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March Science Picks—Leads, Feeds and Story Seeds
Released: 3/3/2005

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Denver Beaulieu-Hains 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-4732 | FAX: 703-648-4466

Spring is fast approaching and Mother Nature provides the perfect backdrop for scientific discovery

In this edition find out what USGS has learned about the California landslides, and the December 26th Indian Ocean Tsunami and so much more... This month’s Science Picks can help you cover ongoing earth and natural science research and investigations, and technology at USGS – Photos and web links are provided to enhance your story. If you are not receiving this and would like to, or would like to change the recipient, or no longer want to receive it, please email

Included this month:

  • Landslide Hazards Pile Up in Southern California
  • Will the December 26th Indian Ocean Tsunami Prove to be the Most Powerful Tsunami Ever
  • Will the Earth Move in March?
  • USGS Finds New Survivor in Palau Islands
  • Super Sleuths of Soil
  • Landslide Report Details Danger and Complexity of Future Landslides for California Coast
  • Having Good Geographic Data is Essential to Critical Decision Making
  • Weeding out Undesirable Plants Just Got Easier
  • Partnership and New Prescription Offer Hope for Endangered Mussels
  • How Much Water is in Them The’r Snow Banks?

Leads (top news in natural science)

Landslide Hazards Pile Up in Southern California

Los Angeles’ annual rainfall highest in more than 100 years: The USGS Landslide Hazards Program is mobilizing to assist The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the California Office of Emergency Services in assessing damage from numerous landslides in Southern California. Landslides occurred in a wide area from Ventura County to San Diego, during the recent storm event, Feb. 17 – 23. To learn more about the joint-effort to assess damages contact: Lynn Highland at 800-654-4966 or at, and Ed Harp at 303- 273-8557 or at

Will the December 26th Indian Ocean Tsunami Prove to be the Most Powerful Tsunami Ever?

USGS scientists were on the ground in Sri Lanka and Sumatra during January and are currently in the Maldives. On-site field surveys document astonishing wave heights (up to 80 feet in Sumatra), strength of the tsunami, and the distance waves traveled inland destroying villages, dramatically eroding shorelines, and transporting massive amounts of sand and saltwater inland (as far as 4 miles). Discover how sand deposit measurements are used not only to track tsunami heights and flow velocity from this tsunami, but can be used to reconstruct past tsunamis from the geologic record, which can provide greater understanding and modeling of the powerful 9.0 earthquake and tsunami. This valuable information can help coastal residents and decision makers prepare for inevitable similar earthquakes and tsunamis in Cascadia (which includes Washington, Oregon and northern California), Alaska and elsewhere in the world. Read the preliminary findings at or for more information on the Sri Lanka studies contact Bruce Jaffe at 831-427-4742 or at, and Robert Morton at 727-803-8747 (x 3080) or at For more information on the Sumatra studies contact Guy Gelfenbaum at 650-329-5483 or at

Will the Earth Move in March?

March seems to be a time for "great" (magnitude 9 and above) U.S. earthquakes. According to USGS seismic data, March saw the two largest earthquakes ever recorded in U.S. history. On March 28, 1964, Prince William Sound (Alaska) experienced a 9.2 magnitude event that took 125 lives and caused $311 million in property loss. On March 9, 1957, the Andreanof Islands, Alaska, felt a 9.1 temblor. Check out "Today in Earthquake History" at (Carolyn Bell, 703-648-4463,

USGS Finds New Survivor in Palau Islands

A newly-discovered parasitic worm has outwitted, outplayed and outlasted scientists in the Palau Islands until recently. A USGS scientist, Robert Fisher found this new species of worms while conducting a routine examination of Palau wrinkled ground frogs. Fisher was recognized by his colleagues from Pennsylvania State University and Whittier College in the naming of the new species—Spinicauda fisheri. Learn more about Fisher’s study of the historic biogeography of the Pacific Basin islands, how different species were able to move to these islands, and the role the first humans to the region had in moving these species around. For more information, contact Gloria Maender at 520-670-5596 or at

Super Sleuths of Soil...

Scientists at the USGS have made significant contributions to solving a soil-chemistry mystery that has puzzled scientists for nearly 200 years, starting with Charles Darwin. Darwin was among the first to wonder why the soil in the Atacama Desert in Chile contains extremely high concentrations of nitrates--so high that the soils are mined for fertilizer. Researchers looked at three oxygen isotopes of soil nitrates and finally got some answers. To learn more about the mysterious salty soil, contact USGS scientist J.K. Böhlke at 703-648-6325 or at

Feeds (science updates and happenings)

Landslide Report Details Danger and Complexity of Future Landslides for California Coast

USGS Landslide expert Randy Jibson authored a report which says, La Conchita, the California coastal community in Ventura County recently struck by a landslide Jan. 10, which killed 10 people and destroyed or damaged 36 houses is likely to experience an array of landslide hazards during future periods of prolonged or intense rainfall. The report is based on past studies as well as onsite fieldwork with California Geological Survey. The report (Open-File Report 2005-1067) can be accessed at For more information contact Randy Jibson at 303-273-8577 or at

