U.S. Geological Survey News Feed

Urban Stream Contamination Increasing Rapidly Due to Road Salt

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 15, 2014 - 5:04pm
Summary: Average chloride concentrations often exceed toxic levels in many northern United States streams due to the use of salt to deice winter pavement, and the frequency of these occurrences nearly doubled in two decades.

Contact Information:

Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-526-6694 ); Steve Corsi ( Phone: 608-821-3835 );



Average chloride concentrations often exceed toxic levels in many northern United States streams due to the use of salt to deice winter pavement, and the frequency of these occurrences nearly doubled in two decades.

Chloride levels increased substantially in 84 percent of urban streams analyzed, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study that began as early as 1960 at some sites and ended as late as 2011. Levels were highest during the winter, but increased during all seasons over time at the northern sites, including near Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; and other metropolitan areas. The report was published today in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

"Some freshwater organisms are sensitive to chloride, and the high concentrations that we found could negatively affect a significant number of species," said Steve Corsi, USGS scientist and lead author of the study. “If urban development and road salt use continue to increase, chloride concentrations and associated toxicity are also likely to increase.”

The scientists analyzed water-quality data from 30 monitoring sites on 19 streams near cities in Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Texas and the District of Columbia. Key findings include:

  • Twenty-nine percent of the sites exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s chronic water-quality criteria (230 milligrams per liter) by an average of more than 100 days per year from 2006 through 2011, which was almost double the amount of days from 1990 through 1994. This increase occurred at sites such as the Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers near Milwaukee and Poplar Creek near Chicago.
  • The lowest chloride concentrations were in watersheds that had little urban land use or cities without much snowfall, such as Dallas, Texas.
  • In 16 of the streams, winter chloride concentrations increased over the study period.
  • In 13 of the streams, chloride concentrations increased over the study period during non-deicing periods such as summer. This finding suggests that chloride infiltrates the groundwater system during the winter and is slowly released to the streams throughout the year.
  • Chloride levels increased more rapidly than development of urban land near the study sites.
  • The rapid chloride increases were likely caused by increased salt application rates, increased baseline conditions (the concentrations during summer low-flow periods) and greater snowfall in the Midwest during the latter part of the study.

"Deicing operations help to provide safe winter transportation conditions, which is very important,” Corsi said. “Findings from this study emphasize the need to consider deicer management options that minimize the use of road salt while still maintaining safe conditions."

Road deicing by cities, counties and state agencies accounts for a significant portion of salt applications, but salt is also used by many public and private organizations and individuals to deice parking lots, walkways and driveways. All of these sources are likely to contribute to these increasing chloride trends.

Other major sources of salt to U.S. waters include wastewater treatment, septic systems, farming operations and natural geologic deposits. However, the new study found deicing activity to be the dominant source in urban areas of the northern U.S. 

The USGS conducted this study in cooperation with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. For more information about winter runoff and water-quality, please visit the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center website.

[Access images for this release at: <a href="http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2010_09_02" _mce_href="http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2010_09_02">http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2010_09_02</a>]

New Scientific Study Supports that Capture-based Research is Safe for Polar Bears

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 15, 2014 - 9:53am
Summary: ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A polar bear capture and release-based research program had no adverse long-term effects on feeding behavior, body condition, and reproduction, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Contact Information:

Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 ); Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A polar bear capture and release-based research program had no adverse long-term effects on feeding behavior, body condition, and reproduction, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The study used over 40 years of capture-based data collected by USGS from polar bears in the Alaska portion of the southern Beaufort Sea. Scientists looked for short and long-term effects of capture and release and deployment of various types of satellite transmitters.

"We dug deeply into one of the most comprehensive capture-based data sets for polar bears in the world looking for any signs that our research activities might be negatively affecting polar bears," said Karyn Rode, lead author of the study and scientist with the USGS Polar Bear Research Program.  

The study found that, following capture, transmitter-tagged bears returned to near-normal rates of movement and activity within 2-3 days, and that the presence of tags had no effect on a bear's subsequent physical condition, reproductive success, or ability to successfully raise cubs.

"Importantly, we found no indication that neck collars, the primary means for obtaining critical information on polar bear movement patterns and habitat use, adversely affected polar bear health or reproduction," said Rode.

The study also found that repeated capture of 3 or more times was not related to effects on health and reproduction.  

"We care about the animals we study and want to be certain that our research efforts are not contributing to any negative effects," said Rode. "I expected we might find some sign that certain aspects of our studies, such as repeated capture, would negatively affect bears, and I was pleased that we could not find any negative implications."

Efforts to conserve polar bears will require a greater understanding of how populations are responding to the loss of sea ice habitat. Capture-based methods are required to assess individual bear health and to deploy transmitters that provide information on bear movement patterns and habitat use. These methods have been used for decades in many parts of the polar bear’s range. New less invasive techniques have been developed to identify individuals via hair and biopsy samples, but these techniques do not provide

complete information on bear health, movements or habitat use. Capture is likely to continue to be an important technique for monitoring polar bears. This study is reassurance that capture, handling, and tagging can be used as research and monitoring techniques with no long-term effects on polar bear populations.

The paper "Effects of capturing and collaring on polar bears: findings from long-term research on the southern Beaufort Sea population" was published today in the journal Wildlife Research.

Visit the USGS Polar Bear Research website for more information. 

Fault "Crossroads" May Have Been Origin Point for 2011 Virginia Earthquake

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 11, 2014 - 1:20pm
Summary: The 2011 east coast earthquake felt by people from Georgia to Canada likely originated from a fault “junction” just outside of Mineral, Virginia, according to new U.S. Geological Survey research published in the Geological Society of America’s Special Papers.

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



The 2011 east coast earthquake felt by people from Georgia to Canada likely originated from a fault “junction” just outside of Mineral, Virginia, according to new U.S. Geological Survey research published in the Geological Society of America’s Special Papers.

Following the August 23, 2011 event, USGS scientists conducted low-altitude geophysical (gravity and magnetic) flight surveys in 2012 over the epicenter, located about eight miles from the quake’s namesake. Maps of the earth’s magnetic field and gravitational pull show subtle variations that reflect the physical properties of deeply buried rocks. More research may reveal whether geologic crossroads such as this are conducive to future earthquakes in the eastern United States.

Caption: In map view, magnetic data were filtered (colors) to highlight geologic features near the earthquake depth. One contrast (blue dotted line) is aligned with aftershocks (black dots). The other crosses at an angle. They suggest that the earthquake (yellow star) occurred near a “crossroads,” or a complex intersection of different types of rock.

“These surveys unveiled not only one fault, which is roughly aligned with a fault defined by the earthquake’s aftershocks, but a second fault or contact between different rock types that comes in at an angle to the first one,” said USGS scientist and lead investigator, Anji Shah. “This visual suggests that the earthquake occurred near a ‘crossroads,’ or junction, between the fault that caused the earthquake and another fault or geologic contact.”

Deep imaging tools were specifically chosen because the earthquake occurred about five miles beneath the earth. Looking at faults in this way can help scientists better understand earthquake hazards in the eastern United States.

The USGS and partner scientists are also interested in why seismic events occur in certain parts of the central and eastern United States, like the Central Virginia seismic zone, since there are no plate boundaries there, unlike the San Andreas Fault in California, or the Aleutian Trench in Alaska.

