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October Science Picks—Leads, Feeds and Story Seeds
Released: 10/12/2005

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Denver Makle 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-4732

Timely and informative, USGS has news for you.

As the nation turns its focus to restoring regions devastated by hurricanes, flooding, and earthquakes, this month’s Science Picks will highlight ongoing earth and natural science research and investigations, as well as technology at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), to help you tell the story. Photos and Web links are provided. If you are not receiving this and would like to, would like to change the recipient, or no longer want to receive it, please email dmakle@usgs.gov.

October Highlights:

  • Oct. 12 is International Day for Disaster Reduction
  • Did You Know...there are more than 500,000 detectable earthquakes in the world every year?
  • Bridge Design Yields Safety in "Quake’s" Wake
  • On Sinking Land: Understanding Subsidence and Sea-Level Rise in New Orleans
  • USGS Uses Technology to help during Search and Rescue and Hurricane Damage Assessment
  • Mounting Interest in Wave Energy and Storm Surge
  • Invasive Species Might Be Resourceful (but, Not in My Backyard)
  • Scientists Explore the Chemical Effects of Fire Fighting
  • Blowing its Top—USGS Releases Time-Lapse Photography of Mt. Saint Helens

Leads (top news in natural science)

Did You Know...there are more than 500,000 detectable earthquakes in the world every year?

There are 100,000 felt daily, and 100 of them cause damage. The 7.6 magnitude earthquake that occurred on Oct. 8, 2005, in Pakistan had more than 25 magnitude 5 or larger aftershocks. The aftershocks can go on for days, weeks, months or even years. If you felt the Earth move, you can help provide information about the extent of shaking and damage from earthquakes worldwide. Get ready the next time you feel the Earth move under your feet. Visit http://earthquake.usgs.gov for real-time information about earthquakes. Additionally, to sign up for earthquake alert information via e-mail, log onto http://earthquake.usgs.gov/products/services.html. For more information contact Clarice Ransom at (703) 648-4399 or cransom@usgs.gov, or Carolyn Bell at 703-648-4463 or cbell@usgs.gov.

Bridge Design Yields Safety in Quake’s Wake

Engineers are working to make roads and buildings safer in the event of major earthquakes. Sometimes, the emphasis is on improving the design of new buildings and bridges. Other times, the need is to fortify older infrastructure and incorporate the latest advances in seismic and structural engineering. A USGS earthquake engineer was commissioned to design the state-of-the-art, broad-band, real-time monitoring system for the new, cable-stayed Cape Girardeau Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge in Missouri. The cooperative project between the Federal Highway Administration, Missouri Department of Transportation, the Multi-Disciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research, and USGS was designed to record the bridge’s behavior during earthquakes as well as to detect unusual vibrations and stress reactions within the bridge structure. Data from the bridge and the ground in its proximity are streamed in real-time for use by engineers and researchers. Learn more about this real-time earthquake technology. For more information, contact Denver Makle at (703) 648-4732 or dmakle@usgs.gov.

Experience the Blast from the Past

About 35 million years ago an enormous meteorite smashed into Earth, vaporized billions of tons of ocean water and sediments, melted rocks, caused a devastating tsunami, scattered tons of sediment along much of the East Coast, and caused glassy particles of solidified melt rock to rain down as far away as Texas. The impact created a 53-mile-wide crater which is now the largest in the United States and the seventh largest on Earth. It may sound like science fiction, but it’s real and it happened. Media is invited to tour the site and view recent drilling deep into the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater’s core, Nov. 3, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. If you are interested in attending the event, or want more information contact A.B. Wade at 703-648-4483 or at abwade@usgs.gov; or Diane Noserale at 703-648-4333, or at dnoseral@usgs.gov.

On Sinking Land: Understanding Subsidence and Sea-Level Rise in New Orleans

The rates of subsidence and sea-level rise are important considerations in the restoration of the city of New Orleans and the wetlands that protect it. New Orleans is sinking two inches per decade, and it is anticipated that it will sink roughly one meter in the next 100 years relative to mean sea level. The ocean is also rising. During the last century, the ocean rose one to two millimeters per year. Within the next century if nothing is done to modify the existing infrastructure, some areas of the city that did not flood as a result of Hurricane Katrina will likely flood in a future storm due to subsidence and sea-level rise. For more information about this topic, view the online report, "Sea-Level Rise and Subsidence: Implications for Flooding in New Orleans," at http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov/hurricane/katrina.htm, or contact Catherine Puckett at (352) 264-3532 or cpuckett@usgs.gov.

USGS Uses Technology to assess Hurricane Damage

The USGS used geospatial technology during search and rescue missions for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Biologists have observed coastal areas by plane and boat and have made early assessments of the effects on wetlands. They have flown the coasts of Louisiana, including the Chandeleur Islands, and Mississippi and have made ground observations. Initial Landsat satellite analysis of wetlands indicate some change in area and shape in the Breton Sound area below New Orleans, the lower Pearl River Basin, the Missississippi River Delta, and the North Shore marshes bordering Lake Pontchartrain. All aerial and ground observations and geospatial analysis are preliminary. For imagery related to this story, go to www.nwrc.usgs.gov/hurricane/breton_poststkatrina_letter.pdf. For more information, contact Gaye Farris at (337) 266-8550 or gaye_farris@usgs.gov.

