U.S. Geological Survey News Feed

Global Earthquake Numbers on Par for 2015

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - February 1, 2016 - 9:34am
Summary: Globally there were 14,588 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 or greater in 2015.  This worldwide number is on par with prior year averages of about 40 earthquakes per day of magnitude 4.0, or about 14,500 annually.  The 2015 number may change slightly as the final results are completed by seismic analysts at the USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado.

Contact Information:

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



Globally there were 14,588 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 or greater in 2015.  This worldwide number is on par with prior year averages of about 40 earthquakes per day of magnitude 4.0, or about 14,500 annually.  The 2015 number may change slightly as the final results are completed by seismic analysts at the USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado.

In 2015, there were 19 earthquakes worldwide with a magnitude of 7.0 or higher. Since about 1900, the average has been about 18 earthquakes per year.

Earthquakes caused 9,612 deaths worldwide in 2015, a significant increase compared to 664 deaths in 2014. The majority of these fatalities – 8,964 people as reported by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – are attributed to the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that occurred on April 25 in Nepal. This was followed by another deadly earthquake with magnitude 7.3 on May 12 that killed an additional 218 people in Nepal. Deadly quakes also occurred in Afghanistan, Malaysia and Chile.

The biggest earthquake in the United States, a magnitude 6.9 southwest of Umnak Island, Alaska, occurred on July 27. This occurred in a remote location so there was no damage.  In the central United States, seismicity continued to increase, with 32 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 and greater in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas in 2015 compared to 17 in 2014. Moderate earthquakes also occurred in Nevada and Arizona. A magnitude 5.0 east of Challis, Idaho, hit on January 3. In the United States, there were no fatalities caused by earthquakes.

The USGS monitors earthquakes around the world, responds rapidly to events of magnitude 5.0 or greater and for the final catalogs publishes earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.0 or greater. In the United States, earthquakes with magnitude 2.5 or greater are published.

To monitor earthquakes worldwide, the USGS NEIC receives data in real-time from about 1,800 stations in more than 90 countries. These stations include the 150-station Global Seismographic Network, which is jointly supported by the USGS and the National Science Foundation and operated by the USGS in partnership with the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology consortium of universities. Domestically, the USGS partners with 11 regional seismic networks operated by universities that provide detailed coverage for the areas of the country with the highest seismic risk.

Real-time information about earthquakes around the world can be found at earthquake.usgs.gov. Visit the USGS Significant Earthquakes Archive to see the complete list of notable earthquakes from 2015 and previous years. Read about other natural disasters that occurred in 2015 here.

More than 143 million residents living in the 48 contiguous states may potentially be exposed to damaging ground shaking from earthquakes. When the people living in the earthquake-prone areas of Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. territories are added, this number rises to nearly half of all Americans. The USGS and its partners in the multi-agency National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program are continually working to improve earthquake monitoring and reporting capabilities via the USGS Advanced National Seismic System

Process Changes for Reporting Sightings of Asian Carp, other Non-Native Aquatic Species

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - January 28, 2016 - 6:02pm
Summary: Boaters, swimmers or other members of the public who see Lionfish, Asian carp, Zebra mussels or any other invasive or non-native plant or animal species have two options to report sightings.    USGS and State Agencies Collecting Information

Contact Information:

Pam  Fuller ( Phone: 352-264-3481 ); Gabrielle  Bodin ( Phone: 337-266-8655 );



Boaters, swimmers or other members of the public who see Lionfish, Asian carp, Zebra mussels or any other invasive or non-native plant or animal species have two options to report sightings.   

Sightings nationwide should now be reported online to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Program, called the NAS, or directly to state government natural resource agencies

The public has been able to report sightings to the USGS and state agencies for some time, but with the discontinuation of a federal reporting Aquatic Nuisance Species hotline late last year researchers are trying to get the word out on the updated reporting system and the continued importance of reporting sightings.

“Sixty-seven percent of the invasive species alerts in the past five years have been based on information reported by the public,” said Pam Fuller, a fish biologist with USGS and the leader of the NAS Program. “We rely on the public to gather much of our data on aquatic invasive species. We depend on them to be our ‘early detectors.’ When you combine the information we receive from reported sightings with information we pull from other sources, we’re able to provide a national picture of species distribution.”

For 19 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force operated a 24-hour phone hotline available to report sightings. In recent years, the line was seldom used, with sightings being more often than not reported via email, prompting the change in process. Scientists say reporting sightings is still very important, and very easy.

“New occurrences of non-native aquatic species are occurring more frequently than people think,” said Fuller. “In the past 12 months, we’ve seen 110 new occurrences. This includes both new species, as well as species we’ve already seen that are just in new locations. Identifying where these species are being seen can help us predict which regions may be susceptible to invasion, and can help prioritize management needs.”

The nearly four-decade old NAS database monitors, analyzes, and records non-native aquatic animals, including mussels, snails, crayfish, turtles, frogs, and fish, and now, aquatic plants, to give a more comprehensive understanding of the occurrence of non-native and invasive species in the United States. The database is freely accessible to the public, allowing users to view current distributions, search for particular regions and species, and report sightings of non-native and invasive aquatic species. Information from the data is used to generate scientific reports, real-time online queries, spatial data sets, regional contact lists, fact sheets and occurrence alerts.

In 2004, an alert function was added to the system to send out alerts to users anytime a new species was introduced into an area. The system offers timely information to environmental managers to help them prioritize and initiate monitoring and management actions.  

The NAS program monitors nonindigenous species, also known as non-native species or species not historically found in an area, as well as invasive species. A non-native species is not necessarily invasive; however, once a population is able to sustain itself it is considered invasive.  

The NAS program works with state and federal natural resource agencies to gather information on non-native and invasive aquatic species, and works with other partners to develop tools, including integrated reporting and filtered website views.

“There have been numerous instances when a species was reported to us and we notified the state biologists who went out to investigate,” said Fuller. “Sometimes the reports turn out to be new introductions, and sometimes they are misidentifications. But when in doubt – report it.”

To report the sighting of an invasive or non-native aquatic species, please visit: www.usgs.gov/stopans

Value of U.S. Mineral Production Decreased in 2015 with Lower Metal Prices

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - January 28, 2016 - 4:20pm
Summary: In 2015, United States mines produced an estimated $78.3 billion of mineral raw materials—down 3percent from $80.8 billion in 2014, the U.S. Geological Survey announced today in its Mineral Commodity Summaries 2016.

Contact Information:

Steven Fortier ( Phone: 703-648-4920 ); Elizabeth Sangine ( Phone: 703-648-7720 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



In 2015, United States mines produced an estimated $78.3 billion of mineral raw materials—down 3percent from $80.8 billion in 2014, the U.S. Geological Survey announced today in its Mineral Commodity Summaries 2016.

“Decision-makers and policy-makers in the private and public sectors rely on the Mineral Commodity Summaries and other USGS minerals information publications as unbiased sources of information to make business decisions and national policy,” said Steven M. Fortier, Director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center. 

Rare-earth elements (REEs) are used in the components of many devices used daily in our modern society, such as: the screens of smart phones, computers, and flat panel televisions; the motors of computer drives; batteries of hybrid and electric cars; and new generation light bulbs. Lanthanum-based catalysts are employed in petroleum refining. Large wind turbines use generators that contain strong permanent magnets composed of neodymium-iron-boron. Photographs used with permission from PHOTOS.com.

This annual report from the USGS is the earliest comprehensive source of 2015 mineral production data for the world. It includes statistics on about 90 mineral commodities that are essential to the U.S. economy and national security, and addresses events, trends, and issues in the domestic and international minerals industries. Industries consuming such processed non-fuel mineral materials—such as cement, steel, brick, and fertilizer, et cetera—added $2.49 trillion or 14 percent to the total U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

In 2015, the U.S. was 100 percent import reliant on 19 mineral commodities, including rare earths, manganese, and bauxite, which are among a suite of materials often designated as “critical” or “strategic” because they are essential to the economy and their supply may be disrupted. Though the U.S. was also 100 percent import reliant on 19 mineral commodities in 2014, this number has risen from just 7 commodities in 1978.

