July Science Picks — Leads, Feeds and Story Seeds
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Wildland fires in the western United States are wreaking havoc on the people, plants and wildlife in their way.
Wildland fires in the western United States
are wreaking havoc on the people, plants and wildlife in their way. As
of July 13, more than 50 thousand fires had burned 2,832,759 acres in
2007. This area burned is 20 percent
more than the 10-year average (1997-2007) for the same date. For details, go to
the National Interagency Fire Center Web site. This July edition of Science Picks provides a
compilation of fire science and other hot topics. USGS scientists have investigated the effects
of wildland fire on plants, wildlife, water, soils and people to answer fire
science questions asked by land managers. USGS offers critical real-time fire
information to managers with tools such as GeoMAC (see below).
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available to enhance your story. If you would like to receive Science Picks
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- Natural Perchlorate in Southwest Soils May Exceed
Total Amount Manufactured to Date
- Pesticides - A Tough
Break(down) for Amphibians
Hot on Tortoise Track
- The Hot Spots in Mojave
Desert Wildfires of the Past 25 Years
- Fire-fueling Invader Gets Up Early
- Given a (Fuel) Break, Nonnative Plants Can Invade
Health - Counting Parasites a Positive
- Beetles, Bark, and other Battles that
Influence Wildland Fire Risk
- Fire Tools and Resources
Long Does it Take Water to Flow through Aurora?
Night Lights Bad for Wildlife?
Leads (top news in natural science)
Natural Perchlorate in Southwest Soils May Exceed Total Amount Manufactured to Date
Pesticides — A Tough Break(down) for Amphibians:
The environmental and health communities are
concerned about perchlorate, a naturally occurring and manmade chemical that
has contaminated water supplies and is assumed to cause health problems. Just
below the root zone in deserts and semi-arid regions throughout the
southwestern United States
are salt-rich layers containing substantial quantities of natural perchlorate.
The amount, up to hundreds of grams per hectare, is surprising because the
amount of the naturally occurring chemical may exceed the total amount
manufactured to date. Want to know how the presence of natural perchlorate
could complicate investigations at contamination sites? See the Widespread Accumulations of Natural Perchlorate in Southwestern Soils page or contact David Stonestrom at (650) 329-4528 or email@example.com.
Biologists Hot on Tortoise Track
The breakdown products of the three most
commonly used pesticides in California's agricultural
Central Valley are found to be much more toxic
to amphibians than their parent compounds, according to laboratory experiments
conducted by the USGS and Southern Illinois University scientists. Tadpoles of
foothill yellow-legged frogs were raised from eggs collected from a stream in
the California Coast
Range, upwind of agricultural
activities in the Central Valley and away from
areas where significant quantities of pesticides are used. Test results
indicated that chloroxon killed all tadpoles and was at least 100 times more
toxic than the lowest concentration of the parent compound chlorpyrifos, which
resulted in no mortality. Maloxon was nearly 100 times more toxic than
malathion, and diazoxon was about 10 times more toxic than diazinon. To learn more
about this study, see the USGS news release "Research Finds That Breakdown Products of Widely Used Pesticides are Acutely Lethal to Amphibians "
or contact Gary Fellers at (415) 464-5185 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos are also available.
The Hot Spots in Mojave Desert Wildfires of the Past 25 Years
Two years ago, tens of thousands of acres of
desert tortoise critical habitat were burned in fires fueled primarily by
invasive grasses. Charred remains of desert tortoises were found at several
sites, but live tortoises also persisted in burned areas and the nearby
perimeter. To determine if and how tortoises are using the habitats on and near
large burned sites in the Mojave Desert, scientists
are tracking the movements of desert tortoises in summer. To learn more,
contact Ken Nussear at (702) 564-4515 or email@example.com.
Fire-fueling Invader Gets Up Early
Historically, fire has
been infrequent in the Mojave Desert; its
increased occurrence, caused by the invasion of non-native annual grasses, is a
major concern. Recent studies of fire data retrieved between 1980 and 2004 show
the most dramatic changes have taken place in middle elevation shrublands —
home to Joshua trees and desert tortoises. Research indicates that a more
aggressive invasive plant/fire cycle exists in middle and possibly lower
elevation shrublands, but not at higher elevations. For more information, see the news release "Spatial and Temporal Patterns of Wildfires in the Mojave Desert "
or contact Matt Brooks at (702) 564-4615 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Given a (Fuel) Break, Nonnative Plants Can Invade Wildlands
By fueling wildfires that injure and kill native
plants, Red brome (a non-native annual grass) is having a dramatic impact on Mojave Desert plant communities. According to scientists
from the USGS, the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station, and the University of Nevada Red brome affects perennial
species in undisturbed plant communities even before wildfire becomes a problem.
Research indicates growth of Mojave Desert
perennials declined because nearby red brome plants that established in winter
had 2 to 3 months of growth before perennials were active. In comparison, red
brome plants that established later in spring were smaller and did not effectively
reduce growth of the perennials. For more information, see the news release "Competitive Interactions Between a Non-native Annual Grass and Mojave Desert Perennials "
or contact Lesley DeFalco at (702) 564-4507 or email@example.com.