USGS scientists still have remaining questions:  Could this happen elsewhere? How common are such crossroads?  Shah and other scientists are also trying to understand whether and why a junction like this might be an origin point for earthquakes.

“Part of it might be the complex stress state that arises in such an area. Imagine you have a plastic water bottle in your hand, and it has a cut (fault) in it the long way. When you squeeze the bottle, it pops (ruptures) where the cut is.  The long cut is comparable to an ancient fault – it’s an area of weakness where motion (faulting and earthquakes) is more likely to happen. Multiple intersecting cuts in that bottle produce zones of weakness where fault slip is more likely to happen, especially where two cuts intersect,” said Shah.

The situation near the fault on which the magnitude 5.8 Mineral earthquake occurred is more complex than that. For example, the fault may separate different types of rocks with varying densities and strengths, as suggested by the gravity data. This contributes to a complex stress field that could also be more conducive to slip.

Additional science data about the 2011 Mineral, Virginia, earthquake may be found online.

NASA-USGS Climate Data App Challenge: An Invitation for Innovation

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 11, 2014 - 1:00pm
Summary: NASA in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is offering more than $35,000 in prizes to citizen scientists for ideas that make use of climate data to address vulnerabilities faced by the United States in coping with climate change. 

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell, USGS ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Steve Cole, NASA ( Phone: 202-358-0918 );



NASA in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is offering more than $35,000 in prizes to citizen scientists for ideas that make use of climate data to address vulnerabilities faced by the United States in coping with climate change. 

The Climate Resilience Data Challenge, conducted through the NASA Tournament Lab, a partnership with Harvard University hosted on Appirio/Topcoder, kicks off Monday, Dec. 15 and runs through March 2015. 

The challenge supports the efforts of the White House Climate Data Initiative, a broad effort to leverage the federal government’s extensive, freely available climate-relevant data resources to spur innovation and private-sector entrepreneurship in order to advance awareness of and preparedness for the impacts of climate change. The challenge was announced by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Dec. 9. 

According to the recent National Climate Assessment produced by more than 300 experts across government and academia, the United States faces a number of current and future challenges as the result of climate change. Vulnerabilities include coastal flooding and weather-related hazards that threaten lives and property, increased disruptions to agriculture, prolonged drought that adversely affects food security and water availability, and ocean acidification capable of damaging ecosystems and biodiversity. The challenge seeks to unlock the potential of climate data to address these and other climate risks. 

“Federal agencies, such as NASA and the USGS, traditionally focus on developing world-class science data to support scientific research, but the rapid growth in the innovation community presents new opportunities to encourage wider usage and application of science data to benefit society,” said Kevin Murphy, NASA program executive for Earth Science Data Systems in Washington. “We need tools that utilize federal data to help our local communities improve climate resilience, protect our ecosystems, and prepare for the effects of climate change.” 

“Government science follows the strictest professional protocols because scientific objectivity is what the American people expect from us,” said Virginia Burkett, acting USGS associate director for Climate Change and Land Use. “That systematic approach is fundamental to our mission. With this challenge, however, we are intentionally looking outside the box for transformational ways to apply the data that we have already carefully assembled for the benefit of communities across the nation.”

The challenge begins with an ideation stage for data-driven application pitches, followed by storyboarding and, finally, prototyping of concepts with the greatest potential. 

The ideation stage challenges competitors to imagine new applications of climate data to address climate vulnerabilities. This stage is divided into three competitive classes based on data sources: NASA data, federal data from agencies such as the USGS, and any open data. The storyboarding stage allows competitors to conceptualize and design the best ideas, followed by the prototyping stage, which carry the best ideas into implementation. 

The Climate Resilience Data Challenge is managed by NASA's Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation at NASA Headquarters, Washington. The center was established in coordination with the Office of Science and Technology Policy to advance open innovation efforts for climate-related science and extend that expertise to other federal agencies. 

For additional information and to register (beginning Dec. 15), visit the Climate Resilience Data Challenge website.   

Learn more 

National Climate Assessment
USGS Climate and Land Use Change
USGS Core Science Systems
NASA challenges and citizen science

Chesapeake Bay Region Streams are Warming

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 8, 2014 - 10:48am
Summary: CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The majority of streams in the Chesapeake Bay region are warming, and that increase appears to be driven largely by rising air temperatures. These findings are based on new U.S. Geological Survey research published in the journal Climatic Change.

Contact Information:

Karen C. Rice ( Phone: 434-243-3429 ); John  Jastram ( Phone: 804-261-2648 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The majority of streams in the Chesapeake Bay region are warming, and that increase appears to be driven largely by rising air temperatures. These findings are based on new U.S. Geological Survey research published in the journal Climatic Change.

Researchers found an overall warming trend in air temperature of 0.023 C (0.041 F) per year, and in water temperature of 0.028 C (0.050 F) per year over 51 years.  This means that air temperature has risen 1.1 C (1.98 F), and water temperature has risen 1.4 C (2.52 F) between 1960 and 2010 in the Chesapeake Bay region. 

"Although this may not seem like much, even small increases in water temperatures can have an effect on water quality, affecting the animals that rely on the bay’s streams, as well as the estuary itself," said Karen Rice, USGS Research Hydrologist and lead author of the study. 

One effect of warming waters is an increase in eutrophication, or an overabundance of nutrients The issue has plagued the bay for decades and likely will increase as temperatures of waters contributing to the bay continue to rise. Other effects of warming waters include shifts in plant and animal distributions in the basin’s freshwater rivers and streams. Upstream waters may no longer be suitable for some cool-water fish species, and invasive species may move into the warming waters as those streams become more hospitable. 

Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, with a watershed covering 166,391 square kilometers (over 64,243 square miles) that includes parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. The watershed includes more than 100,000 streams, creeks and rivers that thread through it, and it supports more than 3,700 species of plants and animals. The states and DC are working with the federal government to improve conditions in the bay and its watershed and address the threats from climate change. Results from this USGS study will help inform adaptation strategies.

The study included examination of 51 years of data from 85 air-temperature sites and 129 stream-water temperature sites throughout the bay watershed.  Though the findings indicated that overall both air and water temperatures have increased throughout the region, there was variability in the magnitude and direction of temperature changes, particularly for water. 

"Our results suggest that water temperature is largely influenced by increasing air temperature, and features on the landscape act to enhance or dampen the level of that influence” said John Jastram, USGS Hydrologist and study coauthor.

At many of the sites analyzed, increasing trends were detected in both streamflow and water temperature, demonstrating that increasing streamflow dampens, but does not stop or reverse warming.  Water temperature at most of the sites examined increased from 1960-2010. There was wide variability in physical characteristics of the stream-water sites, including:

  • Watershed area
  • Channel shape
  • Thermal capacity (a measure of the resistance of a body of water to temperature change)
  • The presence or absence of vegetation along the waterways
  • Local climate conditions
  • Land cover.

Warming temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay region’s streams will have implications for future shifts in water quality, eutrophication and water column layers in the bay.  As air temperatures rise, so will water temperature in Chesapeake Bay, though mixing with ocean water may buffer it somewhat, cooling the warmer water entering from the watershed.  "Rising air and stream-water temperatures in Chesapeake Bay region, USA," by K.C. Rice and J.D. Jastram in Climatic Change is available online.