“This dependence on foreign sources of critical minerals illustrates both the interdependency of the global community and a growing concern about the adequacy of mineral resources supplies for future generations.  Will our children’s children have the resources they need to live the lives that we all want?” asked Larry Meinert, MRP program coordinator.

A reduction in construction activity began with the 2008-09 recession and continued through 2011. However, construction spending continued to increase in 2015—more than 10 percent compared to 2014, which benefitted the industrial minerals and aggregates sectors.

Production of 14 mineral commodities was worth more than $1 billion each in the United States in 2015, the same as in 2014. The estimated value of U.S. industrial minerals  production in 2015 was $51.7 billion, 4 percent more than that of 2014.

Declining demand for metals—especially in China, reduced investment demand, and increase global inventories resulted in decreasing prices and production for most metals.  In fact, several U.S. metal mines idled in 2015, including the only U.S. rare earth mine at Mountain Pass, California. Rare earths are vital components in modern technologies like smart phones, light-emitting-diode (LED) lights, and flat screen televisions, as well as clean energy and defense technologies.

The estimated value of U.S. metal mine production in 2015 was $26.6 billion, 15 percent less than that of 2014. These raw materials and domestically recycled materials were used to process mineral materials worth $630 billion, a 4 percent decrease from $659 billion in 2014. 

In 2015, 14 states each produced more than $2 billion worth of nonfuel mineral commodities. These states were, in descending order of value—Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, California, Alaska, Utah, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming, and Illinois. Wisconsin and Illinois are new to the list in 2015.

The USGS Mineral Resources Program delivers unbiased science and information to understand mineral resource potential, production, consumption, and how minerals interact with the environment. The USGS National Minerals Information Center collects, analyzes, and disseminates current information on the supply of and the demand for minerals and materials in the United States and about 180 other countries. This information is essential in planning for and mitigating impacts of potential disruptions to mineral commodity supply due to both natural hazard and man-made events.

The USGS report Mineral Commodity Summaries 2016 is available online (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals). Hardcopies will be available later in the year from the Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents. For ordering information, please call (202) 512-1800 or (866) 512-1800 or go online (http://bookstore.gpo.gov). 

For more information on this report and individual mineral commodities, please visit the USGS National Minerals Information Center (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals).  To keep up-to-date on USGS mineral research, follow us on Twitter (http://twitter.com/usgsminerals).

New Heartland Maps for the New Year

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - January 26, 2016 - 11:30am
Summary: New US Topo maps for Iowa and Kansas are now available in the USGS Store for free download. The new maps of these Midwestern states feature the inclusion of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER) road data. Updated US Topo maps for Iowa and Kansas released; add Census Bureau road data and PLSS

Contact Information:

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



New US Topo maps for Iowa and Kansas are now available in the USGS Store for free download. The new maps of these Midwestern states feature the inclusion of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER) road data.

"The addition of TIGER’s roads layer into the US Topo maps is a great example of how data from one agency can benefit another agency,” said Timothy Trainor, Chief, Geography Division, U.S. Census Bureau. “The Census Bureau and the USGS have a long history of collaboration and sharing. This is another win for the American public."

The USGS recently released Wisconsin US Topo maps which were the first to feature TIGER data.

Another important addition to the new US Topo maps for Iowa and Kansas is the inclusion of Public Land Survey System data. 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, Bureau of Land Management.

Other improvements include the insertion of “crowdsourced” trail data from the International Mountain Bike Association, and most recently, trail data from the U.S. Forest Service.

The US Topo map improvement program has entered its third, three-year cycle of revising and updating digital US Topo quadrangles. These new US Topo maps replace the second edition US Topo maps and are available for no-cost file download from The National Map, the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website , and several other USGS applications.

The TIGER database is provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and was created before the 1990 census to provide over a million unique maps sheets to census enumerators. The TIGER was the basis for the first coast-to-coast digital map to modernize the once-a-decade count. Since 1990, TIGER has evolved into a dynamic mapping system that helped catapult the growth of the geographic information system industry and improve Census Bureau data products.

The TIGER database contains all geographic features — such as roads, railroads, rivers, and legal and statistical geographic boundaries — needed to support the Census Bureau’s data collection and dissemination programs. The TIGER/Line Shapefiles are constantly improving, updated annually, and available for free download.

TIGER’s roads layer includes 6.3 million miles of roads. The original TIGER GIS vector data are available for free download from the TIGER products page. TIGER data are public domain, so using these road data on US Topo removes a previous use restriction from this USGS map product

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 2016 version of the Des Moines SE US Topo quadrangle with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale)

 

Updated 2016 version of the Des Moines SE US Topo quadrangle with orthoimage turned off to better see the improved road network. (1:24,000 scale)

 

 

Scan of the 1905 legacy topographic map quadrangle of the greater Des Moines area from the USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection.

 

Invasive Amphibian Fungus Could Threaten US Salamander Populations

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - January 20, 2016 - 12:00pm
Summary: LAUREL, Md. — A deadly fungus causing population crashes in wild European salamanders could emerge in the United States and threaten already declining amphibians here, according to a report released today by the U.S. Geological Survey USGS Identifies Research and Management Actions

Contact Information:

Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



The eft stage of a red-spotted newt in Walker County, Georgia (Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area). Photo credit: Alan Cressler, USGS.

 

LAUREL, Md. — A deadly fungus causing population crashes in wild European salamanders could emerge in the United States and threaten already declining amphibians here, according to a report released today by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Department of the Interior is working proactively to protect the nation’s amphibians.  The USGS is report released today highlights cooperative research and management efforts needed to develop and implement effective pre-invasion and post-invasion disease-management strategies if Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) enters and affects salamanders within the United States. Last week the United States Fish and Wildlife Service published a rule listing 201 salamander species as injurious under the Lacey Act, which will reduce the likelihood of introduction of Bsal into the country.

Although Bsal has not yet been found in wild U.S. salamander populations, scientists caution it is likely to emerge here because of the popularity of captive salamanders as household pets, in classrooms and in zoos; the captive amphibian trade is a known source of salamanders afflicted with the fungus.

Amphibians are the most endangered groups of vertebrates worldwide, with another fungus closely related to Bsal (Bd) contributing to amphibian die-offs and extinctions global over the last two decades. 

“Based on the kinds of species affected and the fact that the United States has the highest salamander diversity in the world, this new pathogen is a major threat with the potential to exacerbate already severe amphibian declines,” said Evan Grant, a USGS wildlife biologist and lead author of the USGS report. “We have the unusual opportunity to develop and apply preventative management actions in advance.”

Bsal was first identified in 2013 as the cause of mass wild salamander die-offs in the Netherlands and Belgium. Captive salamander die-offs due to Bsal have occurred in the United Kingdom and Germany. Scientists believe Bsal originated in Asia and spread to wild European populations through the import and export of salamanders.

The USGS brought together scientists and managers from federal and state agencies that oversee resource conservation and management to identify research needs and management responses before Bsal arrives and becomes entrenched in the country. USGS, the USFWS, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Defense, National Park Service, zoos, and U.S. and international universities participated in the Bsal workshop.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Bsal is highly likely to emerge in U.S. populations of wild salamanders through imports of potentially infected salamanders.
  • Management actions targeted at Bsal containment after arrival in the United States may be relatively ineffective in reducing its spread.
  • A coordinated response, including rapid information sharing, is necessary to plan and respond to this potential crisis.
  • Early detection of Bsal at key amphibian import locations, in high-risk wild populations, and in field-collected samples is necessary to quickly and effectively implement management responses.