Having Good Geographic Data is Essential to Critical Decision Making

Life’s unexpected events like earthquakes, tsunamis and landslides make sharing geographic data between governments critical for our decision-makers to serve the public and reduce America’s risk. More than ever, Federal, State, Tribal and local governments are relying on maps and geospatial data to make critical decisions. One basic requirement to having and sharing reliable data is for those governments to meet accepted standards. In 2004, more than 40,000 professionals across the geographic information community participated in a review of standards for the seven ’framework’ data themes to be used for geographic mapping and data-sharing. Readers may learn more about advances in realizing a National Spatial Data Infrastructure – seamless standards that promote data-sharing throughout government. For more information on revised standards or the National Spatial Data Infrastructure visit the Federal Geographic Data Committee Web site at or contact Leslie Armstrong at (703) 648-5740 or

Weeding out Undesirable Plants Just Got Easier

USGS scientists have developed new criteria for weeds found in the Southwest Exotic Plant Information Clearinghouse (SWEPIC). Making the information available on the clearinghouse makes it easy for scientists, land managers and the public to get information fast. The clearinghouse contains a section on the on-going assessment of weeds in Arizona with respect to their relative impacts on ecological processes, native species and natural ecosystems. The joint effort consists of USGS scientists in partnership with the Southwest Vegetation Management Association and The Nature Conservancy. For more information about the work of the Arizona Wildlands Invasive Plant Team, or the criteria documents and results of the plant evaluations See: and link to AZ-WIP. For more information, contact Kathryn Thomas at (928) 556-7327 or

Partnership: New Prescription for Endangered Mussels

Many mussel species are threatened or endangered, and the propagation of mussels to restore depleted populations is a national priority. USGS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are partnering to develop strategies to culture endangered mussels. Scientists are evaluating the safety of five common water-borne aquaculture drugs to freshwater mussels under the USGS Science Support Program. To learn more about the chemicals which may be safely used to control and prevent disease in fish and mussel culture operations without harming the larvae, contact Jeff Rach at (608) 781-6322 or

How Much Water is in Them The’r Snow Banks?

When the weather warms up, the heavy snow pack that has blanketed the Northeast will melt, releasing millions of gallons of water. This water can help replenish streams and ground water. And just how much water is there?

  • Ten inches of an "average" snow pack produces about 1 inch of water
  • Light, powdery snow may require 20 or more inches to equal 1 inch of water
  • It may take only 4-5 inches of heavy, wet snow to equal an inch of water. These "inches" of water add up to a lot of thirst quenching --10 inches of average snow within the city limits of some major Eastern cities are:

Washington, DC 1.2 billion gallons of water
Boston, Mass. 0.8 billion gallons of water
New York City 5.2 billion gallons of water
Philadelphia 2.2 billion gallons of water

USGS operates and maintains thousands of streamgaging stations. Scientists, flood forecasters, emergency response teams, and private citizens can track conditions on area streams in real-time. Battery-powered gauges linked with satellite radios make data transmission possible during storms, even when extreme high waters and strong winds disrupt telephone and power services. The forecast for March through May is normal to slightly above normal precipitation and temperature. Check out for your local conditions. For more information contact Carolyn Bell at 703-648-4463 or at

Story Seeds (points to ponder or investigate)

Does the United States have Enough Water?

The short answer is nobody really knows. The National Ground Water Association has designated the week of March 13-19 as Ground Water Awareness Week. During this week, readers may learn more about the USGS National Assessment of Water Availability and Use program. This program is intended to help citizens, communities, and natural-resource managers have a clearer knowledge of the status of the Nation’s water resources and consider the answers to questions such as how much water do we have? View the full National Assessment of Water Availability and Use report submitted to Congress at:

Everyday is Earth Day at USGS

April 22, 2005 is Earth Day, and at the USGS, we celebrate Earth Day everyday. USGS scientists study the Earth—its water, its biology, its geology and its geography—and provide that information to you. And it’s just a click away at This year’s Earth Day theme is "Protect Our Children and Our Future," and USGS does just that by providing science to reduce America’s risk from natural hazards—whether it is an earthquake, volcano, landslide, flood, wildfire, or hurricane. You’ll have the opportunity to learn more about natural hazards and other USGS science during USGS events celebrating Earth Day 2005. Be on the lookout for information on events in your area at

The 25th Anniversary of the Catastrophic Eruption of Mount St. Helens

On May 18, 2005, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake triggered the collapse of the summit and north flank of Mount St. Helens and formed the largest landslide in recorded history. Gas rich magma and super-heated groundwater trapped inside the volcano were suddenly released in a powerful lateral blast, melting snow and ice that covered the volcano. The resulting floodwater mixed with rock and debris to create concrete-like mudflows. Within three minutes, 230 square miles of forest was flattened. A plume of volcanic ash and pumice spewed out of the volcano reaching 15 miles in height and traveling thousands of miles. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens and the people who lost their lives, there will be many events which can be found on the Web site:

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