USGS - science for a changing world

U.S. Geological Survey

Maps, Imagery, and Publications Hazards Newsroom Education Jobs Partnerships Library About USGS Social Media

USGS Newsroom

USGS Newsroom  

May Science Picks—Leads, Feeds, and Story Seeds
Released: 5/12/2008

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Jessica Robertson 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-6624


In this edition of Science Picks, find out how much technically recoverable oil was recently assessed in North Dakota and Montana's Bakken Formation, discover new data that will help Afghanistan's reconstruction efforts, and view new maps that show how the nation shakes with earthquakes. Learn about new efforts to monitor sea otters, and watch for yourself what walruses are up to in and around the Bering Sea. As the weather heats up and you start planning your summer vacation, wouldn't you like to know if it is safe to swim at the beach and what critters, such as ticks, you should look out for? This edition of Science Picks answers these questions and much more! If you would like to receive Science Picks via e-mail, would like to change the recipient, or no longer want to receive it, please e-mail

May Highlights:

  • 3 to 4.3 Billion Barrels of Technically Recoverable Oil Assessed in North Dakota and Montana's Bakken Formation
  • New Data to Help with Natural Resources and Hazards Assessments of Afghanistan
  • New Maps Show How the Nation Shakes with Quakes
  • Otter Spotters
  • Where's Walrus? Find Out Online
  • Is it Safe to Swim at the Beach?
  • Tick Tick Ticks: Warm Weather is Tick Time
  • Clean Water Starts With Monitoring
  • Mussels on the Move: Google Mapping Invasive Species
  • Avoiding the Buzz: West Nile Fever
  • Mercury Risks to Fish-Eating Birds in San Francisco Bay
  • Getting Better Grizzly Bear Numbers
  • Intertwined Lives of Red Knots and Horseshoe Crabs
  • The Shorebird Walk
  • Seldom Seen But Often Heard
  • Insect Pests: Blue Plate Special for Bats
  • What's in the Sand?

Leads (top news in natural science)

3 to 4.3 Billion Barrels of Technically Recoverable Oil Assessed in North Dakota and Montana's Bakken Formation

North Dakota and Montana have an estimated 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil in an area known as the Bakken Formation, according to a new USGS assessment. This assessment shows a 25-fold increase in the amount of oil that can be recovered compared to the USGS's 1995 estimate of 151 million barrels. Technically recoverable oil resources are those producible using currently available technology and industry practices. The USGS is the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas. Results of the assessment can be found at the USGS Energy Resources Program Web site. For more information, listen to Episode 38 of CoreCast, the USGS podcast, or contact Clarice Ransom at 703-648-4429 or

New Data to Help with Natural Resources and Hazards Assessments of Afghanistan

Policymakers, potential private investors, and the public recently received valuable new information to help identify fault lines and the potential location of undiscovered water, oil and gas, and non-fuel mineral resources in Afghanistan. Data were collected by USGS scientists, who flew over Afghanistan to conduct an airborne geophysical and photographic survey of the country. To view images, maps and data from this survey, visit the Afghanistan Airborne Geophysical and Remote Sensing Survey Web site. Information on USGS projects in Afghanistan are also available. For more information, contact Jessica Robertson at 703-648-6624 or

New Maps Show How the Nation Shakes with Quakes

The USGS recently revealed how shaky the nation is by releasing an updated version of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Maps. Earthquakes remain a serious threat in 46 of the United States. For some areas, such as western Oregon and Washington, the new maps contain higher estimates for how hard the ground will shake compared to versions of the maps released in 1996 and 2002. But for most of the United States, the ground shaking estimates are lower. This revision incorporates new seismic, geologic and geodetic information on earthquake rates and the way energy released in earthquakes dies off with distance from the rupture. The USGS encourages all citizens in earthquake-prone areas to follow the Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety. The USGS National Seismic Hazard Maps are also available online. For more information, contact Clarice Ransom at 703-648-4429 or

Feeds (science updates and happenings)

Otter Spotters

Is that just a piece of brown seaweed out there bobbing in the ocean, or could it be a sea otter? It can be tough to tell, unless you're as experienced and skilled as the USGS-led teams that go out each May, armed with binoculars and spotting scopes, to tally otters over 375 miles of central California coast where southern sea otters range. Since 1982, standardized surveys from land and aircraft, along with other studies, have helped scientists assess changes in this threatened sea otter population, so federal and state wildlife agencies can make informed decisions about its management. Watch for this year's survey results at California Sea Otter Surveys Web site. To test your otter spotter skills, take our quiz at For more information, contact Brian Hatfield at 805-927-3893 or