“The increasing pace of global commerce and emergence of new infectious diseases put vulnerable native wildlife populations at risk for extinction,” said Grant. “Managing disease threats to the 191 species of U.S. salamanders is essential for the global conservation of salamanders.”

Grant noted that the process by which Bsal research and management needs were identified could be adapted for future infectious disease threats to wildlife.

The workshop and Open-File Report were supported by the USGS Amphibian Monitoring and Research Initiative – or ARMI – and the USGS Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis. ARMI is a national program focusing on amphibian research to stop or reverse the worldwide decline in amphibian populations from habitat change to disease.

Decades of Bat Observations Reveal Uptick in New Causes of Mass Mortality

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - January 19, 2016 - 12:30pm
Summary: FORT COLLINS, Colorado – Reports of bat deaths worldwide due to human causes largely unique to the 21st century are markedly rising, according to a new USGS-led analysis published in Mammal Review

Contact Information:

Kristin White ( Phone: 970-226-9223 ); Heidi Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



Additional Contacts:  David Hayman, Massey University, +64-06-356-9099 ext. 83047, D.T.S.Hayman@massey.ac.nz; Raina Plowright, Montana State University, 406-994-2939, raina.plowright@montana.edu; and Daniel Streicker, University of Glasgow, 44 (0) 141 330 663, daniel.streicker@glasgow.ac.uk

FORT COLLINS, Colorado – Reports of bat deaths worldwide due to human causes largely unique to the 21st century are markedly rising, according to a new USGS-led analysis published in Mammal Review.

Collisions with wind turbines worldwide and the disease white-nose syndrome in North America lead the reported causes of mass death in bats since the onset of the 21st century. These new threats now surpass all prior known causes of bat mortality, natural or attributed to humans.

A comprehensive study reveals trends in the occurrence and causes of multiple mortality events in bats as reported globally for the past 200 years, shedding new light on the possible factors underlying population declines.

“Many of the 1,300 species of bats on Earth are already considered threatened or declining. Bats require high survival to ensure stable or growing populations," said Tom O’Shea, a USGS emeritus research scientist and the study’s lead author. “The new trends in reported human-related mortality may not be sustainable.”

Bats are long-lived, slow-breeding mammals that play vital roles in most of Earth’s ecosystems. Bats are important pollinators and seed dispersers in tropical regions, and serve as the main predators of night flying insects in most parts of the world. Insect-eating bats are estimated to save farmers billions of dollars each year by providing natural pest control.

The researchers combed the scientific literature dating from 1790 to 2015 in search of annual mortality events involving more than 10 bats per event. They then divided these ‘multiple mortality events’ into nine different categories, spanning a variety of both natural and human causes. In the end, they found and categorized a total of 1,180 mortality events from all over the world, representing more than 200 years of recorded history.

Prior to the year 2000, intentional killing by humans caused the greatest proportion of mortality events in bats globally; the reasons varied with region, but bats were hunted for human consumption, killed as pests, to control vampire bats, and to protect fruit crops. Although the proportion of intentional killing reports declined in recent times, such acts continue in some parts of the world.

Since the dawn of the 21st century, however, collisions with wind turbines worldwide and white-nose syndrome in North America are the primary reported causes of mass mortality in bats. In additions, storms, floods, drought, and other weather-related factors also historically caused mass mortality, and could increase in the future due to climate change.

Surprisingly, the authors did not find convincing evidence that bats regularly die in large proportion due to infectious diseases caused by viruses or bacteria.  This finding comes at a time when increasing evidence points to bats as natural reservoirs of several viruses that cause disease in humans. Despite often being more social than other animals, bats may somehow avoid deaths from diseases that sweep through dense populations.

The authors conclude that bats globally could benefit from policy, education, and conservation actions targeting human-caused mortality. “Determining the most important causes of bat mortality is a first step toward trying to reduce our impact on their populations,” said David Hayman, another author of the study and senior lecturer at Massey University in New Zealand.

More information about this study and additional bat research is available online at the USGS Fort Collins Science Center, Massey University, Montana State University, and University of Glasgow.

Bats in a Texas Evening Sky — Insect-eating Brazilian Free-Tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) provide a great pest-control service to agriculture and natural ecosystems. Photo credit: Paul Cryan, USGS.

 

Brown Bats with White Nose Syndrome — Little brown bats in a New York hibernation cave. Note that most of the bats exhibit fungal growth on their muzzles. Photo credit: Nancy Heaslip, New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

 

Wind Turbines — Two wind turbines from the side on a clear day. Photo credit: Paul Cryan, USGS.

Hoary Bat — A hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) roosting on the branch of a tree. About half of all bat fatalities documented in North America involve hoary bats, a migratory species that roosts in the foliage of trees. Photo credit: Paul Cryan, USGS.

 

Long Nosed Bat —  A long-nosed bat covered with pollen, probably from a cactus flower. Photo credit: Ami Pate, National Park Service.

Biodiversity Critical to Maintaining Healthy Ecosystems

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - January 15, 2016 - 2:12pm
Summary: Researchers have found clear evidence that biological communities rich in species are substantially healthier and more productive than those depleted of species.

Contact Information:

Jim Grace ( Phone: 337-298-1671 ); Vic Hines ( Phone: 813-855-3125 );



Researchers have found clear evidence that biological communities rich in species are substantially healthier and more productive than those depleted of species.

Using new scientific techniques, U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist Jim Grace and a group of international scientists have resolved a long-standing debate about   whether species diversity is necessary for a healthy ecosystem.

Scientists have long hypothesized that biodiversity is of critical importance to the stability of natural ecosystems and their abilities to provide positive benefits such as oxygen production, soil genesis, and water detoxification to plant and animal communities, as well as to human society. In fact, because this assumption is intuitively true to the general public, many of the efforts of conservation agencies around the world are driven by the assumption that this hypothesis is scientifically proven. Although theoretical studies have supported this claim, scientists have struggled for the past half-century to clearly isolate such an effect in the real world. This new study does just that.

“This study shows that you cannot have sustainable, productive ecosystems without maintaining biodiversity in the landscape,” said Grace.

The scientists used data collected for this research by a global consortium, the Nutrient Network, from more than a thousand grassland plots spanning five continents. Using recent advances in analytical methods, the group was able to isolate the biodiversity effect from the effects of other processes, including processes that can reduce diversity., Using these data with “integrative modeling”--integrating the predictions from multiple theories into a single model—scientists detected the clear signals of numerous underlying mechanisms linking the health and productivity of ecosystems with species richness.

“The ability to explain the diversity in the number of species is tremendously important for potential conservation applications,” said Grace. “The new type of analysis we developed can predict how both specific management actions (such as reduction of plant material through mowing or increase in soil fertility through fertilization), as well as shifts in climate conditions, may alter both productivity and the number of species.”

According to Debra Willard, Coordinator for the USGS Climate Research & Development Program, “These results suggest that if climate change leads to reduced species or genetic diversity, which is a real possibility, that then could lead to a reduced capacity for ecosystems to respond to additional stresses.”

As an indication of the global awareness of this issue, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services was recently created to help policy-makers understand and address problems stemming from the global loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems.

The article, “Integrative modeling reveals mechanisms linking productivity and plant species richness,” is available online in the journal Nature. 

Manmade Mercury Emissions Decline 30 Percent from 1990-2010

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - January 13, 2016 - 12:00pm
Summary: Between 1990 and 2010, global mercury emissions from manmade sources declined 30 percent, according to a new analysis by Harvard University, Peking University, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, and the University of Alberta. These results challenge long-standing assumptions about mercury emission trends. Results show local and regional efforts can have significant effects on atmospheric mercury

Contact Information:

David  Krabbenhoft ( Phone: 608-821-3843 ); Alex Demas ( Phone: 571-335-6535 );



Between 1990 and 2010, global mercury emissions from manmade sources declined 30 percent, according to a new analysis by Harvard University, Peking University, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, and the University of Alberta. These results challenge long-standing assumptions about mercury emission trends.