Beetles, Bark, and other Battles that Influence Wildland Fire Risk
Federal, state, local and private land managers
in the United States have made reducing hazardous fuels that feed wildland
fires a priority, but fuel modification programs can unintentionally introduce
and spread nonnative invasive plant species, according to a newly published
report. After completing a study of fuel breaks — which included construction
methods, maintenance and fire histories — on California
forests and shrublands (sage scrub, chaparral, oak woodland, and coniferous
forests), USGS and Forest service scientists say the cover and
diversity of nonnative species were significantly higher on fuel breaks than in
surrounding wildland areas. To learn more, check out the newly released report titled "The Role of Fuel Breaks in the Invasion of Nonnative Plants "
or contact Jon Keeley at (559) 565-3170 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marsh Health — Counting Parasites a Positive
When a beetle bores into bark, a healthy tree
responds by producing pitch that drowns or evicts the beetle. During drought,
however, trees may not produce enough sap pressure to control the hundreds of
beetles that may attack. The insects carve pathways under the bark, eventually
killing the afflicted trees. Those trees become fuel for wildfire. In 2006, the USGS and a multi-agency group of
collaborators launched a multidisciplinary fire science project, “Assessment of Wildfire-Related Hazards
on Human and Ecological Communities: A demonstration project in the
Front Range of Colorado.” The team of scientists is conducting a comprehensive,
systematic analysis of wildland fire risks and potential impacts, including
post-fire effects on human safety, property, critical infrastructure and
natural resources. Grand County,
Colo., was chosen as the site of
this project because of its extensive tree mortality from bark beetle outbreak,
ongoing drought, a growing population in the wildland-urban interface, and the
presence of significant water resources that supply municipal and agricultural
users. For more information, contact Deborah Martin at (303) 541-3024 and email@example.com or Randy Updike at (303)
236-5440 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ever watched coastal marsh birds swoop down on its
unsuspecting prey and wondered if the salt marsh is healthy? How would you
tell? To answer this question, scientists at the USGS, Princeton
University, and the University of California,
are cracking open common marsh snails and counting parasitic worms. Their
claim: the more parasites, the healthier the marsh. Parasites seem small and
invisible, hidden inside their hosts. However, parasites strongly affect the
structure of food webs, and parasite links are necessary for measuring
ecosystem stability. To learn more, see the Sound Waves news article on "Biologists Count Parasites to Assess Health of Marshand" and "Parasites, the Thread of Food Webs?"
or contact Kevin Lafferty at (805) 893-8778 and email@example.com.
Feeds (science updates and happenings)
California Fire Planning and Mapping Tools
internet-based mapping application designed for fire managers and the public, shows
dynamic online maps of current fire locations and fire perimeters in the
continental United States
and Alaska. In
2006, more than 2000 perimeters were loaded into the database.
Sierra Wildland Fire Reporting System
The Fire Planning and Mapping Tools Web site is a
user-friendly site where users can quickly create a map of an area, print, and
download data to their PC for use with GIS
National Fire Plan
The Sierra Wildland Fire
Reporting System application is a prototype comprehensive
reporting system for all federal fires in the southern and central Sierra Nevada range. This tool can enhance fire managers'
ability to collaborate and better understand fire and smoke impacts across
multi-agency landscapes. This application provides reporting forms and tools
for digitizing point and perimeter locations for small fires.
Rapid Data Delivery System
National Fire Plan was developed in August 2000, following a landmark wildland
fire season, to actively respond to severe wildland fires and their impacts to
communities while ensuring sufficient firefighting capacity for the future. The
plan addresses five key points: Firefighting, Rehabilitation, Hazardous Fuels
Reduction, Community Assistance, and Accountability. The National Fire Plan
web-based application shows the completed fuel treatment sites and communities
at risk with base layer information, as well as the proposed fuel treatments for contractors’ information.
The USGS has started an
internet-based data ordering service for use in wildfire applications for GIS specialists
and fire managers. The application features interactive maps integrated with current
wildfire information that can process and re-project mosaic and tone balance
Digital Raster Graphics, Digital Orthophoto Quads, and Digital Elevation Models
and automatically disseminate the data for users to download or to initiate a
delivery of data on CD-ROM using traditional mail delivery methods. (Note: the
RDDS site is password protected and access is limited to wildland fire personnel)
Story Seeds (points to ponder or investigate)
USGS Science in High Definition TV Series
How Long Does it Take Water to Flow through Aurora?
USGS science will be
prominently featured in a four-part, high-definition television series called
"Faces of the Earth" on the Science Channel. The series includes the
following episodes and premier showtimes: "Building the Planet," July
23 at 9 p.m.; "Shaping the Planet," July 26 at 9 p.m.;
"Assembling America," Aug. 2 at 10 p.m., and "The Human World,"
Aug. 9 at 9 p.m. "Faces of the Earth" is produced by the American
Geological Institute and Evergreen Films and is intended to let the viewer
follow scientists at work, and see the world like never before. To learn more
about “Faces of Earth,” find additional show times, and to watch trailers from
the series, go to http://www.facesofearth.tv.
For more information, contact Robert Ridky at (703) 648-4713 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are Night Lights Bad for Wildlife?
The USGS Colorado Water Science Center is conducting
rhodamine, "red-dye" tests along Toll Gate Creek in Aurora, Colo.,
July 9 through August 7. The study will provide estimates of the time it takes
for water in the creek to flow through Aurora.
These estimates can be used to understand the movement of contaminants that can
be introduced to the stream either by design or as the result of an accidental
spill. The study is part of ongoing work by the USGS and the City of Aurora. For more
information, contact Heidi Koontz at (303) 202-4763 or email@example.com.
When camping out in the wild, away from the city,
even under a clear, starlit sky, most of us like to have a flashlight to light
our way. Lights help humans to navigate outside at night, but what do wildlife
make of our artificial illumination? Artificial night lighting may affect the
behavior of wildlife in complex ways and may even contribute to declines in
some reptile species, according to USGS and Texas Tech University scientists. To learn more,
see Sound Waves article "Are Artificial Night Lights Among Threats to Declining Reptiles? "
or contact Robert Fisher at (619) 225-6422 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
USGS provides science for a changing world. For more information, visit www.usgs.gov.
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