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October Science Picks -- Hot News about Cool Science
Released: 10/2/2009

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Kara Capelli 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-5086

October 2009 Edition

Do you want to know more about the recent Samoa and Sumatra earthquakes? What’s the latest climate change news? Did they really find water on the moon? And can male fish have female features? The answers are in this edition of Science Picks. Also, the nation’s earthquake monitoring system is getting a facelift, and Halloween is coming up, making it the perfect time to read up on bats!

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 kcapelli@usgs.gov.

October Highlights:

  • Responding to the Samoa and Sumatra Earthquakes
  • DOI Prepared to Address Climate Change
  • Water is Out of This World
  • Gender Line Blurred in Fish
  • Improvements of Seismic Proportions
  • Forget the Garlic Necklace! Learn More about Bats and Rabies
  • Winter Warming Affects Sea Goose Migration
  • Invading Island Applesnails
  • Toxic Snow Takes Toll on Tadpoles
  • Helping Plants and Animals Faced with Arctic Warming
  • Don't Blow Off Hurricane Sensors
  • Fighting Fire with Minerals
  • Country Roads, Take Me … Online!
  • Hunting for Climate Clues in Lake Champlain
  • Citizen Scientists Monitor Boise Watershed

Leads (top news in natural science)

Responding to the Samoa and Sumatra Earthquakes

Two major earthquakes struck beneath the Pacific and Indian Oceans on Sept. 29 and 30, respectively. The first caused a tsunami affecting islands in the Samoan archipelago, including American Samoa, and the subsequent quake hit Sumatra, with both causing major damage. USGS analysts at the National Earthquake Information Center quickly responded to these events and their many aftershocks, issuing a range of rapid earthquake information products to support emergency response and relief operations. The USGS is the lead federal government agency for earthquake monitoring in the United States and around the globe. Where exactly did these two earthquakes hit? What is the damage? Were they related? These questions are answered in a podcast interview with USGS National Earthquake Information Center Scientist-in-Charge Harley Benz, available at usgs.gov/corecast. Current earthquake statistics, research information and earthquake citizen scientist opportunities can be found at earthquake.usgs.gov. For more information contact Clarice Ransom at cransom@usgs.gov or (703) 648-4299.

DOI Prepared to Address Climate Change

To address the unprecedented scope of climate change effects on our nation, the Department of the Interior launched its first-ever coordinated climate change strategy. This secretarial order establishes a framework through which all DOI bureaus will come together in science as well as resources management strategies. DOI manages one-fifth of our nation’s landmass and 1.7 billion acres on the Outer Continental Shelf, helping address impacts to America’s land, water, ocean, fish, wildlife and cultural resources. A new Climate Change Response Council was established to oversee the DOI Carbon Storage Project as well as the DOI Carbon Footprint Project, through which DOI has committed to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions. Eight DOI regional response centers were also created to educate communities and put management strategies into action. A network of Landscape Conservation Cooperatives will engage DOI and federal agencies, local and state partners, and the public. To view the order, visit http://www.doi.gov/climatechange/. For more information, contact Jessica Robertson at jrobertson@usgs.gov or (703) 648-6624.

Water is Out of This World

A moon vacation resort may be possible yet! The moon, long rendered dry and barren, has been shown by new research to hold water at all latitudes. USGS scientists used spectral images obtained from two spacecraft to make this discovery. They found both water and hydroxyl, a molecule consisting of hydrogen and oxygen. Scientists have long predicted the presence of moon ice, but were surprised to see water in direct sunlight. Continuing researching on moon water will look at where the water came from in the first place. For details listen to a podcast, visit the USGS Newsroom or contact Heidi Koontz at hkoontz@usgs.gov or (303) 202-4763.

Gender Line Blurred in Fish

Male smallmouth and largemouth bass with female characteristics have been discovered in surprisingly high numbers in eight of nine river basins throughout the United States. In some rivers, more than 70 percent of male bass were "feminized." Scientists suspect the cause of this condition, which leads to immature female eggs in male fish and poorer reproduction, may be linked to substances that have hormonal effects. Endocrine-active compounds like pharmaceuticals, pesticides and household items are possible causes, though some intersex fish were found at sites with no obvious sources of this type of contamination. Because this study didn't examine the causes for this condition, more information is needed about the genetic and environmental factors that might be responsible, as well as the number and kinds of fish affected. Check out the USGS Newsroom for more information, or contact Jo Ellen Hinck at jhinck@usgs.gov or (573) 876-1808.