Mercury is a metallic element that poses environmental health risks to both wildlife and humans when converted to methylmercury in ecosystems.  It can be converted into gaseous emissions during various industrial activities, as well as natural processes like volcanic eruptions.

“For years, mercury researchers have been unable to explain the apparent conundrum between declining air concentrations and rising emission estimates,” said lead author Yanxu Zhang from Harvard University. “Our work is the first detailed, mechanistic analysis to explain the declining atmospheric mercury trend.”

The observed reduction in atmospheric mercury was most pronounced over North America and Europe, where several factors have contributed to the observed declines in atmospheric mercury concentrations: 

  1. Mercury has been gradually phased out of many commercial products.
  2. Controls were put in place on coal-fired power plants that removed naturally occurring mercury from the coal being burned.
  3. Many power plants have switched to natural gas and stopped burning coal entirely, further reducing mercury emissions.

Finally, at the same time, efforts to combat acid rain resulted in controls being put in place on power plants to reduce nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions. This had the unintended benefit of also reducing mercury emissions.

“Previously, most mercury researchers subscribed to the notion that the ‘global mercury’ problem was largely manifested by a shared global emission inventory,” said USGS scientist David Krabbenhoft, one of the study’s co-authors. “However, our research shows that local and regional efforts to reduce mercury emissions matter significantly. This is great news for focused efforts on reducing exposure of fish, wildlife and humans to toxic mercury.”

The larger-than-anticipated role of local and regional efforts on global mercury emissions explains how increases in emissions in one area can be offset by decreases in other areas. Thus, while Asian mercury emissions increased between 1990 and 2010, European and North American emission reductions during the same time were enough to more than offset the Asian increases.

“This is important for policy and decision-makers, as well as natural resource managers, because, as our results show, their actions can have tangible effects on mercury emissions, even at the local level,” said study co-author Vincent St. Louis with the University of Alberta.

The study is entitled “Observed decrease in atmospheric mercury explained by global decline in anthropogenic emissions,” and is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more information about the study.

The USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program provides objective scientific information on environmental contamination to improve characterization and management of contaminated sites, to protect human and environmental health, and to reduce potential future contamination problems. As part of that research, USGS provides information on mercury sources; mercury cycling in the atmosphere, land surface, lakes, streams and oceans; and bioaccumulation and toxicity of mercury. This information helps land and resource managers understand and reduce mercury hazards to people and wildlife.

First Ever Digital Geologic Map of Alaska Published

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - January 5, 2016 - 4:25pm
Summary: ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A new digital geologic map of Alaska is being released today providing land users, managers and scientists geologic information for the evaluation of land use in relation to resource extraction, conservation, natural hazards and recreation. 

Contact Information:

Frederic Wilson ( Phone: 907-786-7448 ); Paul  Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A new digital geologic map of Alaska is being released today providing land users, managers and scientists geologic information for the evaluation of land use in relation to resource extraction, conservation, natural hazards and recreation. 

The map gives visual context to the abundant mineral and energy resources found throughout the state in a beautifully detailed and accessible format.

“I am pleased that Alaska now has a state-wide digital map detailing surface geologic features of this vast region of the United States that is difficult to access,” said Suzette Kimball, USGS newly-confirmed director. “This geologic map provides important information for the mineral and energy industries for exploration and remediation strategies. It will enable resource managers and land management agencies to evaluate resources and land use, and to prepare for natural hazards, such as earthquakes.” 

“The data contained in this digital map will be invaluable,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “It is a great resource and especially enhances the capacity for science-informed decision making for natural and cultural resources, interpretive programs, and visitor safety.”

“A better understanding of Alaska’s geology is vital to our state’s future. This new map makes a real contribution to our state, from the scientific work it embodies to the responsible resource production it may facilitate. Projects like this one underscore the important mission of the U.S. Geological Survey, and I’m thankful to them for completing it,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

This map is a completely new compilation, carrying the distinction of being the first 100 percent digital statewide geologic map of Alaska. It reflects the changes in our modern understanding of geology as it builds on the past. More than 750 references were used in creating the map, some as old as 1908 and others as new as 2015. As a digital map, it has multiple associated databases that allow creation of a variety of derivative maps and other products. 

“This work is an important synthesis that will both increase public access to critical information and enhance the fundamental understanding of Alaska's history, natural resources and environment,” said Mark Myers, Commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources. “I applaud the collaborative nature of this effort, including the input provided by the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, which will be useful for natural disaster preparation, resource development, land use planning and management, infrastructure and urban planning and management, education, and scientific research.”

Geologists and resource managers alike can utilize this latest geologic map of Alaska, and a lay person can enjoy the colorful patterns on the map showing the state’s geologic past and present.

More than other areas of the United States, Alaska reflects a wide range of past and current geologic environments and processes. The map sheds light on the geologic past and present. Today, geologic processes are still very important in Alaska with many active volcanoes, frequent earthquakes, receding and advancing glaciers and visible climate impacts. 

“This map is the continuation of a long line of USGS maps of Alaska, reflecting ever increasing knowledge of the geology of the state,” said Frederic Wilson, USGS research geologist and lead author of the new map. “In the past, starting in 1904, geologic maps of Alaska were revised once a generation; this latest edition reflects major new mapping efforts in Alaska by the USGS and the Alaska state survey, as well as a revolution in the science of geology through the paradigm shift to plate tectonics, and the development of digital methods. Completion of this map celebrates the 200th anniversary of world's first geologic map by William Smith of England in 1815.” 

The Alaska Geologic Map shows the generalized geology of the state, each color representing a different type or age of rock. This map detail, of the Anchorage area, shows the city spread out on a plain of loose glacial deposits shown in yellow, and the bedrock making up the hillsides of Anchorage shown in green and brown. The rocks shown in green, called the Valdez Group, are sedimentary rocks formed in a trench 65 to 75 million years ago from thousands of undersea debris flows similar to the modern Aleutian trench where oceanic crust dives under continental crust (a subduction zone). The rocks shown in brown on the map are a chaotic mix of rock types called the McHugh Complex that were also formed about the same time, adjacent to this ancient subduction zone. Some time after deposition of the Valdez Group, hot fluids formed gold-bearing quartz veins; the veins were mined starting in the 1890's. The rocks were pushed up, and attached (accreted) to North America through plate tectonic forces in the past 65 million years. The dotted line passing through the east side of Anchorage is the approximate trace of the Border Ranges Fault system, the boundary between the accreted rocks and the rest of the continent.

Sea Lamprey Mating Pheromone Registered by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as First Vertebrate Pheromone Biopesticide

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - January 4, 2016 - 5:11pm
Summary: Ann Arbor, MI – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registered a sea lamprey mating pheromone, 3kPZS, as the first ever vertebrate pheromone biopesticide in late December, 2015. Like an alluring perfume, the mating pheromone is a scent released by male sea lampreys to lure females onto nesting sites. Research and development of the mating pheromone was funded by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, with additional support from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, in collaboration with federal government, university, and private industry partners.

Contact Information:

Dr. Marc Gaden, GLFC ( Phone: 734-417-8012 ); Marisa Lubeck, USGS ( Phone: 303-202-4765 );



Ann Arbor, MI – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registered a sea lamprey mating pheromone, 3kPZS, as the first ever vertebrate pheromone biopesticide in late December, 2015. Like an alluring perfume, the mating pheromone is a scent released by male sea lampreys to lure females onto nesting sites. Research and development of the mating pheromone was funded by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, with additional support from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, in collaboration with federal government, university, and private industry partners.

Parasitic mouth of the invasive sea lamprey. Photo credit: Andrea Miehls, USGS.