More information about USGS science to help restore Chesapeake Bay can be found at online.

[Access images for this release at: <a href="http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2014_12_08" _mce_href="http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2014_12_08">http://gallery.usgs.gov/tags/NR2014_12_08</a>]

Data-driven Insights on the California Drought

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 8, 2014 - 10:33am
Summary: A newly released interactive California Drought visualization website aims to provide the public with atlas-like, state-wide coverage of the drought and a timeline of its impacts on water resources. USGS Releases Drought Visualization Website

Contact Information:

Ethan Alpern ( Phone: 703-648-4406 );



A newly released interactive California Drought visualization website aims to provide the public with atlas-like, state-wide coverage of the drought and a timeline of its impacts on water resources.

Drought coverage of California. (High resolution image)

The U.S. Geological Survey developed the interactive website as part of the federal government's Open Water Data Initiative. The drought visualization page features high-tech graphics that illustrate the effect of drought on regional reservoir storage from 2011-2014.

For the visualization, drought data are integrated through space and time with maps and plots of reservoir storage. Reservoir levels can be seen to respond to seasonal drivers in each year. However, available water decreases overall as the drought persists. The connection between snowpack and reservoir levels is also displayed interactively. Current streamflow collected at USGS gaging stations is graphed relative to historic averages. Additionally, California’s water use profile is summarized.

California has been experiencing one of its most severe drought in over a century, and 2013 was the driest calendar year in the state's 119-year recorded history. In January, California Governor, Jerry Brown, declared a State of Emergency to help officials manage the drought.

"USGS is determined to provide managers and residents with timely and meaningful data to help decision making and planning for the state's water resources," said Nate Booth, chief of USGS Water Information. "The drought affects streamflow across the state, which leads to reduced reservoir replenishment as well as groundwater depletion."

White House open data policies continue to provide opportunities for innovation at the nexus between water resource management and information technology. The Open Water Data Initiative promotes these goals with an initial objective of presenting valuable water data in a more user friendly, easily accessible format.

"Ultimately, the initiative will allow us to better communicate the nation's water resources status, trends and challenges based on the most recent monitoring information," said Mark Sogge, USGS Pacific regional director. "By integrating a range of federal and state data to communicate the extreme circumstances of the water shortage in California and the southwest, USGS is providing for public use a rich and interactive collection of drought related information."

Reservoir storage levels in California. (High resolution image)

"The state and federal data presented are publicly available, as is the open-source software that supports the application," said Emily Read, a USGS developer of the website. "The application allows the public to explore the drought not only as we’ve presented it, but because the software is open-source, anyone can easily open up the data and expand the story."

In addition to this new visualization website, the USGS California Water Science Center has an extensive portal dedicated to the California drought, the state’s water resource information, and more.

New Heights of Global Topographic Data Will Aid Climate Change Research

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 4, 2014 - 1:05pm
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey announced today that improved global topographic (elevation) data are now publicly available for North and South America, Pacific Islands, and northern Europe Enhanced elevation data for North and South America, Pacific Islands, northern Europe

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



The U.S. Geological Survey announced today that improved global topographic (elevation) data are now publicly available for North and South America, Pacific Islands, and northern Europe. Similar data for most of Africa were previously released by USGS in September. 

The data have been released following the President’s commitment at the United Nations to provide assistance for global efforts to combat climate change. The broad availability of more detailed elevation data across the globe through the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) will improve baseline information that is crucial to investigating the impacts of climate change on specific regions and communities. 

“We are pleased to offer improved elevation data to scientists, educators, and students worldwide. It’s free to whomever can use it,” said Suzette Kimball, acting USGS Director, at the initial release of SRTM data for Africa in September. “Elevation, the third dimension of maps, is critical in understanding so many aspects of how nature works. Easy access to reliable data like this advances the mutual understanding of environmental challenges by citizens, researchers, and decision makers around the globe.” 

The SRTM30 datasets resolve to 30-meters and can be used worldwide to improve environmental monitoring, advance climate change research, and promote local decision support. 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) worked collaboratively to produce the data, which have been extensively reviewed by relevant government agencies and deemed suitable for public release. The previous global accuracy standard for this data was 90-meters. 

The USGS, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, distributes the data free of charge via its user-friendly Earth Explorer website. 

Enhanced 30-meter resolution data for the rest of the world will be released in coming months.

Improved topographic (elevation) data are now publicly available for North and South America, Pacific Islands, and northern Europe as shown in the diagram. Similar data for most of Africa were previously released by USGS in September. (High resolution image)

 

Get Your Wheels Spinning

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - December 4, 2014 - 12:00pm
Summary: As part of the continued US Topo maps revision and improvement cycle, the USGS will be including mountain bike trails to upcoming quadrangles on a state-aligned basis The USGS will show mountain bike trails on newly revised US Topo maps.

Contact Information:

Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 ); Brian Fox ( Phone: 303-202-4141 );



As part of the continued US Topo maps revision and improvement cycle, the USGS will be including mountain bike trails to upcoming quadrangles on a state-aligned basis. The 2014 edition of US Topo maps covering Arizona will be the first maps to feature the trail data, followed by Nebraska, Missouri, Nevada, California, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Vermont, Wyoming, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Florida, Alaska (partial), and the Pacific Territories in 2015.  

The mountain bike trail data is provided through a partnership with the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) and the MTB Project. During the past two years, the IMBA has been building a detailed national database of mountain bike trails with the aid and support of the MTB Project participants. 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 that the trail is legal.  This unique “crowdsourcing” project has allowed availability of mountain bike trail data though mobile and web apps, and soon, revised US Topo maps.

“IMBA is stoked to have MTB Project data included on US Topo maps as well as other USGS mapping products,” added Leslie Kehmeier, IMBA’s Mapping Specialist.  “It’s a really big deal for us and reflects the success of the partnership we've developed with the MTB Project team to develop a valuable and credible resource for mountain bike trails across the country.”

The partnership between the USGS and the MTB Project is considered a big move towards getting high quality trail data on The National Map and US Topo quadrangles. The collaboration also highlights private and public sectors working together to provide trails data and maps to the public. 

“This is a significant step for USGS,” said Brian Fox of the USGS NGTOC. “National datasets of trails do not yet exist, and in many areas even local datasets do not exist. Finding, verifying, and consolidating data is expensive.  Partnering with non-government organizations that collect trails data through crowdsourcing is a great solution.  The USGS-IMBA agreement is the first example of such a partnership for US Topo map feature content and we're looking forward to expanding the number of trails available as the MTB Project contributions grow. 

US Topo maps can be downloaded using the Map Locator and Downloader.

To be a part of IMBA’s crowd sourcing effort and help get mountain bike trails onto US Topo maps, be sure to share trail data, descriptions, and ratings on http://www.mtbproject.com/.  

The USGS structure and feature crowdsourcing effort, The National Map Corps, also features a link to the MTB Project 

The MTB Project mobile app is available to help mountain bikers discover trails on the go:

Disclaimer: Any use of trade, firm or product names does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.  No warranty, expressed or implied, is made by the USGS or the U.S. Government as to the accuracy and functioning of the commercial software programs cited in this Technical Announcement, and the U.S. Government shall not be held liable for improper or incorrect use of the USGS National Map Topographic Data employing these software programs.