Where's Walrus? Find Out Online

USGS scientists recently attached satellite radio tags to adult walruses to map foraging locations around the St. Lawrence Island polynya in the Northern Bering Sea. This is part of a larger ecosystem study to improve understanding of how the Bering Sea may respond to climate change, particularly from changes in seasonal sea ice cover. The tags characterize hourly walrus foraging status and estimate animal location. Collected data will be combined with information on prey locations to describe walrus foraging efforts relative to their prey distribution. In this effort to monitor walrus movements, the USGS was supported by the North Pacific Research Board and National Science Foundation. The movements of instrumented walrus can be viewed at For more information, contact Tony Fischbach at 907-786-7145.

Is it Safe to Swim at the Beach?

How can you be sure it's safe to swim at the beach? By using the Nowcast Web site. Nowcast uses predictive models at two Lake Erie beaches to determine if Escherichia coli (E. coli) concentrations are likely to exceed safety standards. USGS scientists are testing rapid-detection methods to measure certain bacteria and pathogenic organisms in two hours, rather than the 18 hours needed for traditional methods. For more information, visit Beach Monitoring Research Web site or contact Donna Francy at 614-430-7769 or

Tick Tick Ticks: Warm Weather is Tick Time

When you're out enjoying warm weather, remember that spring and summer are good for ticks, too. Ticks have the dubious distinction of being a "vector" that transmits harmful diseases to humans. You name it-viruses, bacteria, parasites-ticks transmit them all to people, occasionally at the same time. Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States. USGS scientist Howard Ginsberg studies how Lyme disease is transmitted in nature by studying ticks and their vertebrate hosts, such as white-footed mice, birds and voles, a small rodent. For more information, visit the USGS vector-borne disease Web site, or for more information about Howard's research, visit Lyme Disease and Vector-Borne Pathogen Studies Web site. Howard Ginsberg can also be reached at 401-874-4537 or

Clean Water Starts With Monitoring

The USGS is cosponsoring the Sixth National Water Quality Monitoring Conference, May 18-22, in Atlantic City, N.J. The conference will be jammed packed with over 300 presentations, a wealth of technical posters and workshops, and numerous regional tours. For information, visit 2008 National Water Quality Monitoring Conference Web site or contact Jennifer LaVista at 703-648-4432 or

Mussels on the Move: Google Mapping Invasive Species

In January 2007, invasive quagga mussels were discovered in Lake Mead, Nev — these were the first discovered west of the Continental Divide. Since then, these noxious mussels have been on the move they've now invaded the Colorado River downstream of Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam and are in a dozen Southern California reservoirs. Reservoirs seem to be an ideal delivery system for an invasive aquatic organism like the quagga mussel. Since the Colorado River provides much of Southern California's drinking water, water users are dismayed that their water now includes microscopic quagga mussel eggs and larvae that, when adult, will clog pipes. Now, resource managers and the public can see just where the quagga mussels are on a Google map updated daily. For more information, visit Quagga Mussel Sightings Distribution Web site or contact Amy Benson at 352-264-3477 or

Avoiding the Buzz: West Nile Fever

It's already mosquito season in many parts of the country, arousing concerns about West Nile virus. This virus, carried by a few kinds of mosquitoes, was not reported in the Western Hemisphere until an outbreak in the fall 1999. Since then, the virus has spread across the United States and Canada and south into Central America and the Caribbean. As West Nile virus becomes established in wildlife, they in turn serve as a reservoir for mosquitoes to spread the virus to people. The USGS, in collaboration with state and federal agencies, is keeping an eye on the virus by testing dead birds and mapping findings and is investigating which bird species are the primary reservoirs for this virus. Collected information is used to help determine the disease's spread, to learn what species are most susceptible to the disease, and to help forecast future outbreaks in wildlife and people. For more information, visit Vector-borne Diseases and Zoonotic Diseases Web site or the USGS West Nile Virus Studies Web site. You can also contact Paul Slota at 608-270-2420 or, or Gail Moede Rogall at 608-270-2438 or