Since the 1990s, scientists have been researching the use of pheromones – natural odors used by sea lampreys to communicate – to manipulate sea lamprey behaviors. The newly registered mating pheromone has been used as bait in traps that collect and remove adult sea lampreys before they have a chance to spawn. Other sea lamprey pheromones are also being explored for use in sea lamprey control as attractants and repellents. Although “pesticide” may be part of the name, many biopesticides – such as the sea lamprey mating pheromone – naturally occur in the environment and are extremely potent, but not lethal, substances.

“The Great Lakes Fishery Commission is very excited about this accomplishment,” said Dr. Robert Hecky, chair of the commission. “U.S. EPA registration of the sea lamprey mating pheromone opens the door for use of the pheromone in the commission’s sea lamprey control program, which protects Great Lakes fisheries from destruction caused by invasive sea lampreys.” Dr. Hecky also emphasized the critical role of partners. “This achievement has been many years in the making and could not have occurred without the excellent work of our collaborators at the U.S. Geological Survey, Michigan State University, and Bridge Organics Company.”

Dr. Suzette Kimball, USGS director, praised registration of the sea lamprey mating pheromone as “a milestone for control of invasive species and protection of natural biodiversity.” She further emphasized the significance of this event saying, “Registration is the culmination of great leadership and innovation among the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the USGS, and our university and private-sector partners. Development of the sea lamprey mating pheromone is exactly the type of cuttingedge research that places each partner at the forefront of science.”

The commission also lauded the U.S. EPA’s leadership and noted that this action provides a path for additional chemosensory compounds to be registered as a means to control other vertebrate species. Moreover, this registration marks the first joint review with Canada of a biopesticide through the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency is in the process of registering the mating pheromone for use in Canada.

Since invading the Great Lakes in the 1800s and early 1900s, sea lampreys – parasitic, jawless vertebrates that feed on the blood and body fluids of other fish – have caused enormous ecological and economic damage. To combat this menace, the commission coordinates an integrated sea lamprey control program implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Fisheries and Oceans Canada that combines lampricides, barriers, and traps. The control program is remarkably successful: sea lamprey populations in most areas of the Great Lakes have been reduced by 90 percent of their historical highs.

“Our research has shown that the sea lamprey mating pheromone holds great promise for the sea lamprey control program,” explained Dr. Weiming Li, professor at Michigan State University through the commission’s Partnership for Ecosystem Research and Management. “With a large-scale field trial, we demonstrated that pheromone baits can increase trapping efficiencies by up to 53 percent and baited traps can capture up to two times the sea lampreys that un-baited traps can.” While initial trials were completed with pheromone derived from live male sea lampreys, the researchers also discovered the molecular structure of the mating pheromone and contracted with Bridge Organics, a private company in Michigan, to manufacture a synthetic version.

Invasive sea lamprey prey on commercially important fish species such as lake trout, living off of the blood and body fluids of adult fish. It is one of many fish species that USGS scientists study from the USGS Research Vessel Muskie. These lamprey belong to the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission. Photo credit: Marisa Lubeck, USGS.

Bridge Organics was a key partner in both the development of the synthesized mating pheromone and the U.S. EPA registration process. Like using a blueprint to construct a high-tech building, Bridge Organics used the molecular structure provided by the scientists to construct the exact pheromone molecule from scratch. “When the commission contacted us to synthesize the sea lamprey mating pheromone, we were excited by the scientific challenge,” recalled Dr. Ed Hessler, president of Bridge Organics. “Our company is proud to have developed the chemistry to synthesize the mating pheromone and to have coordinated testing of the compound during the registration process.”

The U.S. EPA registration covers both the synthesized male mating pheromone as well as the mixture of synthesized pheromone and solvents used in field applications. The U.S. FWS holds the registration for 3kPZS and is the entity licensed to apply this in the field when deemed appropriate. The mating pheromone is classified as a biopesticide, a designation that includes any naturally occurring substance that controls pests. Other registered biopesticides include the pheromone disparlure, which is used to detect and control small infestations of gypsy moths. Registration of the sea lamprey mating pheromone is the first for a vertebrate biopesticide.

Once registered in both the United States and Canada, the sea lamprey mating pheromone can be used to help control invasive sea lampreys in U.S. and Canadian waters throughout the Great Lakes. With each additional tool in the sea lamprey control arsenal, the commission improves its ability to protect the $7 billion fishery.

Badger State Maps Put TIGER in the Tank

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 29, 2015 - 11:00am
Summary: The USGS US Topo map program has entered its third, three-year cycle of revising and updating the digital US Topo maps Updated US Topo maps for Wisconsin add Census Bureau road data

Contact Information:

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



The USGS US Topo map program has entered its third, three-year cycle of revising and updating the digital US Topo maps. To start this new cycle, the USGS National Geospatial Program is excited to announce the inclusion of U.S. Census Bureau’s Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER) roads data for the new US Topo maps, starting with the state of Wisconsin.

"The addition of TIGER’s roads layer into the US Topo maps is a great example of how data from one agency can benefit another agency,” said Timothy Trainor, Chief, Geography Division, U.S. Census Bureau. “The Census Bureau and the USGS have a long history of collaboration and sharing. This is another win for the American public."

The TIGER database is provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and was created before the 1990 census to provide over a million unique maps sheets to census enumerators. The TIGER was the basis for the first coast-to-coast digital map to modernize the once-a-decade count. Since 1990, TIGER has evolved into a dynamic mapping system that helped catapult the growth of the geographic information system industry and improve Census Bureau data products.

The TIGER database contains all geographic features — such as roads, railroads, rivers, and legal and statistical geographic boundaries — needed to support the Census Bureau’s data collection and dissemination programs. The TIGER/Line Shapefiles are constantly improving, updated annually, and available for free download.

TIGER’s roads layer includes 6.3 million miles of roads. The original TIGER GIS vector data are available for free download from the TIGER products page. TIGER data are public domain, so using these road data on US Topo removes a previous use restriction from this USGS map product

Other improvements to the new Wisconsin US Topo maps include the addition of the “crowdsourced” trail data from the International Mountain Bike Association, increased parcel land data (PLSS), and most recently, trail data from the U.S. Forest Service.

Additionally, segments of The Ice Age Trail, one of 11 National Scenic Trails, will continue to be featured on select US Topo maps. The USGS partnered with the National Park Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Ice Age Trail Alliance to incorporate the Ice Age Trail onto Wisconsin's maps. The NPS is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

These new US Topo maps replace the second edition US Topo maps and are available for no-cost file download from The National Map, the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website , and 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 Madison West US Topo quadrangle with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1.2 MB) Updated 2015 version of the Madison West US Topo quadrangle with orthoimage turned off to better see the improved road network. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1 MB) Scan of the 1890 legacy topographic map quadrangle of the greater Madison area from the USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection. (high resolution image 1.7 MB)

Normal Weather Drives Salt Marsh Erosion

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 21, 2015 - 6:31pm
Summary: For salt marshes, hurricanes are just another day at the beach Waves from moderate storms, rather than violent events such as hurricanes, inflict the most loss on coastal wetlands.

Contact Information:

Neil  Ganju ( Phone: 508-457-2252 ); Kira Jastive ( Phone: 617-358-1240 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



For salt marshes, hurricanes are just another day at the beach.

These coastal wetlands are in retreat in many locations around the globe—raising deep concerns about damage to the wildlife that the marshes nourish and the loss of their ability to protect against violent storms. The biggest cause of their erosion is waves driven by moderate storms, not occasional major events such as Hurricane Sandy, researchers from Boston University and the United States Geological Survey now have shown.

“Waves are very powerful because they attack the marsh in its weakest part,” says Nicoletta Leonardi, a Ph.D. candidate at BU’s Department of Earth & Environment and lead author on a paper published today in the journal PNAS. “Generally, the more a salt marsh is exposed to waves, the faster it is eroding.”