The MTB Project Website, showing the Black Canyon Trail in Arizona.  The MTB Project allows for the discovery and crowdsourcing of mountain bike trail data.   (high resolution image)

Screen shot of the MTB Project mobile app, showing the Black Canyon Trail in Arizona. (high resolution image)

The Bumble Bee, Arizona US Topo map, showing the Black Canyon Trail in Arizona (dotted line, near center of the map, left of Crown King Road).  USGS US Topo maps featuring IMBA trail data will be a valuable asset to recreational users, land managers, and scientists.  (high resolution image)

New Volume Documents the Science at the Legendary Snowmastodon Fossil Site in Colorado

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - November 24, 2014 - 1:15pm
Summary: Four years ago, a bulldozer operator turned over some bones during construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado. Scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science were called to the scene and confirmed the bones were those of a juvenile Columbian mammoth, setting off a frenzy of excavation, scientific analysis, and international media attention

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Maura O’Neal ( Phone: 303.370.6407 ); Randall Kremer ( Phone: 202-633-2950 );



DENVER — Four years ago, a bulldozer operator turned over some bones during construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado. Scientists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science were called to the scene and confirmed the bones were those of a juvenile Columbian mammoth, setting off a frenzy of excavation, scientific analysis, and international media attention. This dramatic and unexpected discovery culminates this month with the publication of the Snowmastodon Project Science Volume in the international journal Quaternary Research.  

Fourteen papers by 47 authors from the United States and abroad collectively represent “a new benchmark for understanding climate change in the American West,” said paleontologist Dr. Ian Miller, Snowmastodon Project co-leader and chair of the Museum’s Earth Sciences Department.

Project co-leader and former DMNS chief curator, Dr. Kirk Johnson, and several scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and academic institutions around the world contributed articles to the journal.  

“Nothing beats pulling fossils out of the ground,” said project scientist Dr. Jeff Pigati of the U.S. Geological Survey, “but the site also lets us see what the Colorado Rockies were like during a period of time that we simply couldn’t reach before the discovery.”  

The Snowmastodon site was an ancient lake that filled with sediment between 140,000 and 55,000 years ago preserving a series of Ice Age fossil ecosystems. Particularly fortuitous is the high-elevation locale, providing first-time documentation of alpine ecosystems during the last interglacial period between about 130,000 and 110,000 years ago. Because scientists were able to collect and study such a wide range of fauna and flora—from tiny specks of pollen to the bones of giant mastodons—the site emerged as a trove of information that Miller said will inspire future research for years to come.  

"This project was unprecedented in its size, speed, and depth of collaboration. The science volume now moves beyond the pure excitement of the discovery to the presentation of its hard science and its implications for understanding the biological and climate history of the Rocky Mountain region," said Johnson, now the Sant Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.  

Papers in the special edition focus on impacts of climate change, then and now. The site’s ecosystems—plants, insects, and animals combined—varied dramatically in response to climate change.

“In other words, turn the climate dial a little and the ecosystems change considerably. We were also surprised to find that certain periods in the record that seem to be cool elsewhere in North America were quite warm in the central Rockies,” said Miller. ”The implication is that alpine ecosystems respond differently to climate change than other, lower elevation ecosystems. These new results have huge implications for predicting present-day climate change in Colorado and beyond.”

Usually fossil sites preserve only snapshots in time, which are then pieced together to understand past time periods. By contrast, the Snowmastodon site captures a nearly continuous 85,000-year time span. As a result, the site provides the best-known record of life and climate at high elevation anywhere in North America.  

During a total of 69 days in 2010 and 2011, the Museum mobilized one of the largest fossil excavation efforts ever, recovering more than 5,000 large bones and 22,000 small bones representing roughly 50 different species. The site is most notable for containing the remains of at least 35 American mastodons, representing both genders as well as a variety of ages, from calves to full-grown adults.  

“We had no idea that the high Rockies were filled with American mastodons during the last interglacial period,” Miller noted.  

While the spectacular array of Ice Age animals initially drew scientists to the site, the opportunity to understand the world that they inhabited proved to be a powerful draw as well. “Scientists from around the world donated countless hours and resources toward the project,” said Pigati. “For so many of them to come together and reconstruct a world that no longer exists in such incredible detail, well that’s just a dream come true.”  

About the Denver Museum of Nature & Science

 The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is the Rocky Mountain Region’s leading resource for informal science education. Our mission is to be a catalyst and ignite the community’s passion for nature and science. The Museum envisions an empowered community that loves, understands, and protects our natural world. As such, a variety of engaging exhibits, discussions, and activities help Museum visitors celebrate and understand the wonders of Colorado, Earth, and the universe. The Museum is located at 2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO, 80205. To learn more about the Museum, visit dmns.org or call 303-370-6000. Many of the Museum’s educational programs and exhibits are made possible in part by the citizens of the seven-county metro area through the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District. Connect with the Museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

Additional Information

Loon Migration Underway, Prompted by Frigid Temperatures

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - November 20, 2014 - 3:00pm
Summary: As freezing air swept into the Upper Midwest this past week, juvenile common loons took a cue from the weather and began their migrations to the warm Gulf of Mexico Follow the Birds Online

Contact Information:

Kevin Kenow ( Phone: 608-781-6278 ); Randy Hines ( Phone: 608-781-6398 ); Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-202-4765 );



As freezing air swept into the Upper Midwest this past week, juvenile common loons took a cue from the weather and began their migrations to the warm Gulf of Mexico. 

By this past Monday, eight young loons, recently tagged by the U.S. Geological Survey and partners, had reached the Gulf of Mexico from the midwestern United States, and eight were en route to southern wintering areas. The scientists captured and radiomarked the juvenile common loons on lakes scattered across Minnesota and Wisconsin during the last two weeks of August 2014 to study the challenges facing these birds during their first two years, when they are most vulnerable.

“Midwest loons are susceptible to avian botulism in the Great Lakes and pollution found in U.S. waters during migration and overwintering,” said Kevin Kenow, USGS lead scientist for the study. “Resource managers need information on the iconic birds’ first critical years to develop effective conservation strategies.” 

Common loons are large, black-and-white, fish-eating waterbirds with haunting calls and are bioindicators, or living gages of ecosystem health, in the Great Lakes states. The survival rate of loons during their first few years of life – about 50 percent over three years – is much lower than that of adults, which have a rate of about 93 percent annually.

“Satellite transmitter and geolocator tag technologies help us learn more about the movements, habitat use and causes of mortality of young common loons, and ultimately about the health of the overall food web,” Kenow said. 

The tracking devices record daily location, temperature, light levels and pressure data used to log the foraging depths of these diving birds.

Previous band recovery data suggested that while some common loons may remain on wintering grounds year-round their first two years, there is the potential for a northward movement up the Atlantic Coast during summers. Watch where the new loons travel this year via the USGS common loon migration website.

For more information on USGS loon studies, please visit the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center website.