Improvements of Seismic Proportions

It’s time for an upgrade to the nation’s earthquake monitoring network! More than 75 million Americans in 39 states face the risk of earthquakes, yet some of the existing monitoring technology is 40 years old. The USGS has awarded $5 million in grants to universities and will provide nearly $7 million in new equipment to upgrade earthquake monitoring stations nationwide, as part of the development of the USGS Advanced National Seismic System. These updates will help scientists provide emergency responders with time-critical information used to save lives and reduce economic losses. Some of the new monitoring systems will make use of solar power as the primary power source in remote locations, making them more energy efficient than the ones they replace. This program is an extension of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. For more information visit the USGS Newsroom, or contact Bill Leith at wleith@usgs.gov or (703) 648-6786.

Feeds (science updates and happenings)

Forget the Garlic Necklace! Learn More about Bats and Rabies

With Halloween approaching, a new book makes bats seem a little less scary. Bat Rabies and Other Lyssavirus Infections debunks many myths surrounding rabies and other related infections. The book describes the worldwide occurrence of rabies in bats, its origins, how it spreads, and the degree of threat it poses to people, pets, farm animals and wildlife. It includes rich illustrations and personal stories from author and rabies expert Denny G. Constantine. The book, prepared by the USGS National Wildlife Health Center, presents the material in a simple, straightforward manner that serves both the public and scientists. For more details visit the USGS Newsroom, or contact Diane Noserale at dnoseral@usgs.gov or (703) 648-4333.

Winter Warming Affects Sea Goose Migration

Climate change may be altering the migration pattern of the Pacific brant, a small, dark sea goose. An increasing number of these birds are staying the winter in Alaska, rather than migrating south to Mexico. A USGS study indicates that this increase in wintering birds coincides with a general warming of temperatures in the North Pacific and Bering Sea. This warming can affect the availability of eelgrass, brants’ primary food in their non-breeding season. Changing wind patterns might also make conditions less favorable for brant migration. For details and Pacific brant pictures check, out the USGS Newsroom, or contact David Ward at dward@usgs.gov or (907) 786-7097.

Invading Island Applesnails

Invasive island applesnails have appeared again. USGS scientists have discovered island applesnail egg masses in Girard Park, Lafayette, La. These critters come from South America and likely started out as pets in aquariums. Once they invade the wild, they are difficult to get rid of. Island applesnails in Asia severely damage wetland plant communities and rice crops, and they are a potential vector for disease transmission to humans and animals. If this colony of snails spreads to the Vermilion River near Lafayette, they could invade rice crops as well as freshwater swamps and marshes. USGS scientists are experimenting with a variety of control options to recommend to state management agencies. For more information, visit the USGS National Wetlands Research Center Invasive Species Research page, or contact Jacoby Carter at carterj@usgs.gov or (337) 266-8620.

Toxic Snow Takes Toll on Tadpoles

Pesticides can travel hundreds of miles and turn up in some unexpected places. Scientists from the USGS and Southern Illinois University are linking declines in frog populations in the Sierra Nevada mountains with pesticides used on farms in the San Joaquin Valley. These pesticides can travel by wind to contaminate the snow falling in the Sierra Nevada. When the snow melts in the spring, pesticides in the runoff contaminate areas where foothill yellow-legged frogs and Pacific treefrogs breed. In the study, the pesticides endosulfan and chlorpyrifos slowed tadpole growth and development. Chlorpyrifos also affected functioning of the nervous system, and endosulfan caused developmental abnormalities. These factors can alter behavior and make tadpoles more vulnerable to predators. The full report can be read at the USGS Western Ecological Center Web site. For more information contact Gary Fellers at gary_fellers@usgs.gov or (415) 464-5185.