Analyzing eight salt marsh locations in Australia, Italy and the United States, “we found that the behavior of salt marshes is very predictable,” says Leonardi, with a constant relationship between wave energy and the speed of marsh erosion.

In fact, the work shows that hurricanes and other violent storms contribute less than 1 percent of salt marsh deterioration in those marshes, says Sergio Fagherazzi, BU Earth & Environment associate professor and co-author on the paper.

Along the New England coast, for example, the moderate northeast storms that may hit every few months strip away far more from the marshes than the hurricanes that may sweep through a few times a decade. “Salt marshes survive for thousands of years, which means they know how to cope against hurricane waves,” he says.

In a major storm, “beaches or dunes on a beach just collapse all at once,” Fagherazzi adds. “Marshes don’t, which is a major advantage if you are serious about using them for hazard mitigation and coast protection.”

“While hurricanes are catastrophic events, the salt marsh doesn’t respond catastrophically,” says Neil Kamal Ganju, a co-author and research oceanographer with USGS in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In addition to the infrequency of hurricanes, that may be because a hurricane’s surge brings up water level so high over a marsh that waves have relatively little effect, he suggests.

Improved knowledge about salt marsh erosion brings an important new tool to those responsible for management and restoration of wetlands. “You can take the geography of a salt marsh and the estuary around it, and if you understand the wind climate and the wave climate, using historical data, you now can predict the marsh erosion,” says Ganju.

Globally, salt marshes are being lost to waves, changes in land use, higher sea levels, loss of sediment from upstream dams and other factors. This puts at risk “a lot of ecosystem services that we need to preserve,” Leonardi emphasizes. Many initiatives around the world now seek to protect and rebuild salt marshes. Evidence also suggests that, at least in some coastal environments, marshes can adapt to rising sea levels.

In the United States, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and many cities want to manage salt marshes as “living shorelines” that act as buffers between coastal communities and the ocean, Fagherazzi says. Such efforts kicked off in New Jersey and New York after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and around New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The effect of waves on salt marsh erosion, part of a USGS project to examine the response of estuaries to Hurricane Sandy, is being integrated into a USGS numerical model called COAWST (Coupled-Ocean-Atmosphere-Wave-Sediment Transport). COAWST combines models of ocean, atmosphere, waves and sediment transport for analysis of coastal change.

Better understanding of marsh erosion also may help in modeling carbon storage as it relates to climate change, the scientists say.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research.  With more than 33,000 students, it is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States.  BU consists of 17 schools and colleges, along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes integral to the University’s research and teaching mission.  In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities (AAU), a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada.

Carbon in Water must be Accounted for in Projections of Future Climate

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 21, 2015 - 6:00pm
Summary: USGS scientists have documented that the carbon that moves through or accumulates in lakes, rivers, and streams has not been adequately incorporated into current models of carbon cycling used to track and project climate change

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 571-230-6831 ); Rob Striegl ( Phone: 720 539-1282 );



Aerial view of Beaver Creek, Alaska. Credit: Mark Dornblaser, USGS. (high resolution image)

USGS scientists have documented that the carbon that moves through or accumulates in lakes, rivers, and streams has not been adequately incorporated into current models of carbon cycling used to track and project climate change. The research, conducted in partnership with the University of Washington, has been published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Earth’s carbon cycle is determined by physical, chemical, and biological processes that occur in and among the atmosphere (carbon dioxide and methane), the biosphere (living and dead things), and the geosphere (soil, rocks, and water). Understanding how these processes interact globally and projecting their future effects on climate requires complex computer models that track carbon at regional and continental scales, commonly known as Terrestrial Biosphere Models (TBMs).

Current estimates of the accumulation of carbon in natural environments indicate that forest and other terrestrial ecosystems have annual net gains in storing carbon — a beneficial effect for reducing greenhouse gases. However, even though all of life and most processes involving carbon movement or transformation require water, TBMs have not conventionally included aquatic ecosystems — lakes, reservoirs, streams, and rivers — in their calculations. Once inland waters are included in carbon cycle models, the nationwide importance of aquatic ecosystems in the carbon cycle is evident.

Speaking quantifiably, inland water ecosystems in the conterminous U.S. transport or store more than 220 billion pounds of carbon (100 Tg-C) annually to coastal regions, the atmosphere, and the sediments of lakes and reservoirs. Comparing the results of this study to the output of a suite of standard TBMs, the authors suggest that, within the current modelling framework, carbon storage by forests, other plants, and soils (in scientific terms: Net Ecosystem Production, when defined as terrestrial only) may be over-estimated by as much as 27 percent. 

The study highlights the need for additional research to accurately determine the sources of aquatic carbon and to reconcile the exchange of carbon between terrestrial and aquatic environments. 

USGS Estimates 53 Trillion Cubic Feet of Gas Resources in Barnett Shale

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 17, 2015 - 1:00pm
Summary: The Barnett Shale contains estimated mean volumes of 53 trillion cubic feet of shale natural gas, 172 million barrels of shale oil and 176 million barrels of natural gas liquids, according to an updated assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey This estimate is double the 2003 USGS assessment of the Barnett

Contact Information:

Kristen  Marra ( Phone: 303-236-7756 ); Alex Demas ( Phone: 571-335-6535 );



The Barnett Shale contains estimated mean volumes of 53 trillion cubic feet of shale natural gas, 172 million barrels of shale oil and 176 million barrels of natural gas liquids, according to an updated assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey. This estimate is for undiscovered, technically recoverable resources.

The previous USGS assessment of the Barnett Shale, which is located in Texas, was released in 2003 as part of an assessment of conventional and unconventional (continuous) reservoirs of the Bend Arch-Fort Worth Basin Province. That assessment estimated a mean of 26.2 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas and 1.0 billion barrels of undiscovered natural gas liquids within the Barnett Shale. Potential oil resources were not quantitatively assessed for the Barnett at that time.

“We decided to reassess the Barnett Shale following the successful introduction of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, setting the stage for the current shale gas boom,” said USGS scientist Kristen Marra, who led the assessment. “In addition, the newly revised assessment incorporates estimates for both gas and oil resources within the Barnett.”

The substantial increase in potential resources is largely due to the oil and gas industry’s switch to primarily horizontal drilling within the Barnett, paired with hydraulic fracturing. The 2003 USGS assessment relied solely on vertical drilling. Since 2003, more than 16,000 horizontal wells have been drilled into the formation. Those wells have helped produce more than 15 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 59 million barrels of oil in the Barnett since the 2003 assessment.

The Barnett Shale is a significant source of potential natural gas resources. For comparison, in 2011, USGS estimated that the Marcellus Shale contained a mean of 84 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas. The Marcellus has helped fuel the shale gas boom in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Horizontal drilling is the practice of angling the well bore to travel along the rock layer, instead of drilling vertically through the formation. It is often paired with the practice of hydraulic fracturing to develop continuous oil and gas.

The Barnett Shale is not the only formation that USGS has reassessed as technology and geologic understanding have advanced. In 2013, USGS released an updated assessment of the Bakken Formation in North Dakota, and the 2011 assessment of the Marcellus Shale was itself an update from an earlier assessment.

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

The new assessment of the Barnett Shale may be found online. The 2003 Bend Arch-Fort Worth Basin assessment, which included the Barnett Shale, can also be found online. To find out more about USGS energy assessments and other energy research, please visit the USGS Energy Resources Program website, sign up for our Newsletter and follow us on Twitter.

A map showing the Barnett Shale assessment area in east Texas. (High resolution image)

U.S. Reliance on Nonfuel Mineral Imports Increasing

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 17, 2015 - 12:00pm
Summary: Key nonfuel mineral commodities that support the U.S. economy and national security are increasingly being sourced from outside the U.S., according to a new U.S. Geological Survey publication

Contact Information:

Steven M. Fortier ( Phone: 571-386-8587 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



Key nonfuel mineral commodities that support the U.S. economy and national security are increasingly being sourced from outside the U.S., according to a new U.S. Geological Survey publication.