VideoUnraveling Mysteries of the Common Loon

"Teddy Bear" Unlikely to Go Extinct

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - November 19, 2014 - 11:00am
Summary: The bear species nicknamed “teddy” more than a century ago that inspired the iconic stuffed toy still popular today will likely survive at least another century, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study USGS study looks at Louisiana Black Bear Population

Contact Information:

Joseph  Clark ( Phone: 865-974-4790 ); Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-498-5019 );



A threatened Louisiana black bear and her cubs up in a tree. (High resolution image)

The bear species nicknamed “teddy” more than a century ago that inspired the iconic stuffed toy still popular today will likely survive at least another century, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study

The threatened Louisiana black bear, one of 18 subspecies of black bear in North America, has less than a 1 percent chance of going extinct in the next 100 years.  The bear was once found throughout Louisiana, eastern Texas, southern Arkansas and western Mississippi. Habitat loss and overhunting has since reduced and fragmented the population resulting in its listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1992.

The species was nicknamed the “teddy bear” in 1902 when President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt famously refused to shoot a tethered bear while on a hunting trip.

To determine the viability of the bear population today, researchers used projections of population growth over time based on capture and radio-telemetry data to estimate the bear’s extinction probability. In some instances, scientists captured and released the bears to obtain the data, while other times they collected DNA extracted from hair samples to identify individual bears. The study also used genetics and capture data to evaluate how frequently individual bears move between the fragmented subpopulations of Louisiana black bear in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Connectivity among subpopulations of a species is important to help avoid genetic problems resulting from too much inbreeding. These findings address goals created in 1995 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for recovery.

“Estimates of a species’ viability can help wildlife managers determine the status of threatened, endangered or at-risk species and guide effective management efforts,” said Joseph Clark, the USGS research ecologist who led the study in collaboration with Jared Laufenberg from the University of Tennessee. “This study will be used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether to pursue removing the bear from the ‘threatened’ species list.”

Researchers collected data with DNA sampling, live capture, winter den visits and monitoring of radio-collared animals from 2002 to 2014. To collect the DNA samples, researchers set up barbed wire fences that bears had to cross to obtain pastry baits. This method, which does not harm the bears, results in the bears leaving their DNA in the form of hair samples on the barbs, which scientists are able to use to identify the individual identities of each bear visiting the site.   

Bears in Louisiana primarily exist in four distinct subpopulations, and data were sufficient for researchers to perform viability analyses on three of them. The probability of these bears not going extinct ranged from 29.5 percent to greater than 99 percent, depending on the subpopulation and the assumptions upon which the models were based.  However, the chances that all of the subpopulations will simultaneously go extinct, based on the most conservative models, were only 0.4 percent. The researchers also found that individual bears were moving among some subpopulations.

“The completion of this project represents many years of collaborative work and we’re excited about the results,” said Maria Davidson, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist program manager.  “The information provided by this project is based on the best available science, enabling us to make management decisions focused on the long term sustainability of the Louisiana black bear.”

Since originally being listed as threatened in 1992, the Louisiana black bear population has grown and the habitat has recovered to the extent that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering “delisting,” or removing the bear from the threatened species list. This population growth is because of state and federal protection of the bears, a reintroduction project and habitat recovery aided by the Federal Conservation Reserve Program and the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program.

This study was completed in cooperation with Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Tennessee and Louisiana State University, among others. The full study is available online.

USGS-NASA Award Recognizes Innovations in Earth Observation

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - November 18, 2014 - 6:00pm
Summary: A pioneer in mapping global land cover change and the team behind the United States’ most advanced land surface mapping satellite have both been honored with the 2014 William T. Pecora Award for achievement in Earth remote sensing

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



A pioneer in mapping global land cover change and the team behind the United States’ most advanced land surface mapping satellite have both been honored with the 2014 William T. Pecora Award for achievement in Earth remote sensing. Sponsored by the Department of the Interior's U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NASA, the annual award was presented on Nov. 18 in Denver at the 19th William T. Pecora Memorial Remote Sensing Symposium. 

Christopher O. Justice, professor and chair of geographical sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park, was honored for advancing the understanding of the Earth by means of remote sensing. The government and industry team that built and now operates Landsat 8, the latest in the Landsat series of satellites, was also acknowledged for their contributions to study of Earth’s land surface and coastal regions. 

Landsat 8, launched as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission in February 2013, provides frequent global medium-resolution data for science and applications. Landsat 8 extends the unprecedented Landsat data record which now covers more than four decades. 

Justice has made numerous scientific contributions to the study of land use and land cover change and the detection and analysis of wildfires, expanding the use of Earth-observing data from NASA’s Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instruments. 

An innovator in the use of global daily polar orbiter satellite data for mapping and monitoring land cover, Justice provided the vision that led to the first global 1-km data Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) dataset. He leads long-term monitoring of the Congo Basin using Landsat data, an effort that provides invaluable information on the state of the forests of central Africa. 

Justice is perhaps best known for his research on wildfires. First using AVHRR data and now MODIS and VIIRS, he successfully developed algorithms for fire detection and burned area estimation. He spearheaded the development of a rapid response system that reveals the location of fires shortly after images are obtained. This system has provided significant practical benefits in many parts of the world and is regularly used in the strategic deployment of fire-fighting assets. 

Justice now leads agricultural monitoring efforts. With colleagues from NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he leads the development of a system for forecasting agricultural production based primarily on MODIS data. He is working on transitioning the system to use VIIRS data to ensure longer-term continuity. 

The Landsat 8 Team is a partnership between USGS  and NASA with strong contributions from industry and the academic community. The Landsat 8 Project Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., oversaw development and launch of the satellite. The USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, managed ground system development and assumed operation of the mission following in-orbit commissioning. 

Landsat 8’s Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) was built at NASA Goddard. Ball Aerospace & Technology Corporation was responsible for the Operational Land Imager (OLI). Orbital Sciences Corporation built the spacecraft, and United Launch Alliance provided the Atlas 2 launch vehicle. The Landsat Science Team of university and government scientists provided scientific and technical input to a wide range of mission activities. 

The Landsat 8 Team met the challenge of continuing and advancing the Landsat legacy of observations. The OLI sensor on Landsat 8 is a substantial technical advancement over the Thematic Mapper sensors flown since 1982 on Landsats 4, 5, and 7. In addition, the TIRS instrument utilizes a two-band thermal infrared sensor to more effectively address atmospheric contamination in the thermal infrared spectrum. Mission performance has exceeded expectations, providing more imagery, higher quality measurements, and new capabilities over previous missions.  

The Pecora Award was established in 1974 to honor the memory of a former USGS director and Interior undersecretary. William T. Pecora was influential in the establishment of the Landsat satellite program, which created a continuous record of Earth's land areas spanning a period of more than 40 years.

 

Southern Beaufort Sea Polar Bear Population Declined in the 2000s

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - November 17, 2014 - 2:00pm
Summary: In a new polar bear study published today, scientists from the United States and Canada found that during the first decade of the 21st century, the number of polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea experienced a sharp decline of approximately 40 percent

Contact Information:

Paul Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 ); Yvette  Gillies ( Phone: 907-786-7039 );



ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In a new polar bear study published today, scientists from the United States and Canada found that during the first decade of the 21st century, the number of polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea experienced a sharp decline of approximately 40 percent.  

The scientists, led by researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey, found that survival of adult bears and cubs was especially low from 2004 to 2006, when most of the decline occurred. 