Helping Plants and Animals Faced with Arctic Warming

The Arctic has experienced a warming trend over the last 150 years, and many questions remain unanswered as scientists work to forecast future events and develop plans to conserve the surrounding fragile ecosystems. Impacts from warming include a steady decline of terrestrial snow cover, warmer springs and rapid melting, lengthened growing seasons, sea ice retreat, and deaths of newborn seal pups and polar bears following melting of their under-snow birthing chambers. A study led by Penn State University, with the USGS as a collaborator, highlights areas of research that deserve priority as the Arctic continues to warm. This includes studies in the Arctic to monitor the physical drivers of climate change and the biological responses to them over the long term. This research was conducted during the 2008-2009 International Polar Year, and you can view the study at Science Magazine’s site. For more information, contact A. David McGuire at ffadm@uaf.edu or (907) 474-6242.

Story Seeds (points to ponder or investigate)

Don't Blow Off Hurricane Sensors

It’s still hurricane season — do you know where your storm sensors will be installed? The USGS does. Twelve bridges along the South Carolina coast are now the permanent homes of brackets that will house USGS storm sensors. This is good news for emergency responders: The sensors can be installed quickly in advance of a hurricane to track water level and barometric pressure as storms approach. This makes it easier to determine the timing and magnitude of storm surge. This work is done in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the S.C. Department of Transportation. Listen for more information about South Carolina storm-surge monitoring techniques, or contact Paul Conrads at pconrads@usgs.gov or (803) 750-6140.

Fighting Fire with Minerals

Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 4-10) means it’s time to learn your evacuation route and locate the nearest fire extinguisher. When it comes to fire prevention, minerals play a big role in helping to keep you safe. The “plug” in the automatic sprinklers you see on the ceiling of many buildings is formed by a combination of bismuth, indium and tin. This combination has the perfect melting point to quickly release water when it gets too hot. Aluminum trihydrate in carpet backing is a flame retardant, and gypsum is a fire-resistant material for drywall. Soda ash is used in fire extinguishers, and ground mica helps keep it free flowing. The USGS has been an authoritative source for U.S. and global nonfuel mineral production and consumption data for these and about 80 other mineral commodities for more than 130 years. For more on minerals in workplace safety, check out the USGS Minerals site, or contact Scott Sibley at ssibley@usgs.gov or (703) 648-4976.

Country Roads, Take Me Online!

You don’t have to live near Shenandoah National Park to experience the beautiful fall foliage this year. The USGS and the National Park Service have set up a panoramic camera in the park, and you can see its scenic images online in real time! The camera is part of a project aimed at detecting evidence of climate change by tracking when leaves fall off and appear on trees. See images through the camera’s lens and learn about this climate science investigation online at the USGS Eastern Geographic Science Center site. You can also see slide shows of daily leaf and sky changes over time. For more information, contact John Jones at jwjones@usgs.gov or (703) 648-5543.

Hunting for Climate Clues in Lake Champlain

About 15,000 years ago a vast ice sheet covered the Champlain Valley of New York and Vermont. As Earth’s climate warmed, the ice sheet melted, and the Lake Champlain region was covered by glacial Lake Vermont and later the Champlain Sea. Scientists are piecing together what happened during these large changes to help understand future climate change. Research is being done by the USGS, SUNY Plattsburgh, SUNY New Paltz and Binghamton University. Findings may help understand what happens to ocean circulation and climate when freshwater from melting ice and glacial lakes suddenly enters the North Atlantic Ocean. These researchers look for clues by drilling into sediments deposited in Lake Vermont and the Champlain Sea. These samples contain small plant and animal microfossils that provide evidence of environmental changes. Watch a video of scientists drilling cores, and for more information, contact Thomas Cronin at tcronin@usgs.gov or (703) 648-6363.

Citizen Scientists Monitor Boise Watershed

Schools, families and others will join USGS scientists on Oct. 3 to collect water and insect samples along the shores of the Boise River, Lake Lowell, and ponds and creeks in the Boise, Idaho, area. Citizen volunteers will learn how the USGS collects water-quality data from its statewide network of streamgages and groundwater monitoring sites. This data will contribute to the World Monitoring Day database, and will eventually contribute to a city database that houses citizen monitoring data. This event is part of a semiannual series. Look out for a similar event in Spring 2010. For details, see the City of Boise’s site. For more information contact Tim Merrick at trmerrick@usgs.gov or (208) 387-1305.


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