Over the past 60 years, there has been an increase in the number and diversity of nonfuel commodities that the U.S. imports as well as the extent to which the U.S. is import reliant. In 1954, for example, the U.S. was 100 percent import reliant for the supply of eight minerals commodities, meaning all of the supply came from outside of the U.S. By 2014 this number had increased to 19.

“Because the global distribution of mineral reserves and resources is not uniform, the United States has always been import reliant for some mineral commodities. It is important to recognize, however, that import reliance does not necessarily mean that there is a supply risk,” said Steven M. Fortier, Director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center.  “Essentially, the type of commodities imported and the countries from which they are sourced determine risk related to import reliance.”

In addition, the new report also found the geographic distribution of sources has also changed dramatically. In 1954, the sources for imported mineral commodities were dominantly in the Western Hemisphere, with Canada, Mexico and Brazil as major suppliers. While these countries remain major suppliers today, the geographic distribution of mineral commodity import sources had become much more global with many new sources, particularly in Asia, by 1984. This trend has continued. By 2014, China had surpassed Canada as the leading import source, supplying 24 nonfuel mineral commodities, about half of the 47 nonfuel mineral commodities for which the United States was greater than 50 percent net import reliant.

“As the U.S. becomes increasingly reliant on a wide range of mineral resources needed to fuel technological developments that support our economy and national security, it is more important than ever that we continue to monitor and evaluate global changes in supply and demand of these important resources,” said Fortier.

Intersex Prevalent in Black Bass Inhabiting National Wildlife Refuges in Northeast

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 17, 2015 - 11:00am
Summary: Eighty five percent of male smallmouth bass and 27 percent of male largemouth bass tested in waters in or near 19 National Wildlife Refuges in the Northeast U.S. were intersex, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers

Contact Information:

Luke Iwanowicz ( Phone: 304-724-4550 ); Fred Pinkney ( Phone: 410-573-4544 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



Eighty five percent of male smallmouth bass and 27 percent of male largemouth bass tested in waters in or near 19 National Wildlife Refuges in the Northeast U.S. were intersex, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers.

Intersex is when one sex develops characteristics of the opposite sex. It is tied to the exposure of fish to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can affect the reproductive system and cause the development of characteristics of the opposite sex, such as immature eggs in the testes of male fish. Intersex is a global issue, as wild-caught fish affected by endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been found in locations across the world.

Estrogenic endocrine-disrupting chemicals are derived from a variety of sources, from natural estrogens to synthetic pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals that enter the waterways. Examples include some types of birth control pills, natural sex hormones in livestock manures, herbicides and pesticides. 

“It is not clear what the specific cause of intersex is in these fish,” said Luke Iwanowicz, a USGS research biologist and lead author of the paper. “This study was designed to identify locations that may warrant further investigation.  Chemical analyses of fish or water samples at collection sites were not conducted, so we cannot attribute the observation of intersex to specific, known estrogenic endocrine—disrupting chemicals.”

This prevalence of intersex fish in this study is much higher than that found in a similar USGS study that evaluated intersex in black basses in nine river basins in the United States. That study did not include river basins in the Northeast.

"The results of this new study show the extent of endocrine disrupting chemicals on refuge lands using bass as an indicator for exposures that may affect fish and other aquatic species," said Fred Pinkney, a USFWS contaminants biologist and study coauthor. "To help address this issue, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service encourages management actions that reduce runoff into streams, ponds and lakes -- both on and off of refuge lands.”

The journal article, Evidence of estrogenic endocrine disruption in smallmouth and largemouth bass inhabiting Northeast U.S. National Wildlife Refuge waters: a reconnaissance study,” by L.R. Iwanowicz, V.S. Blazer, A.E. Pinkney, C.P. Guy, A.M. Major, K. Munney, S. Mierzykowski, S. Lingenfelser, A. Secord, K. Patnode, T.J. Kubiak, C. Stern, C.M. Hahn, D.D. Iwanowicz, H.L. Walsh, and A. Sperry is available online in Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety.

New Method for Ranking Global Copper Deposits Saves Time and Money

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 14, 2015 - 2:30pm
Summary: A new approach to ranking copper resources could result in identifying future supplies of copper while saving both time and money, according to the U.S. Geological Survey

Contact Information:

Michael Zientek ( Phone: 509-368-3105 ); Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 );



A new approach to ranking copper resources could result in identifying future supplies of copper while saving both time and money, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. This technique has been used to evaluate 10 areas of the world where undiscovered copper resources in sedimentary rock could be found. The areas are in addition to five, higher priority areas recently studied by the USGS. 

Ultimately, the results of the assessment indicate that the top three areas in the ranked list are in Namibia and Botswana (Northwest Botswana Rift), Angola (Benguela and Cuanza Basins), and the Middle East (Egypt–Israel–Jordan Rift). The only area in the United States, an area in Montana (Belt-Purcell Basin), is ranked 6th on the list.

“This new approach has the potential to be a real boon in studying mineral deposits,” said USGS scientist Michael Zientek, the study’s lead author. “Not only is it faster and less expensive, it also gives us robust, quantifiable results to help us better direct our focus and resources in studying minerals.”

All 10 of these areas represent possible future sources of supply. Some currently have no significant mineral production. Montana’s Belt-Purcell Basin has only one operating mine in production. The areas are in addition to five, higher priority areas recently studied by the USGS. 

Other areas have been known for some time to have significant copper resources. The Jordan-Israel-Egypt Rift was mined in antiquity and was a major source of copper for bronze-age cultures in the region.

The 10 areas ranked were included because they have a range of data quality and availability, as well as ample access to geologic, tectonic and mineral resource information.

“Copper is one of the critical and strategic minerals of our economy, making it a perfect choice to test this novel approach on,” said Larry Meinert, Program Coordinator for the USGS Mineral Resources Program. “Identifying and understanding our domestic mineral wealth is a vital part of ensuring the security of our supply chain for these resources.”

The new ranking tool works by taking expert opinions and breaking them into explicit and quantifiable criteria that can then be compared and ranked. Expert opinions are a traditional method of evaluating mineral deposits, but lack transparency. This approach not only brings a level of transparency, but also, as this latest research demonstrates, is straightforward and robust.

This new study is part of a larger Global Mineral Resource Assessment effort to update knowledge of the geologic setting, occurrence, and amount of the Nation’s and World’s copper resources.

A Scientific Investigations Report describing this assessment is online. The USGS provides mineral resource assessments; to stay up to date on all of our mineral resources, follow us on Twitter.

Figure showing the top three ranked areas. Clockwise from the top: Northwest Botswana Rift, Benguela and Cuanza Basins, and the Egypt–Israel–Jordan Rift. (High resolution image)

Climate Past as Prologue for Ponderosa Pines

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 14, 2015 - 2:30pm
Summary: Scientists from the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey have reconstructed the recent migration history of ponderosa pine trees in the central Rocky Mountains

Contact Information:

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



Scientists from the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey have reconstructed the recent migration history of ponderosa pine trees in the central Rocky Mountains. Their recently published study on the movement of this species, through centuries and across complex terrain, is unprecedented in its methodology and scope. The investigation informs an uncertain climate and ecological future.

Experts project that climate change will force many species to adjust their geographical distributions in the near future, with cascading consequences for biodiversity, conservation biology, and ecosystem services.  Important lessons can be drawn from an understanding of the movement rates and pathways of northward migrations of vegetation that followed the end of the last Ice Age, some of which are still ongoing.

Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), the most widely distributed pine in North America, experienced one of the most rapid and extensive of these post-glacial plant migrations. The eastern race of ponderosa pine (variety scopulorum) spread northward along the Rocky Mountains, starting at its northernmost known distribution in southern New Mexico and Arizona around 13,000 years ago, and reached central Montana only within the last millennium. The western race (variety ponderosa) experienced a parallel but less well-known migration along the Sierra Nevada, eventually mingling with the northernmost populations of the eastern race in the northern Rockies.