Mercury Risks to Fish-Eating Birds in San Francisco Bay

Fish-eating birds are good indicators of mercury contamination and risk to wildlife in aquatic food webs. USGS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists estimate13 percent of the waterbirds in San Francisco Bay are at high risk for harmful effects due to mercury concentrations in blood and 22 percent at high risk from blood in feathers. Breeding terns are likely to be even more at risk because blood mercury concentrations more than tripled during the pre-breeding time period of this study. Results were recently published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. For more information, contact Josh Ackerman at 530-752-0485 or

Getting Better Grizzly Bear Numbers

USGS scientist Katherine Kendall and colleagues recently developed a way to more precisely estimate grizzly bear populations. Their method incorporates data from both bear hair traps and bear rubs. This approach is not restricted to DNA sampling methods or grizzly bear population estimates, and can incorporate data received from multiple sources. Their methodology was recently published in Ecological Applications. For more information, contact Katherine Kendall at 406-888-7994 or

Story Seeds (points to ponder or investigate)

Intertwined Lives of Red Knots and Horseshoe Crabs

Populations of red knots-small, colorful shorebirds-have declined in recent years due to declines in horseshoe crabs, whose eggs provide nourishment for red knots. Each spring these birds begin their migration of some 10,000 miles from their wintering homes in Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America, to their Arctic nesting grounds. Their most important refueling stop is the Delaware Bay, where these and other shorebirds feast on billions of high-energy eggs spawned by odd-looking horseshoe crabs. These crabs' existence pre-dates most other species on Earth today. Until 2000, harvest of these crabs for use in pharmaceuticals and as bait was unregulated. USGS researchers and partners will determine harvest levels that will help the red knot recover. For more information, visit or You can also contact Dave Smith at 304-724-4467 or for horseshoe crab information; Michael Haramis at 301-497-5651 or for red knot information; and Jim Nichols at 301-497-5660 or for adaptive management information.

The Shorebird Walk

A walk on the beach can result in unusual discoveries. Trained observers, including USGS scientists, are taking many long, systematic beach walks from April through June looking for the elusive snowy plover shorebird. The surveys are part of an international inventory of snowy plovers to assess the distribution and conservation status of this shorebird in the interior of the United States, along the Gulf Coast of the United States and Mexico, and along the Pacific Coast of Mexico. The Pacific coastal snowy plover population is listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened. For more information, visit or contact Susan Haig at 541-750-7482 or

Seldom Seen But Often Heard

On rocky shores, you'll often hear them before you see them, but how many are there and where are they going? These are questions USGS scientists and volunteers are answering about the black oystercatcher, a large shorebird with a bright orange bill that is found in rocky coastal areas and near-shore islands along the Pacific coast of North America. The USGS is coordinating Oregon's annual survey for this species in May, which will be implemented with the help of over 50 volunteers. In addition to the survey, volunteers help monitor the well being of Oregon's oystercatchers by making regular visits to check on nests and chicks. This year, USGS scientists will also study how oystercatchers move along the Oregon coast by fitting birds with small backpacks that contain a radio transmitter. For more information, contact Matthew Johnson at 541-758-7797 or

Insect Pests: Blue Plate Special for Bats

When spring brings to life an abundance of insects, the bats that eat them also begin to appear. The diets for 40 of the 43 species of bats that occur in the United States chiefly consist of insects. Overall, little is known about their food habits, especially how their diet can vary over location, time of night and season. However, ongoing USGS studies indicate that though bats don't eat the great quantities of mosquitoes as is commonly believed, they do have an impact on destructive agricultural and forest pests like click and bark beetles. Also, in a recent study on food habits of the migratory hoary bat, USGS researchers found evidence that these bats might time their spring and fall migration movements to coincide with the rapid seasonal increase of crop-damaging cutworm moths and their relatives. For more information, visit or contact Ernie Valdez at 505-346-2870, ext 10 or

What's in the Sand?

A new exhibit open at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif., features a patented underwater microscope system developed by USGS scientists to collect and analyze electronic images of sediment grains on riverbeds or seafloors. Using a high-definition video camera housed in a custom-built case, both provided by the USGS, the museum has produced an interactive exhibit in which visitors lower the camera onto trays of different sand samples that include quartz, coral and volcanic sands. Through a projector, the images are then displayed on a nearby wall, where a docent explains the exhibit and the underwater microscope's scientific uses. For more information, contact Henry Chezar at 650-329-5331 or

USGS provides science for a changing world. For more information, visit

Subscribe to USGS News Releases via our electronic mailing list or RSS feed.

**** ****

Links and contacts within this release are valid at the time of publication.


Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Ask USGS
Page Last Modified: 5/12/2008