“Of the 80 cubs observed in Alaska from 2004 to 2007, only 2 are known to have survived,” said Jeff Bromaghin, USGS research statistician and lead author of the study. 

Survival of adults and cubs began to improve in 2007 and the population stabilized at approximately 900 bears in 2010, the last year of the study. However, the survival of juvenile bears declined throughout the 10-year study period (2001-2010), suggesting that conditions remained unfavorable for young bears newly separated from their mothers.

Scientists suspect that limited access to seals during both summer and winter contributed to low survival during this period. Although some bears in this population now come onshore during the autumn open water period, most stay with the sea ice as it retreats north into the Arctic Basin and far from shore where few seals are thought to occur. Similarly, the thinning and increasingly mobile winter ice is susceptible to breaking up and rafting, which can create rough and jumbled ice conditions that may make it harder for polar bears to capture seals. However, other potential causes, such as low seal abundance, could not be ruled out. 

“The low survival may have been caused by a combination of factors that could be difficult to unravel,” said Bromaghin, “and why survival improved at the end of the study is unknown. Research and monitoring to better understand the factors influencing this population continue.”

The Polar Bear Specialists’ Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature will use the new estimate for the southern Beaufort Sea population to track historic (within the last 25 years) and current (within the last 12 years) trends in the 19 populations worldwide. Currently, four populations, including the southern Beaufort Sea population, are considered to be declining, five are stable, one is increasing, with the remainder considered to be data deficient.

Collaborators with USGS in the study included Environment Canada, University of Alberta, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Polar Bears International, and Western Ecosystems Technology.

The polar bear was listed as globally threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008 due to concerns about the effects of sea ice loss on their populations. 

The paper “Polar bear population dynamics in the southern Beaufort Sea during a period of sea ice decline” was published today in early online view in the journal Ecological Applications.

 

For further information:

Learn more about USGS Quantitative Ecology program that originated this study, then visit the USGS Polar Bear program website. The USGS conducts this work under its Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative

Summary of polar bear population status per 2013 from the Polar Bear Specialists Group.

Multimedia

Find more polar bear photos in the USGS multimedia gallery.

Check out our polar bear POV video in the USGS multimedia gallery. 

USGS Assesses Current Groundwater-Quality Conditions in the Williston Basin Oil Production Area

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - November 17, 2014 - 12:00pm
Summary: Energy development in the Williston Basin oil production area of Montana and North Dakota, which includes the Bakken and Three Forks Formations, has not affected shallow groundwater quality, according to a recently published study in the journal Groundwater

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 ); Rod  Caldwell ( Phone: 406-457-5933 ); Joel Galloway ( Phone: 701-250-7402 );



USGS scientist prepares to sample a domestic well in the Bakken Formation oil and gas production area of North Dakota. (High resolution image)

Energy development in the Williston Basin oil production area of Montana and North Dakota, which includes the Bakken and Three Forks Formations, has not affected shallow groundwater quality, according to a recently published study in the journal Groundwater. The paper is based on water samples collected by U.S. Geological Survey scientists from 30 randomly distributed, non-federal domestic wells screened in the upper Fort Union Formation. 

The study compared concentrations of several chemicals to health-based drinking-water standards, analyzed correlations between concentrations and oil and gas well locations and evaluated methane for indications of deep production-zone gases. 

“These results are good news for water users, and the data provide a valuable baseline against which future water-quality data can be compared,” said Peter McMahon, a USGS hydrologist and lead author of the study. “However, it is important to consider these results in the context of groundwater age.” 

Most of the sampled water was more than 1,000 years old based on carbon-14 dating and predates oil and gas development in the study area. Results suggest that shallower wells screened at the water table would be better suited for detecting contamination associated with recent surface spills than the domestic wells sampled by this study. 

Old groundwater could be directly contaminated by recent subsurface leaks from improperly cemented oil and gas wells, but groundwater velocities calculated from carbon-14 ages indicated that the contaminants, if present in groundwater, would not have moved far from their source. 

“The groundwater age results indicate that a long-term commitment to monitoring is needed to assess the effects of energy development on groundwater quality in the Williston Basin production area,” said McMahon. 

The study was the first comprehensive regional assessment of shallow groundwater quality and age in the Williston Basin production area. Inclusion of groundwater-age measurements in assessing the effects of energy development on groundwater quality is a new approach that provides valuable context for water-quality data and can lead to more effective monitoring programs.

This report is a product of the USGS Groundwater Resources Program that provides scientific information and develops interdisciplinary understanding necessary to assess and quantify the availability of the nation’s groundwater resources. Program priorities include conducting regional and national overviews, scientific assessments of critical groundwater issues, field methods and model development and improved access to fundamental groundwater data.

Who Will Come to Your Bird Feeder in 2075?

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - November 5, 2014 - 4:06pm
Summary: The distribution of birds in the United States today will probably look very different in 60 years as a result of climate, land use and land cover changes.

Contact Information:

Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-526-6694 );



The distribution of birds in the United States today will probably look very different in 60 years as a result of climate, land use and land cover changes.

A new U.S. Geological Survey study predicts where 50 bird species will breed, feed and live in the conterminous U.S. by 2075. While some types of birds, like the Baird’s sparrow, will likely lose a significant amount of their current U.S. range, other ranges could nearly double. Human activity will drive many of these shifts. The study was published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

"Habitat loss is a strong predictor of bird extinction at local and regional scales," said Terry Sohl, a USGS scientist and the author of the report. "Shifts in species’ ranges over the next several decades will be more dramatic for some bird species than others."      

Climate change will cause average temperatures to change by three degrees to seven degrees Fahrenheit by 2075, depending upon scenario and location within the conterminous U.S. Temperature increases will drive breeding ranges for many species to the north. Precipitation will increase in some regions and decline in others, resulting in substantial impacts on local and regional habitat.

Habitats for birds currently breeding in the far southern U.S., such as the desert-dwelling Gambel’s quail and cactus wren, will expand greatly by 2075 in the conterminous U.S. as a warming climate moves the overall range to the north. The chestnut-collared longspur, sharp-tailed grouse and gray partridge could all lose over 25 percent of their suitable breeding range in the northern U.S. as climate becomes more suitable in Canada for these species. The Baird’s sparrow may lose almost all of its current U.S. range.

Landscape changes resulting largely from human activity, including land use and land cover changes, will also significantly affect future U.S. bird distributions. The effects of landscape change will be more scattered, with very high loss of habitat at local and regional scales. 

"Changing landscape patterns such as deforestation and urban growth are likely to have at least as large of an impact on future bird ranges as climate change for many species," Sohl said.

The new study used climate and landscape data to create and compare U.S. distribution maps of 50 bird species in 2001 and 2075. The maps for each species are available online.

The species that will either gain or lose more than 20 percent of their conterminous U.S. ranges as compared to 2001 are:

  • Gambel’s quail: 61.8 percent gain
  • Cactus wren: 54.1 percent gain
  • Scissor-tailed flycatcher: 46.4 percent gain
  • Gray vireo: 44.9 percent gain
  • Painted bunting: 38.5 percent gain
  • Anna’s hummingbird: 27.2 percent gain
  • Black-capped chickadee: 21 percent loss
  • Ferruginous hawk: 21.2 percent loss
  • Sora: 22.8 percent loss
  • Northern harrier: 24.7 percent loss
  • Bobolink: 24.9 percent loss
  • Short-eared owl: 26.2 percent loss
  • Vesper sparrow: 26.4 percent loss
  • Savannah sparrow: 27.2 percent loss
  • Sedge wren: 29 percent loss
  • Gray partridge: 35.6 percent loss
  • Sharp-tailed grouse: 44.8 percent loss
  • Chestnut-collared longspur: 54.1 percent loss
  • Baird’s sparrow: 90.8 percent loss

For more information on species distribution modeling, please visit the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center website.

