impact to be assessed and any mitigation measures related to turbine placement on the landscape to be taken. The new model was developed specifically for the purpose of assessing take as part of the preconstruction permitting process.

The study supports a conservative approach and the researchers’ model is used to inform this permitting process and balance management of eagle fatalities.

The article, “A collision risk model to predict avian fatalities at wind facilities: an example using golden eagles, Aquila chrysaetos by L.F. New, E. Bjerre, B. Millsap, M. Otto and M. Runge, is available in PLOS ONE online.

About the Golden Eagle:

The golden eagle has a vast range, from the tundra through grassland, forested habitat and woodland brushland south to arid deserts including Death Valley, California. They are aerial predators that build nests on cliffs or in the largest trees of forested stands that often afford an unobstructed view of the surrounding habitat.

Northern Alaska Coastal Erosion Threatens Habitat and Infrastructure

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - July 1, 2015 - 2:30pm
Summary: In a new study published today, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey found that the remote northern Alaska coast has some of the highest shoreline erosion rates in the world

Contact Information:

Ann Gibbs ( Phone: 831-460-7540 ); Paul  Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



This oblique aerial photograph from 2006 shows the Barter Island long-range radar station landfill threatened by coastal erosion. The landfill was subsequently relocated further inland, however, the coastal bluffs continue to retreat. (High resolution image)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In a new study published today, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey found that the remote northern Alaska coast has some of the highest shoreline erosion rates in the world. Analyzing over half a century of shoreline change data, scientists found the pattern is extremely variable with most of the coast retreating at rates of more than 1 meter a year.  

“Coastal erosion along the Arctic coast of Alaska is threatening Native Alaskan villages, sensitive ecosystems, energy and defense related infrastructure, and large tracts of Native Alaskan, State, and Federally managed land,” said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the USGS.

Scientists studied more than 1600 kilometers of the Alaskan coast between the U.S. Canadian border and Icy Cape and found the average rate of shoreline change, taking into account beaches that are both eroding and expanding, was -1.4 meters per year. Of those beaches eroding, the most extreme case exceeded 18.6 meters per year.

“This report provides invaluable objective data to help native communities, scientists and land managers understand natural changes and human impacts on the Alaskan coast,” said Ann Gibbs, USGS Geologist and lead author of the new report.

Coastlines change in response to a variety of factors, including changes in the amount of available sediment, storm impacts, sea-level rise and human activities. How much a coast erodes or expands in any given location is due to some combination of these factors, which vary from place to place. 

"There is increasing need for this kind of comprehensive assessment in all coastal environments to guide managed response to sea-level rise and storm impacts," said Dr. Bruce Richmond of the USGS. "It is very difficult to predict what may happen in the future without a solid understanding of what has happened in the past. Comprehensive regional studies such as this are an important tool to better understand coastal change. ” 

Compared to other coastal areas of the U.S., where four or more historical shoreline data sets are available, generally back to the mid-1800s, shoreline data for the coast of Alaska are limited. The researchers used two historical data sources, from the 1940s and 2000s, such as maps and aerial photographs, as well as modern data like lidar, or “light detection and ranging,” to measure shoreline change at more than 26,567 locations.

There is no widely accepted standard for analyzing shoreline change. The impetus behind the National Assessment project was to develop a standardized method of measuring changes in shoreline position that is consistent on all coasts of the country. The goal was to facilitate the process of periodically and systematically updating the results in a consistent manner.

The report, titled “National Assessment of Shoreline Change: Historical Shoreline Change Along the North Coast of Alaska, U.S.-Canadian Border to Icy,” is the 8th Long-Term Coastal Change report produced as part of the USGS’s National Assessment of Coastal Change Hazards project. A comprehensive database of digital vector shorelines and rates of shoreline change for Alaska, from the U.S.-Canadian border to Icy Cape, is presented along with this report. Data for all 8 long-term coastal change reports are also available on the USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal