South Atlantic Water Science Center

Filter Total Items: 63
The Water Cycle for Schools Poster

Learn About Water!

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have teamed up to create a water-cycle diagram for schools. It is available in over 20 languages and also in an interactive version made for online viewing and investigating.

This diagram is a small part of USGS's Water Science School, where anyone aged 5-95 can learn all about water.

Sediment from runoff entering the ocean after Hurricane Irene, 1999.
October 14, 1999

Sediment from runoff entering the ocean after Hurricane Irene, 1999

Florida, October 14, 1999—the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in Florida in 1999 shows the dumping of sediment-laden runoff water into the Atlantic Ocean. These are huge events which can easily be seen from space. Here, sediment-filled rivers are dumping tremendous amounts of suspended sediment runoff and river flow into the Atlantic Ocean. The same thing occurred all along the Atlantic coast for hundreds of miles north—you can see how the Atlantic water currents are moving the sediment north after it enters the ocean.

The sediment being dumped into the oceans has an effect on the ecology of the oceans, both in a good and bad way. Also, this is one of the ways that the oceans have become what they are: salty.

Credit: NASA Visible Earth

Comparison of base flow and flooding along Peachtree Creek at Atlanta, Ga.
May 6, 2003

What a typical flood on Peachtree Creek looks like is shown below in a "before and after" picture from the homeowner's now 10-foot high entryway. The flood picture was taken on May 6, 2003 in the late afternoon when stream stage was about 17 feet. Peak stage that day occurred at 7:30 PM EST in the evening, when the stream stage reached 17.77 feet with a corresponding instantaneous streamflow of 6,960 cubic feet per second (cfs). Alternatively, base flow at Peachtree Creek (left picture) is around 2. 5 feet, with a streamflow of about 25 cfs. 

Some of the houses on the street bordering Peachtree Creek were built before much of the land area upstream of this site was covered in impervious material (pavement, roads, etc). More impervious surfaces is a cause for higher flood levels during very heavy rains and these houses experienced flooded households multiple times. The result is that many of the houses were actually raised up on stilts, meaning the homeowners have to climb 10 feet of stairs to get to their front doors .... but at least their first-floor furniture stays dry.

Debris and trees clog upstream part of a highway bridge crossing Peachtree Creek, Atlanta, Ga.
July 10, 2003

Peachtree Creek at Atlanta (USGS 02336300) Water Monitoring Site

Floods are powerful natural mechanisms that can move large amounts of debris seemingly easily. This picture shows the upstream side of a major highway bridge crossing Peachtree Creek in Atlanta, Ga. Looks like flood-borne trees and other debris that have gotten stuck on bridge components has caused a major infrastruture problem that will have be cleaned up. 

 

Cane Creek Reservoir, Orange County, NC, 2003.
August 15, 2003

Cane Creek Reservoir, Orange County, NC, 2003. 

cientists collecting bed-sediment samples from Suwanee Creek, Georgia
May 23, 2007

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists collecting bed-sediment samples from Suwanee Creek, Gwinnett County, Georgia, on May 23, 2007. 

USGS scientists collecting water samples from a lake.
2007 (approx.)

USGS scientists collecting water samples on the Upper Mississippi River.

Sampling for  batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), organism that causes Chytrid disease in amphibians.
April 30, 2009

Sampling for batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), Little Ugly Creek, Cahaba National Wildlife Refuge, Bibb County, Alabama 

Dan Calhoun, USGS, is sampling the stream for the organism that causes Chytrid disease in amphibians. This project is part of the USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative

The U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) began in 2000 with the goal of determining the status and trends of amphibian populations throughout the U.S. The program was designed to provide information useful in determining causes of declines or other changes in population distributions and is divided geographically into seven regions with herpetologists and hydrologists assigned to each region. The ARMI Southeastern Region consists of North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Personnel in the South Atlantic Water Science Center - Georgia are responsible for collecting and analyzing hydrologic and water-quality data associated with amphibian monitoring sites that are primarily located on Department of Interior lands including one national park and eight national wildlife refuges. The southeastern U.S. has the highest diversity and abundance of amphibians nationally, with over 140 known species and as many as one million amphibians per square kilometer.

Since 2000, water-quality data have been collected at selected amphibian sampling locations to support understanding of the occurrence and long-term changes in amphibian populations. Data were collected in vernal pools, streams, springs, and subterranean pools and streams. Field parameters included field measurements of water temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, specific conductance, and turbidity and laboratory analyses of major ions, nutrients, and metals. Most sites were sampled for organic carbon and a few sites were sampled for pesticides. Since 2007, many sites have been sampled for the chytridiomycosis causing fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a pathogen that can cause high mortality in amphibians and has been identified as a major cause of amphibian declines worldwide.

This photograph is from an album on Flickr.com about Chytrid Sampling.

July 30, 2009

SC Water Science Center Director Eric W. Strom discusses USGS water science programs in South Carolina, as interviewed by SC Public Radio "Your Day" host, Donna London.

Ryan Rasmussen and Cassandra Pfeifle, Hydrologic Technicians, collect samples at Little River Reservoir, 2009.
August 19, 2009

Ryan Rasmussen and Cassandra Pfeifle, Hydrologic Technicians, collect samples at Little River Reservoir, 2009. 

September 1, 2009

South Carolina Water Science Center Surface Water Specialist Paul Conrads discusses USGS storm-surge monitoring techniques changes since Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

September 2009 Flooding Chattahoochee River near Whitesburg (02338000)
September 14, 2009

Epic September 2009 Flooding
Chattahoochee River near Whitesburg (02338000)

September 15, 2009

USGS North Carolina Water Science Center Director Jerad Bales discusses Hurricane Floyd and flood impacts on North Carolina in 1999.

