Water Science Capabilities

The USGS provides science about the natural hazards that threaten lives and livelihoods, the water, energy, minerals, and other natural resources we rely on, the health of our ecosystems and environment, and the effects of climate and land-use change. USGS scientists develop new methods and tools to enable timely, relevant, and useful information about the Earth and its processes.

Science of Water Resources in New York

The New York Water Science Center (NYWSC) leads the scientific and water-resources management communities by providing high-quality, timely, and unbiased scientific data, reports, and other information that are widely accessible and understandable and that benefit science interests of the all levels of government, academia, the private sector, and the general public. The NYWSC works to advance scientific and technological advances to enhance the science of water resources and environmental and natural-resource issues; advances in science and technology provide better data and result in science that meets cooperator needs and exceeds their expectations. The center is the first choice of cooperators, science educators, government officials, and the public as a source for environmental and water-science information and data in the State and for providing access to the same data and information regionally and nationwide.

Science Themes

Groundwater and Streamflow Information

Groundwater and surface water are among the Nation’s most important natural resources. The USGS provides unbiased, timely, and relevant information, studies, and data about water resources of the Nation. The NYWSC maintains a network of more than 300 surface water and 650 groundwater monitoring stations across New York State; over the years, the USGS has collected water-resources data at approximately 1.5 million sites in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The data collected at the various sites are synthesized in State-level, interstate, and international studies to evaluate resources not only in one State but also other States and countries that might be affected or may influence the condition of surface water and groundwater. The data collected are used in studies of water supplies, groundwater contamination, flooding, water stored in ice and the oceans, and the effects of climate and land use change and manmade influences.

Water Use and Availability Science

Demand for water in the United States is unevenly distributed. Because of increasing competition for local supplies that could lead to shortages, it is expedient to know how and where water is withdrawn, delivered, and used. The NYWSC studies how the interactions of humans affect the water cycle, including how much water is withdrawn from natural sources, where this water goes, how this water is used, what happens to the water after it is used, and how water moves from its source to its outlet. These studies are a first step in understanding how future water demands can be met while maintaining adequate water quality and balancing the needs of human and ecological water needs. Studies on water use and availability also explore the nature of and outlook for water stored in ice and the oceans, examine the effects of climate change on water systems and ecosystems, analyze the effects of major storms on habitats, human populations, and coastal regions, and track and predict flooding and areas that could potentially be inundated. To study these interconnected areas, scientists work with hydrologists, geologists, biologists, ecologists, and chemists in the public, academic, and private sectors in New York as well as nationwide and worldwide.

Water Quality

Different uses of water may require a different level of “quality” of water; for example, water that contains dirt and grime might work fine for agricultural uses, but industrial uses and drinking water require a different level of water quality; or water that might be safe to use in industrial and agricultural uses may not be safe to drink or promote healthy ecosystems. The NYWSC collects water-quality data for all water resources and works with the public, government agencies, organizations, and the private sector to identify and understand environmental issues and concerns regarding the quality of water supplies in the Nation and abroad. Water-quality data are then used to determine the health of various ecosystems, including wetlands, urban landscapes, coastal environments, and watersheds. From the marine waters of New York City and the Hudson River to the freshwater systems of the Great Lakes, effects of nutrient and micropollutant loading to watersheds and wetlands, habitat response to changes in infrastructure, wetlands restoration for the effects of treating urban wastewater, and toxicity in waters affected by urban runoff are some of the more recent projects undertaken by the NYWSC with State and local cooperators.

Coastal Science

The NYWSC carries out multidisciplinary science activities across the State’s diverse coastal waters and landscapes on the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes, including the many interconnected waterways, the barrier beaches that form and erode continually, the open waterways that are prone to the effects of major storms and hurricanes, and upland surface-water and groundwater source areas. These areas are also some of the most productive ecosystems in the State and host most of the population and economic development of the State. As a result, the interplay of environmental- and human-health concerns is a prominent thread that connects much of the coastal science activities of the USGS and involves cooperation not only among science disciplines but also across the Nation and internationally. Major topics of study include nearshore environmental health (ecosystem health and water and sediment quality), beach and barrier dynamics, tide and wave hydrodynamics, wetlands, climate and land-use change, and flood hazards.

Ecosystem Health

Ecological assessments are a central focus of multidisciplinary projects and programs managed by the NYWSC and managed in cooperation with the water and soil chemistry laboratory as well as other Federal, State, county, and city agencies, academia, and nongovernmental organizations in New York and nationwide. The NYWSC studies the condition of aquatic communities to assess the effects of various manmade and natural stressors and of resource management practices on the aquatic ecosystems and environments in the State and nationwide and in cooperation with a wide array of partners and monitors climate change indicators to identify trends and data gaps for indicators of climate and habitat change. Specific studies include the effects of forest harvesting on the health of ecosystems at headwaters, the influence of remediation of watersheds on ecosystem health, and the interactions between urban landscapes and ecosystem health.

Geospatial Applications

The USGS is the Nation’s largest Earth science civilian mapping agency, mapping in the United States and abroad for more than 125 years and changing products and services offered and the means by which they are developed to meet changing expectations of users, new understandings of societal and mission needs, and new technologies. The NYWSC uses the latest available spatial datasets to provide geospatial expertise for scientific investigations; geographic information systems (GISs) are used to characterize the natural and manmade features that define the environmental settings of drainage basins and groundwater study areas. As the quality and resolution of remotely sensed geospatial data and imagery continues to improve, GISs can be used to visualize and explore these data. For example, light detection and ranging (lidar) elevation data can be displayed with hill-shade and color classifications that provide far greater detail than 1:24,000-scale topographic maps.


The NYWSC has a laboratory for analysis of soils and water analyzes samples collected by USGS projects throughout the Northeast and provides accurate measurements of soil water, nonagricultural soils, stream water, and lake water that can be adapted to the specific needs of each study. The laboratory’s quality-assurance program is based on internal and interlaboratory quality-assurance samples and quality-control procedures that were developed to ensure proper sample collection, processing, and analysis. The laboratory includes many state-of-the-art instruments, including an ion chromatograph, an inductively coupled plasma spectrophotometer, a dissolved carbon analyzer, three flow-injection analyzers, a carbon-nitrogen analyzer for soil, an autotitrator, and a turbidimeter. All instruments are linked through a customized laboratory information system that provides maximum data management efficiency.


The USGS uses an integrated geologic, hydrologic, and geophysical approach to characterize the unconsolidated and bedrock aquifers in the State. Hydrogeologic framework characterization is the backbone of most groundwater-related studies, including those involving aquifer mapping, saltwater-intrusion delineation, groundwater flow and transport modeling, geologic-hazards evaluation, water-tunnel construction and repair, geothermal assessments, and groundwater-quality sampling. The NYWSC uses state-of-the-art geophysical equipment for training and methods development for geophysics that include borehole-wall imagers, gamma spectral, induction, and full waveform sonic tools, and electromagnetic and heat-pulse flowmeters. A major recent study area is the Marcellus Shale of the Appalachian Basin, one of the largest formations that contain substantial accumulations of natural gas in the United States. Processing of the Marcellus Shale deposits, which were delineated on geophysical logs by their elevated gamma radiation and low density, require hydraulic fracturing; the NYWSC has been studying water resources issues associated with development of the Marcellus Shale deposits.