The researchers, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, focused their efforts on the northern half of the distribution in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, which they assumed had experienced the most recent spread of ponderosa pine. The study targeted sites where ponderosa grows today in settings suitable for the preservation of fossil packrat middens.  

Packrat middens are rock-hard amalgamations of easily-identified plant and animal remains embedded in crystallized urine, commonly preserved in rock shelters and crevices, and readily datable to within a few decades using radiocarbon analysis. Since the 1960s, several thousand middens found in semi-arid areas from Mexico to Canada have been analyzed to reconstruct vegetation changes over the past 50,000 years. 

The team collected 90 middens spanning the last 11,000 years to pinpoint the arrival of ponderosa pine at each of 14 sites in western South Dakota, northern Wyoming, and west-central Montana. Jodi Norris, a National Park Service ecologist and senior author of the study, likened the fieldwork to “a treasure hunt where you and your science buddies clamber on cliffs looking for packrat leftovers to track the natural spread of a common conifer in the West.” 

A key finding was that the eastern race of ponderosa spread across the region by island hopping a few tens of kilometers at a time to suitable establishment sites, likely aided by seed dispersal via birds. The eastern race colonized many of its northernmost sites, including sites where it now hybridizes with the western race in West-Central Montana, only within the last two millennia.

Norris and her USGS co-authors, Julio Betancourt and Stephen Jackson, used a bioclimatic model for the modern distribution of ponderosa pine to infer that the most recent spread must have been driven by increases in July temperature and precipitation. Future expansion of the ponderosa pine range will largely depend on the nature and pace of climate change in the region (principally warming). Considering other factors such as heavy land use and invasive species, native plant migrations in the future might be more complicated than in the past.

Betancourt cautioned, “Ponderosa pine migration in the past happened sluggishly in fits and starts, tracking the pace of climate variability. But future migration will have to  march to unusually rapid warming, this time disrupted by pervasive land use.  If expansion to increasingly warmer and more suitable sites far to the north is desirable, ponderosa dispersal will have to be assisted by deliberate and strategic planting.”

The research study, authored by Jodi Norris (National Park Service-Flagstaff; Northern Arizona University), Julio Betancourt (USGS-Reston, Va.), and Stephen Jackson (USGS-Tucson), was published online in the Journal of Biogeography.

USGS Reports Large Shifts in Global Primary Tantalum Mining from 2000 to 2014

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 10, 2015 - 5:53pm
Summary: The United States is completely reliant on imports of tantalum, which is a commonly used element in electronics, to meet its domestic consumption for economic and national security needs

Contact Information:

Steven M.  Fortier ( Phone: 571-386-8587 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



Reston, VA— The United States is completely reliant on imports of tantalum, which is a commonly used element in electronics, to meet its domestic consumption for economic and national security needs. A new U.S. Geological Survey report illustrates the dramatic change of the international sources of primary mined tantalum over the past 15 years.

Annual mine production of tantalum contained in mined concentrates by country for the years 2000 through 2014 and events that affected mine production.(High resolution image)

Tantalum possesses unique material properties that make it particularly well suited for use as a capacitor in sophisticated electronic circuits in everything from smartphones to defense applications.

Tantalum is named as a “conflict mineral” under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act; this act requires companies that use tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold to perform due diligence on their supply chains to determine whether these materials were sourced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or adjacent countries. Tantalum is also widely viewed as a critical mineral because of the impact a supply disruption could have on important applications in electronic systems. Consequently, it is one of the mineral commodities tracked by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency as part of its mission to maintain the National Defense Stockpile.

As illustrated in the chart below, primary mining of tantalum has undergone a major geographic shift from the year 2000, when supply was dominated by Australia and Brazil, to the current situation where supply is principally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and other African nations. Global supply has migrated from countries characterized by low governance risk, industrial mining practices, and supply chain transparency to countries characterized by high governance risk, artisanal methods, and a lack of supply chain transparency.

Sources of tantalum produced from 2000-2014

"Tantalum occupies a special niche among metals as a result of its position at the nexus between conflict and critical minerals," said Steven M. Fortier, director of the USGS National Minerals Information Center that produced the recent report. “The dramatic shifts in primary mine production of tantalum over the past 15 years is a textbook example of why the USGS plays such an active role in collecting, analyzing and disseminating information on mineral commodities of importance to the U.S. economy and national security.

To learn more about tantalum visit the Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015 webpage.

Continued Decline of the Northern Spotted Owl Associated with the Invasive Barred Owl, Habitat Loss, and Climate Variation

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 10, 2015 - 3:00pm
Summary: Northern spotted owl populations are declining in all parts of their range in the Pacific Northwest, according to research published in The Condor.

Contact Information:

Dawn Childs, USGS ( Phone: 571-643-1922 ); Mark  Floyd, OSU ( Phone: 541-737-0788 );



CORVALLIS, Ore. – Northern spotted owl populations are declining in all parts of their range in the Pacific Northwest, according to research published in The Condor. Based on data from 11 study areas across Washington, Oregon and northern California, a rangewide decline of nearly 4 percent per year was estimated from 1985 to 2013.

Researchers found evidence that the invasive barred owl is playing a pivotal role in the continued decline of spotted owls, although habitat loss and climate variation were also important in some parts of the species range. Barred owls compete with spotted owls for space, food and habitat.

This research indicated that since monitoring began spotted owl populations declined 55-77 percent in Washington, 31-68 percent in Oregon and 32-55 percent in California. In addition, population declines are now occurring on study areas in southern Oregon and northern California that were previously experiencing little to no detectable decline through 2009.

Dr. Katie Dugger, a research biologist at the USGS Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Oregon State University and lead author on the report, said that “This study provides strong evidence that barred owls are negatively affecting spotted owl populations. The presence of barred owls was associated with decreasing spotted owl survival rates in some study areas and spotted owls were disappearing from many of their historical breeding territories as those areas were invaded by barred owls.”

The exception was a small area in California where barred owl removals began in 2009, and where long-term population declines were only 9 percent. Spotted owl populations and survival rates have increased on the latter area since the removal of barred owls started. However, further research on barred owl removal is required in other parts of the spotted owl’s range -- especially in Washington, where barred owl numbers have been high for a long time. 

Additionally, said Dugger, "The amount of suitable habitat required by spotted owls for nesting and roosting is important because spotted owl survival, colonization of empty territories, and number of young produced tends to be higher in areas with larger amounts of suitable habitat, at least on some study areas." 

Relationships between spotted owl populations and climate was complex and variable, but rangewide, the study results suggested that survival of  young spotted owls and their ability to become part of the breeding population increased when winters were drier. This may become a factor in population numbers in the future, given climate change predictions for the Pacific Northwest include warmer, wetter winters.  

The collaborative team of 37 researchers analyzed data from 11 study areas that represented 9 percent of the spotted owl range. During the study, field crews monitored how many owls inhabited different territories, and the yearly survival and reproductive success of banded spotted owls. “This type of collaborative research focused on specific management and conservation objectives provides important information for resource managers and policy decision-makers who manage public resources,” said Eric Forsman, a coauthor on the study at the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.

The paper, “The effects of habitat, climate and barred owls on long-term demography of northern spotted owls,” was published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications and authored by Katie M. Dugger, USGS, Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Oregon State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife; Eric D. Forsman, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station; Alan B. Franklin, USDA APHIS National Wildlife Research Center; Raymond Davis, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region, and 33 others.

Although they do occur in young forests in some areas, northern spotted owls are strongly associated with old forest in most of their range. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern spotted owl as threatened in 1990 because of the declines in old-growth forest habitat throughout its range in Washington, Oregon and northern California.