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Want Fiery News?...July Science Picks
Released: 7/1/2005

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

Declare your independence from boring news stories!

Fire season is upon us, and in the Southwest thousands of acres are burning. In honor of Independence Day, this month’s Science Picks are dedicated to fire — find out what happens after the smoke clears; learn about new techniques scientists are using to handle some hot topics; and discover what gives firecrackers the bang for your buck.

These story ideas can help you cover ongoing earth and natural science research and investigation at the USGS — photos and Web links are provided to enhance your story. If you are not receiving USGS monthly Science Picks and would like to, would like to change the recipient, or no longer want to receive them, please email

July Highlights:

  • What Puts the "BANG" in Fireworks?
  • When the Smoke Clears, What Hazards Await?
  • Too Hot to Handle — Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Take Flight and Take the Heat
  • Fires and Satellites, a Surprising Connection
  • Fire, Water and Water Quality Effects
  • Saving Precious Time — Hi-Tec Ways to Find the Hydrant
  • Adding Fuel to the Fire — From Beetles to Firewood
  • Is a Wildfire Headed Your Way? Stay Informed Online, in Real-Time

Leads (top news in natural science)

What Puts the “BANG” in Fireworks?

Every year on Independence Day, Americans all around the country are drawn to spectacular fireworks displays. But what makes the colors, lights and sounds so vivid? Each color in a fireworks display is produced by a specific mineral compound. Bright greens are from barium; blues come from copper; and yellows require sodium. More colors are made by mixing compounds. The role of minerals in fireworks is just one example of our society’s growing reliance on minerals for making products ranging from automobiles to toothpaste. Want to know more? Visit to learn about the USGS statistics on production, trade and resources for about 90 mineral commodities from around the world. Enjoy fun facts at For more information, contact Diane Noserale at 703-648-4333 or

When the Smoke Clears

Once the fires die down, many think that the dangers of a wildfire are over, but other hazards often follow on the heels of a wildfire. Flooding, debris flows and erosion are common hazards that occur following wildfires throughout the western United States. Scientists in the USGS Landslide Hazards Program are developing methods to quantify these hazards. By sprinkling water on burned hillsides, scientists measure how fast rainfall infiltrates and how much sediment is moved. They have developed methods to predict the chances of a debris flow and how big an event might be. Visit to learn about USGS work on post-fire debris flow hazards or to learn more about landslides in general. For more information, contact Lynn Highland at 1-800-654-4966, or

Too Hot to Handle

Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) has made studying this eruption of Mount St. Helen’s easier than before. USGS geologists and officials from the U.S. Forest Service deployed the vehicles because they can go where no man can — above extreme heat and toxic collection of gases and solids. Now, scientists are hoping the UAVs can help them in other areas, including wildfire mapping and other resource management applications such as invasive species mapping. View images and get real-time data of Mount St. Helens at For more information on the efforts to use UAVs for wildfire mapping, contact Clarice Ransom at (703) 648-4299 or

Fire and Satellites — What´s the Connection?

Talk about backwards planning. Satellite images taken of Alaska last summer became a useful tool after a devastating Wildfire raged on June 22, burning more than 60,000 acres near Fort Yukon, Alaska. The USGS provided satellite images that provided useful data for planning and fire-fighting. To learn more about satellite imagery and how it is used during emergency response, contact Karen Wood at (703) 648-4447 or

Fire, Water and Water Quality Effects

What happens after wildfires have burned across a landscape? Scientists at the USGS are studying the chemistry of ash and its effects on surface runoff and water chemistry. When rain of sufficient intensity falls on burned areas, the resulting surface runoff can entrain ash and partially burned organic matter and begin to erode hill slopes and widen channels. When ash is mixed with water, soluble compounds are released that affect the chemistry of streams, lakes and reservoirs. Learn more about fire’s effects on your watershed by contacting Deborah Martin at 303-541-3024 or For more information see

Feeds (science updates and happenings)

Who has Time to Find the Hydrant?

Seconds count when responding to a fire emergency. Armed with maps and Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment, a data technician can now gather information on the location, make, model and condition of every hydrant in any busy city, making fire-fighting much easier for first-responders on the ground. The USGS National Geospatial Programs office, which includes The National Map, the Federal Geospatial Data Committee and the Geospatial One-Stop Project, is partnering with federal, state and local governments to ensure this technology and the necessary training are available at the grassroots level. For more information on the many uses of Geospatial information, contact Denver Makle at (703) 648-4732 or

Adding Fuel to the Fire — From Beetles to Firewood

Scientifically speaking, 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. The USGS has focused on developing methods for high-resolution maps that identify high-risk areas. By fusing advanced image classification techniques with available high-resolution data sources, scientists can provide cost-effective and accurate inventories of fire fuels and identify potential risks. For more information on fire-fuel mapping, contact Denver Makle at (703) 648-4732 or

Is a Wildfire Headed Your Way? Stay Informed Online, in Real-Time

The USGS and other partnering agencies have produced an internet-based mapping application that gives wildfire personnel and the general public access to online maps of current fire locations and perimeters using standard Web browsers. The GeoMAC Web site,, allows users to manipulate map information displays, perform searches and zoom in and out to display fire information at various scales and levels of detail. Users can display information on individual fires, such as the name of the fire, current acreage and other fire status information, with just the click of a mouse. For more information on the GeoMAC tool, contact Heidi Koontz at (303) 202-4763 or

Story Seeds (points to ponder or investigate)

Expedition of Scientific Importance

Learn how the Lewis and Clark expedition has influenced modern-day scientific advancements. Contact Karen Wood at (703) 648-4447 or

USGS Science Camp Kicks off July 5

From July 5 through August 19, 2005, USGS will be hosting its annual science camp at the headquarters in Reston, VA. Science Camp introduces children to the joys of science. For more information, contact Beth Stettner at (703) 648-5928 or

View New Geospatial One-Stop (GOS) Portal

New and Improved, the GOS version 2 Portal, which allows users to combine geospatial information to create real-time maps and images, will be on demonstration at the ESRI conference in San Diego, Calif., July 25 – 29. For more information, contact Denver Makle at (703) 648-4732 or

Society of Environmental Journalists Conference

Prominent USGS scientists will attend and discuss various topics at The Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference in Austin, TX, September 28 – October 2. Contact A.B. Wade at 703-648-4483 or

The USGS serves the nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.

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