Mounting Interest in Wave Energy and Storm Surge

The role of coastal wetlands and barrier islands in reducing wave energy and storm surge has been demonstrated by several recent USGS studies. According to one 2003 report co-sponsored by the USGS, wave energy along bays and marsh edges increased significantly as barrier islands have decreased in coastal Louisiana. One large tract of forested wetlands that flanked the New Orleans East area was converted to open water during the past 30 years as a result of hydrologic changes that led to salt water intrusion. The loss of this bald cypress forest increased the exposure of the levees and floodwalls that were built to protect coastal residents from storm surge flooding. For more information, contact A.B. Wade at (703) 648-4483 or abwade@usgs.gov.

Invasive Species Might be Resourceful (But, Not in My Backyard)

Like most plants, non-native, invasive plants want the best for themselves and their offspring, despite a large number of native plant species already occupying the choicest places. Newly published research shows that these invaders want the same low-environmental stress, high-productivity, and heterogeneous habitats in which the natives thrive. In fact, according to the models, hot spots for plant and bird diversity are especially vulnerable to these pushy newcomers. Forewarned is forearmed, however, and the findings from this research, published in Ecology 86(9):2298-2309, can be used to establish early detection and rapid-response strategies at local, regional, and national scales to keep these alien invaders at bay. Learn more about non-native plant invasions, predictive models, and this nationwide study. For more information, contact Michele Banowetz at (970) 226-9301 or mbanowetz@usgs.gov.

Scientists Explore the Chemical Effects of Fire Fighting

When fires rage threatening lives and personal property, there are many fire-fighting chemicals available to extinguish them. But, are the chemicals damaging the environment? Scientists at the USGS are assisting in identifying the environmental issues associated with the application of these chemicals including their fate in aquatic ecosystems and their persistence on land. See http://www.cerc.usgs.gov/pubs/pubs.htm#fire. For more information, contact Denver Makle at (703) 648-4732 or dmakle@usgs.gov.

Feeds (science updates and happenings)

Blowing its Top—USGS Releases Time-Lapse Photography of Mt. Saint Helens

This video tells the powerful story of dome growth, and in infrared animations, the collapse of dome rock over the past year. The video may be requested by contacting Don Becker at (605) 594-6175 or becker@usgs.gov, or Carolyn Driedger at (360) 993-8907 or driedger@usgs.gov.

Video of Coastal Impacts of Hurricane Katrina

USGS has made available 25 minutes of videotaped footage showing coastal impacts resulting from hurricane Katrina along the coastline of the northern Gulf of Mexico. For more information on accessing the video, contact Carolyn Bell at (703) 648-4463 or cbell@usgs.gov, or Ann Tihansky at (727) 803-8747, ext. 3075, or tihansky@usgs.gov.

An Eye on Hurricane Damage

As floodwaters rose, USGS scientists worked full-tilt to provide up-to-the-minute maps showing the damage from hurricanes Katrina and Rita for emergency crews and federal and local agencies. These maps combine satellite views of New Orleans, Houston and the rest of the affected Gulf Coast region with details of critical features, such as the extent of flooding, levees, pumping stations, energy infrastructure and federal lands. And the job is far from done. USGS continues to produce new maps showing such things as wildlife habitat and damage in the critical ecosystems of the region for scientists and managers who need to understand the hurricanes’ long-term environmental consequences. View a selection of the maps at http://rockyitr.cr.usgs.gov/katrina. For more information on these efforts to map hurricane damage, contact Denver Makle at (703) 648-4732 or dmakle@usgs.gov.

Story Seeds (points to ponder or investigate)

Oct. 12 is International Day for Disaster Reduction

The United Nations has declared Oct. 12, the International Day for Disaster Reduction. Using science and technology, USGS is striving to prevent natural hazards from becoming disasters through scientific research and analysis that help the public, the emergency management community, and policy makers make informed decisions on how to react to each hazard and how to safeguard society. Learn more about natural hazards; find them in real-time from the most recent earthquakes worldwide, to volcanoes, landslides, fire, hurricane and tsunami. For more information on recent hazard events go to http://www.usgs.gov or contact Clarice Ransom at (703) 648-4399, or cransom@usgs.gov.

Loma Prieta Earthquake Anniversary

On October 17, 1989, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale rocked the San Francisco Bay Area. The earthquake resulted in 63 deaths, and 13,757 injuries. Property losses amounted to 1,018 homes destroyed, 23,408 homes damaged; 366 businesses destroyed, and 3,530 businesses damaged. The total estimated direct economic loss was valued at more than $5.9 billion in public and private property damage. For real-time earthquake information see http://earthquake.usgs.gov or contact Clarice Ransom at (703) 648-4399 or cransom@usgs.gov.

Taking a Snapshot; "How Clean is My Water?"

The USGS is proud to be a sponsor of the World Water Monitoring Day on October 18. Citizens of the global community will join in this worldwide opportunity to positively impact the health of rivers, lakes, estuaries and other waters. Volunteer monitoring groups, water quality agencies, students, and the general public are invited to test four key indicators of water quality: temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. For more information about the event in your local waters, go to http://www.worldwatermonitoringday.org.

National Geography Awareness Week

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing the third week in November as Geography Awareness Week. Mark your calendars for November 13-19. Another special day, GIS Day will also be held Wednesday, November 16. Check the USGS Web site http://www.usgs.gov, for upcoming activities.


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