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December Science Picks—Leads, Feeds and Story Seeds
Released: 12/13/2005

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

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

From icy records to mistletoe romance, December Science Picks bring a host of tips (some timely, some evergreen) on earth and natural science research and investigations. Science Picks bring the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) science to you, helping you cover ongoing earth and natural science research, investigations, and technology. Photos and Web links are provided to enhance your story. If you would like to receive Science Picks via email, would like to change the recipient, or no longer want to receive it, please email

December Highlights:

  • "The Orphan Tsunami"
  • Solving an Age-old Dilemma
  • Maine River Research Shows Decrease in Total Ice Days
  • Intersex Fish — Bizarre and Real
  • Vulnerable Ducks Find Shelter From Extinction
  • A Kiss is Just a Kiss — Mistletoe is So Much More
  • What’s Shakin? Earthquake Hazard Maps
  • Report Tells A Tall Sheep’s Tale
  • Making the Connection—Searching for Science Just Got Better
  • Santa Citings across the United States

Leads (top news in natural science)

"The Orphan Tsunami"

At approximately 9 p.m., January 26, 1700, a gigantic earthquake ripped across the west coast of Canada and the United States along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, more than 600 miles from Vancouver Island to Cape Mendecino. The magnitude of the earthquake ranged from 8.7 to 9.2. At that time there was no written documentation of the event, however, the large tsunami it triggered hit Japan approximately 10 hours later, and that information was recorded. Learn more about what USGS scientists and the Geological Survey of Japan have learned after meticulously researching this event. See to view the interesting compilation of materials. For more information, contact USGS geologist and tsunami specialist Dr. Brian Atwater at 206-553-2927 or or Stephanie Hanna at 206-331-0335 or

Solving an Age-Old Dilemma

Thanks to a recent discovery, USGS, University of Wyoming, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have determined the absolute age of oceanic crust (with an error margin of less than one percent). The scientists found 25 percent of the samples previously dated may be 2.5 million years older than predicted by conventional models. Learn more about the new scientific technique and the discovery that is expected to provide a better understanding of the complex processes occurring beneath the Earth’s surface. For more information, visit or contact Denver Makle at (703) 648-4732, or or Joe Wooden at (650) 725-6536 or; Jayme George at (307) 766-2353 or at; Barbara John at (307) 766-4232 or

Maine River Research Shows Decrease in Total Ice Days

Many have been saying that winter just isn’t what it used to be in New England. Mounting evidence from a series of studies suggests they’re right. The total number of days of ice on the region’s rivers has declined significantly in recent decades. To learn more about the USGS studies and this phenomena, contact Diane Noserale at (703) 648-4333 or, Glenn Hodgkins at (207) 622-8201 ext. 121 or, or Robert Dudley at (207) 622-8201 ext. 115 or

Intersex Fish Bizarre and Real

What’s causing fish to grow abnormally and develop "confused" sexual organs? The condition is called "intersex" or "ovotestis." These male fish contain immature eggs in their testis or have malformed ducts that release abnormal sperm or eggs. Find out what USGS scientists have learned from the collected samples of more than 2000 fish in four major river systems in the United States. For more information on intersex fish and USGS research contact Diane Noserale at 703-648-4333 or or Vicki Blazer at (304) 724-4434 or

Vulnerable Ducks Find Shelter From Extinction

The Laysan teal, the first duck placed under federal endangered species protection in 1966, has been given a second chance for survival at the Midway National Wildlife Refuge (located at Midway Atoll about 2,800 miles west of San Francisco and 2,200 miles east of Japan). The outlook for the small, charismatic duck was bleak. The risk of extinction was caused by its isolation on one Pacific island and its inability to fly the distance to another. The ducks were vulnerable to typhoons, tsunamis, habitat loss, water contamination and disease. In 2004, 20 ducklings were fitted with tiny transmitters, transported by boat and released at the Midway refuge. Of the 20 pioneer ducklings, 19 have survived their first year in their new habitat. Nest building was observed in April 2005 and new ducklings may be on the way in 2006. A new USGS fact sheet describing the 2004–2005 translocation of the Laysan Teal to Midway Atoll is available. For more information on the restoration of habitat and the translocation efforts, contact USGS botanist and Laysan teal specialist Dr. Michelle Reynolds at (808) 967-7396 or or Stephanie Hanna at (206) 331-0335 or

A Kiss is Just a Kiss Mistletoe is So Much More...

This Christmas when you pucker up under the mistletoe, consider this: while festive and fun, mistletoe also provides essential food, cover, and nesting sites for an amazing number of birds, butterflies, and mammals in the United States. According to USGS researchers, "mistel" is the Anglo-Saxon word for "dung," and "tan" is the word for "twig." Thus, mistletoe means "dung-on-a-twig." Talk about taking the romance out of that next kiss under the mistletoe. There are more than 1300 types of mistletoe worldwide (more than 20 of which are endangered). For more information, check out or contact Catherine Puckett at (352) 264-3532 or

Feeds (science updates and happenings)

What´s Shakin? Earthquake Hazard Maps

The USGS has released a new tool to help mitigate loss of life and property from earthquakes. This 3D computer model of the upper 20 miles of the Earth’s crust in the greater San Francisco Bay Area enables researchers to accurately predict the shaking levels of past and future earthquakes. Check out the USGS Web site at For more information, contact Stephanie Hanna at (206) 220-4573 or

Report Tells A Tall Sheep´s Tale

Bighorn sheep populations in the greater Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (BICA) of Montana and Wyoming was on the brink of extinction in the late 1800s. Declines were attributed to excessive hunting competition, diseases from domestic livestock and human-induced habitat changes. In 2000, at the request of the National Park Service, USGS researchers began a study to evaluate (1) the causes for this decline, (2) study the herd population dynamics, and (3) discover why sheep weren’t using the suitable habitat available to them. The full report is available online at For more information, contact Heidi Koontz at (303) 202-4763 or, or Kate Schoenecker at (970) 226-9329 or

Story Seeds (points to ponder or investigate)

Santa Citings Across the United States

’Twas the night before Christmas in the U.S. of A. and "Santa" was spotted, but not with his sleigh. He was spotted in Georgia and Texas and Maine. In Nevada and Utah, he was spotted again. Arizona, Oregon, and Alaska and on up the West Coast, but Indiana is where he is cited the most. A stream, a dam, and a Minnesota lake...all carry his name for goodness sake. Are you looking for Santa? Santa citings include natural features such as reservoirs, springs, a dam, lake, stream, and pillar as well as buildings and populated places. Santa Claus is everywhere in the Geographic Names Information System. Check holiday-related geographic names at For more information on GNIS, contact Karen Woods at (703) 648-4447 or

Getting the Cold, Hard Facts Using Ice

USGS scientists are preparing for a trip to Antarctica. The climate change and atmospheric scientists are collecting new ice cores from the two-mile-thick ice sheet. For more information on the ice core studies and to learn more about the upcoming 2007-2008 International Polar Year campaign, contact Heidi Koontz at (303) 202-4763 or

Earthquake Wrap-Up

If you’re looking for a year-end story that may shake up your readers, watch for the USGS "earthquake wrap-up" at the start of the New Year. For more information check out Earthquake News & Highlights at or for more information, contact Heidi Koontz at (303) 202-4763 or

Making the Connection Searching for Science Just Got Better

Need help searching for Science topics and explanations? Check out the link to, an interagency initiative of 17 U.S. government science organizations, including the USGS. For more information, contact Steve Shivers at (703) 648-5422 or, or Kent Swanjord at (703) 648-6887or

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