National Water-Use at Lowest Levels since before 1970

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - November 5, 2014 - 11:16am
Summary: Water use across the country reached its lowest recorded level in nearly 45 years. According to a new USGS report, about 355 billion gallons of water per day (Bgal/d) were withdrawn for use in the entire United States during 2010.

Contact Information:

Ethan Alpern ( Phone: 703-648-4406 );



Water use across the country reached its lowest recorded level in nearly 45 years. According to a new USGS report, about 355 billion gallons of water per day (Bgal/d) were withdrawn for use in the entire United States during 2010.

This represents a 13 percent reduction of water use from 2005 when about 410 Bgal/d were withdrawn and the lowest level since before 1970.

“Reaching this 45-year low shows the positive trends in conservation that stem from improvements in water-use technologies and management,” said Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the Interior.  “Even as the U.S. population continues to grow, people are learning to be more water conscious and do their part to help sustain the limited freshwater resources in the country.”


Total water withdrawals by State and barchart showing categories by State from west to east, 2010.(Larger image)

In 2010, more than 50 percent of the total withdrawals in the United States were accounted for by 12 states in order of withdrawal amounts: California, Texas, Idaho, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan, New York, Alabama and Ohio.

California accounted for 11 percent of the total withdrawals for all categories and 10 percent of total freshwater withdrawals for all categories nationwide. Texas accounted for about 7 percent of total withdrawals for all categories, predominantly for thermoelectric power, irrigation and public supply.

Florida had the largest saline withdrawals, accounting for 18 percent of the total in the country, mostly saline surface-water withdrawals for thermoelectric power. Oklahoma and Texas accounted for about 70 percent of the total saline groundwater withdrawals in the United States, mostly for mining.

“Since 1950, the USGS has tracked the national water-use statistics,” said Suzette Kimball, acting USGS director. “By providing data down to the county level, we are able to ensure that water resource managers across the nation have the information necessary to make strong water-use and conservation decisions.”

Trends in total water withdrawals by water-use category, 1950–2010.(Larger image)

Water withdrawn for thermoelectric power was the largest use nationally, with the other leading uses being irrigation, public supply and self-supplied industrial water, respectively. Withdrawals declined in each of these categories. Collectively, all of these uses represented 94 percent of total withdrawals from 2005-2010.

  • Thermoelectric power declined 20 percent, the largest percent decline.
  • Irrigation withdrawals (all freshwater) declined 9 percent.
  • Public-supply withdrawals declined 5 percent.

Self-supplied industrial withdrawals declined 12 percent. 

A number of factors can be attributed to the 20 percent decline in thermoelectric-power withdrawals, including an increase in the number of power plants built or converted since the 1970’s that use more efficient cooling-system technologies, declines in withdrawals to protect aquatic habitat and environments, power plant closures and a decline in the use of coal to fuel power plants.

"Irrigation withdrawals in the United States continued to decline since 2005, and more croplands were reported as using higher-efficiency irrigation systems in 2010,” said Molly Maupin, USGS hydrologist. “Shifts toward more sprinkler and micro-irrigation systems nationally and declining withdrawals in the West have contributed to a drop in the national average application rate from 2.32 acre-feet per acre in 2005 to 2.07 acre-feet per acre in 2010."

For the first time, withdrawals for public water supply declined between 2005 and 2010, despite a 4 percent increase in the nation’s total population. The number of people served by public-supply systems continued to increase and the public-supply per capita use declined to 89 gallons per day in 2010 from 100 gallons per day in 2005.

Declines in industrial withdrawals can be attributed to factors such as greater efficiencies in industrial processes, more emphasis on water reuse and recycling, and the 2008 U.S. recession, resulting in lower industrial production in major water-using industries.

In a separate report, USGS estimated thermoelectric-power withdrawals and consumptive use for 2010, based on linked heat- and water-budget models that integrated power plant characteristics, cooling system types and data on heat flows into and out of 1,290 power plants in the United States. These data include the first national estimates of consumptive use for thermoelectric power since 1995, and the models offer a new approach for nationally consistent estimates.

In August, USGS released the 2010 water-use estimates for California in advance of the national report. The estimates showed that in 2010, Californians withdrew an estimated total of 38 Bgal/day, compared with 46 Bgal/day in 2005.  Surface water withdrawals in the state were down whereas groundwater withdrawals and freshwater withdrawals were up. Most freshwater withdrawals in California are for irrigation.

The USGS is the world’s largest provider of water data and the premier water research agency in the federal government. 

USGS and Canada Reach Confluence in Monitoring Streamflow

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - November 4, 2014 - 9:56am
Summary: In a joint effort, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Water Survey of Canada (WSC) have produced the North America WaterWatch (NAWW), an online website that displays streamflow conditions throughout much of North America. 

Contact Information:

Robert Mason, USGS ( Phone: 703-648-5305 ); Lingling Liu, WSC ( Phone: 613- 790-5151 ); Jon Campbell, USGS ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



In a joint effort, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Water Survey of Canada (WSC) have produced the North America WaterWatch (NAWW), an online website that displays streamflow conditions throughout much of North America. 

The site provides a fast, easy-to-use, cartographically-based, central web interface for users to access real-time streamflow conditions for both Canada and the United States. NAWW can be accessed online in both English and French 

"North America WaterWatch delivers easily understandable maps and graphics of streamflow conditions and, simultaneously, provides access to real-time and past streamflow data at thousands of streamgages in both nations,” said Jerad Bales, USGS Chief Scientist for Water. “The portal demonstrates the value of free exchange of water-data through interoperable web services, which is a major strategic focus of the USGS through open-water data activities."

The international collaboration was announced at the American Water Resources Association annual conference in Tysons Corner, Va. 

The NAWW site is arranged similarly to USGS Water Watch. Real-time instantaneous flow data are compared against historical daily streamflow percentiles at hydrometric monitoring stations. The stations are then color coded on the map to indicate current flow conditions in relation to normal conditions based on statistical thresholds (i.e. much below normal, below normal, normal, above normal, much above normal, and high). The timely availability of these streamflow indicators is vital to water managers and the general public, as the easily-recognized indicators constitute a direct link between hydrological field information and the assessment of risks. 

NAWW displays streamflow conditions in Canada for about 1000 real-time flow stations with more than 20 years of continuous streamflow records selected from three different data sources: the Water Survey of Canada (~ 850), Centre d'expertise hydrique du Québec (~ 100), and Alberta Environment (~ 60). Streamflow conditions in the United States are shown for roughly 8000 real-time flow stations. The data on the website are updated hourly; daily statistics are updated quarterly. 

The publishing of the NAWW website marks another milestone achieved through the cooperation between USGS and WSC.

New Maine Maps Feature National Scenic Trails

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - October 27, 2014 - 12:00pm
Summary: Newly released US Topo maps for Maine now feature segments of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.)

Contact Information:

Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 ); Matt Robinson ( Phone: 304-535-4010 ); Larry Moore ( Phone: 303-202-4019 );



Newly released US Topo maps for Maine now feature segments of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.).  Several of the 715 new US Topo quadrangles for the state now display parts of the A.T. along with other improved data layers. 

“Located within a day’s drive of 2/3rds of the U.S. population and open year-around to all visitors, the Appalachian Trail is America’s most readily accessible long-distance footpath,” said Matt Robinson, National Park Service GIS Specialist for the A.T. “Having its route accurately depicted on these new US Topo maps just makes it even more accessible to all who wish to explore this great resource.” 

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail 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). It 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 USGS partnered with the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to incorporate the trail data onto the Maine US Topo maps. This NST joins the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail the North Country National Scenic Trail and the Pacific Crest 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.

These new maps replace the first edition US Topo maps for Maine and are available for free download from The National Map and the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website.

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

To download US Topo maps: http://nationalmap.gov/ustopo/

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
(high resolution image) 1951 USGS legacy topographic map of the Monson West (Maine) quadrangle, 1:62,500 scale. (high resolution image)
2014 US Topo map of Maine, Monson West quadrangle with orthoimage layer turned on. (high resolution image)

Revised Alabama Maps Feature New Design

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - October 22, 2014 - 12:00pm
Summary: US Topo maps now have a crisper, cleaner design - enhancing readability of maps for online and printed use Newly designed US Topo maps covering Alabama are now available online for free download

Contact Information:

Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 ); Bob Davis ( Phone: 573-308-3554 );



US Topo maps now have a crisper, cleaner design - enhancing readability of maps for online and printed use. Map symbols are easier to read over the digital aerial photograph layer whether the imagery is turned on or off. Improvements to symbol definitions (color, line thickness, line symbols, area fills), layer order, and annotation fonts are additional features of this latest update. The maps also have transparency for some features and layers to increase visibility of multiple competing layers.

This new design was launched earlier this year and is now part of the new US Topo quadrangles for Alabama (840 maps), replacing the first edition US Topo maps for the states.

"Users in our state are very excited about the three year revision cycle of the US Topo maps,” said George Heleine, the Geospatial Liaison for Alabama and Mississippi.  “The Alabama Department of Transportation says that due to increased growth within the state, updated maps will significantly increase their utility across all disciplines within State Government”. 

US Topo maps are updated every three years. The initial round of the 48 conterminous states coverage was completed in September of 2012.  Hawaii and Puerto Rico maps have recently been added. Nearly 1,000 new US Topo maps for Alaska have been added to the USGS Map Locator & Downloader, but will take several years to complete.

Re-design enhancements and new features:

  • Crisper, cleaner design improves online and printed readability while retaining the look and feel of traditional USGS topographic maps
  • New functional road classification schema has been applied
  • A slight screening (transparency) has been applied to some features to enhance visibility of multiple competing layers
  • Updated free fonts that support diacritics
  • New PDF Legend attachment
  • Metadata formatted to support multiple browsers
  • New shaded relief layer for enhanced view of the terrain
  • Military installation boundaries, post offices and cemeteries
  • The railroad dataset is much more complete

The previous versions of US Topo maps for these states, published in 2011, can still be downloaded from USGS web sites. Also, scanned images of older topographic maps from the period 1884-2006 can be downloaded from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection. These scanned images of legacy paper maps are available for free download from The National Map and the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website

US Topo maps are created from geographic datasets in The National Map, and deliver visible content such as high-resolution aerial photography, which was not available on older paper-based topographic maps. The new US Topo maps also provide modern technical advantages that support wider and faster public distribution and on-screen geographic analysis tools for users. The new digital electronic topographic maps are delivered in GeoPDF ® image software format and may be viewed using Adobe Reader, available as a no-cost download.

For more information, go to: http://nationalmap.gov/ustopo/

2014 US Topo map of the Florence, Alabama area with the shaded relief and image layter turned on. 1914 USGS legacy topographic map of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama area.

Interior, Agriculture Departments Partner to Measure Conservation Impacts on Water Quality

U.S. Geological Survey News Feed - October 21, 2014 - 11:57am
Summary: The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new partnership agreement today that will provide a clearer picture of the benefits of farmers' conservation practices on the quality of our Nation's water

Contact Information:

Ethan Alpern ( Phone: 703-648-4406 ); Michael Woodside ( Phone: 615-837-4706 );



ALTON, Ill., Oct. 21, 2014—The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new partnership agreement today that will provide a clearer picture of the benefits of farmers' conservation practices on the quality of our Nation's water.  Working together, USDA's NRCS and DOI's USGS will quantify the benefits of voluntary agricultural practices at a watershed scale.  This information will strengthen the effectiveness of state and federal nutrient reduction strategies while protecting the privacy of individual farmers.  The agreement was announced at the Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force Meeting.

“On a voluntary basis, the agricultural community has put extensive effort into the management of nutrients and reducing runoff into waterways. This collaboration will help evaluate the impact of farmers’ conservation efforts on improving water quality,” said Ann Mills, USDA’s deputy under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment.

Mills said when hundreds of farms take action in one watershed, it can make a difference—it can help prevent an algae bloom downstream or lessen the need for water treatment plants to treat for nitrates.

The U.S. Geological Survey will now use Natural Resources Conservation Service data on conservation work to factor into its surface water quality models, which track how rivers receive and transport nutrients from natural and human sources to downstream reservoirs and estuaries. This information will help provide a more accurate picture of the conservation systems in the watershed that contribute to water quality improvement and will provide crucial information for voluntary nutrient management strategies and watershed planning.

“This agreement will allow NRCS and USGS to combine resource management capabilities with science, and will give us the information we need to prioritize the most effective conservation strategies so that we can improve the quality of streams throughout the Mississippi River Basin,” said Lori Caramanian, DOI deputy assistant secretary for Water and Science.

Working together, NRCS and USGS will develop conservation intensity data sets that reflect the value of conservation actions, but do not reveal private information about individual farms, ranches or forests. Protecting the trust relationship between NRCS and farmers and their private information protected by law is vital to the continued success of voluntary conservation on private lands.

“We know our farmers are doing great work to protect our natural resources. Our goal with this partnership is to be able to better recognize these achievements and provide conservation and water quality management communities with science-based information for improving water quality,” Mills said. “Farmers invest heavily in conservation systems to improve water quality, and we want to aid their decisions with the best science and information available.”

The conservation intensity products developed through the agreement will provide a uniform representation of conservation activities for use in water quality assessments at local, regional and national scales. Technical assistance providers will therefore have the assurance that they are using consistent and accurate information on conservation activities and a common platform for discussing conservation benefits.

Nutrient runnoff from many different sources, including urban areas and industry, impacts our nation’s waterways. By providing science-based information, NRCS and USGS can help farmers decrease nutrient runoff and improve water quality for their communities and downstream.

Visit the following links to learn more about: real-time nitrate monitoring, annual and seasonal nutrient loads to the Gulf of Mexico, nutrient trends, and the Mississippi River basin nutrient model  mapper.

Learn more about NRCS’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project Cropland National Assessment and the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative.

To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center.