USGS hydrographer preparing to measure streamflow at the Chattahoochee River, GA below Morgan Falls Dam water-monitoring site.
September 21, 2009

Many days of continuous heavy rain in mid-September have resulted in flooding in many parts of Georgia, especially in north Georgia and the Atlanta region. These rains have been producing streamflows of record proportions.

Here, a USGS hydrographer is preparing to measure streamflow at the Chattahoochee River below Morgan Falls Dam water-monitoring site, Fulton County, Georgia.

Epic Georgia 2009 flooding - Allatoona River
September 21, 2009

Many days of continuous heavy rain in mid-September have resulted in flooding in many parts of Georgia, especially in north Georgia and the Atlanta region. These rains have been producing streamflows of record proportions.

 

USGS scientists working during the epic September 2009 flood in Georgia. Power Springs Creek (02336870)
September 21, 2009

Epic Flooding in Georgia, 2009

Metropolitan Atlanta—September 2009 Floods

  • The epic floods experienced in the Atlanta area in September 2009 were extremely rare. Eighteen streamgages in the Metropolitan Atlanta area had flood magnitudes much greater than the estimated 0.2-percent (500-year) annual exceedance probability.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported that 23 counties in Georgia were declared disaster areas due to this flood and that 16,981 homes and 3,482 businesses were affected by floodwaters. Ten lives were lost in the flood. 
  • The total estimated damages exceed $193 million (H.E. Longenecker, Federal Emergency Management Agency, written commun., November 2009).
  • On Sweetwater Creek near Austell, Ga., just north of Interstate 20, the peak stage was more than 6 feet higher than the estimated peak stage of the 0.2-percent (500-year) flood. Flood magnitudes in Cobb County on Sweetwater, Butler, and Powder Springs Creeks greatly exceeded the estimated 0.2-percent (500-year) floods for these streams.
  • In Douglas County, the Dog River at Ga. Highway 5 near Fairplay had a peak stage nearly 20 feet higher than the estimated peak stage of the 0.2-percent (500-year) flood.
  • On the Chattahoochee River, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) gage at Vinings reached the highest level recorded in the past 81 years. Gwinnett, De Kalb, Fulton, and Rockdale Counties also had record flooding.

USGS Role During the Floods

  • One of the primary missions of the USGS is the measurement and documentation of the magnitude and extent of hydrologic hazards, such as floods, droughts, and hurricane storm surge.
  • In Georgia, the USGS maintains a network of more than 300 streamgages that provide data in real time via the Internet. Data from these stream gages are used by local, State, and Federal officials for numerous purposes, including public safety, National Weather Service (NWS) flood forecasting, and to aid emergency management officials in making informed decisions before, during, and after flood events.
  • During these two flood events, USGS personnel made more than 100 discrete flood measurements, performed extensive ongoing analysis of ratings and flood frequency, collected water-quality samples in flooded areas, and provided routing briefings to USGS Headquarters, NWS, local government officials, and the press.
Peachtree Creek, Atlanta, Ga. Sept 2009-Epic flooding results in water overwashing a bridge over the creek.
September 22, 2009

Epic flooding conditions at Peachtree Creek, Atlanta, Ga., September 2009.

The picture was taken during the epic September 2009 flooding event, which caused the creek to peak at a 23 foot stage. In this flood, the high water did not happen becuase of the usual circumstances - rain falling upstream of the site accumulating and flowing downstream to this site. Here, Peachtree Creek flows into the Chattahoochee River, a few miles downstream. But, so much rain fell in the Chattahoochee basin that the Chattahoochee River rose so high that the water from Peachtree Creek was backed up. In other words instead of water from Peachtree Creek flowing into the Chattahoochee River, water from the Chattahoochee River flowed "upstream" in Peachtree Creek, thus causing flooding.

In the background to the left is the (flooded) USGS water-monitoring equipment. 

Peachtree Creek is a major tributary to the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, Ga. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been monitoring stream stage and streamflow at or near the Northside Drive gage location since 1958. 

Peachtree Creek, Atlanta, Ga. water monitoring site showing USGS monitoring equipment.
September 23, 2009

Peachtree Creek at Atlanta (USGS 02336300) Water Monitoring Site

There are many pieces of equipment, both mechanical and electronic, that are installed at the Peachtree Creek monitoring site to measure, record, and transmit both water-quantity and water-quality information. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) monitors "real-time" streamflow and water-quality conditions for thousands of streams nationwide and in Georgia. USGS has continously monitored streamflow at Peachtree Creek since 1958 and has recently begun monitoring water-quality parameters. It is important to monitor water quality not only to establish baseline water-quality information about Peachtree Creek, but also to allow for timely notification when water quality changes.

Water-quality monitoring instrumentation

Like other streams in urban settings, Peachtree Creek is affected by the pressures of urban development, and thus, the potential for water-quality problems are high. Possible sources of problems are:

  • Sediment runoff from construction sites
  • Potential pollution from runoff from roads and parking lots
  • Inflow of warmer water from impervious surfaces (roads, parking lots)
  • Fertilizer (nitrogen and phosphorus) runoff from yards and gardens
  • Bacteria and pathogens from animal and human wastes
  • Runoff containing pesticides and pharmaceutical residue
  • Industrial wastes
  • Trash

 

October 18, 2009

USGS North Carolina Water Quality Specialist Mary Georgino discusses The Triangle Area Water Supply Monitoring Project.

Water quality sampling, Sope Creek near Atlanta, Georgia.
October 18, 2009

Water quality sampling in a creek, Atlanta, Georgia
——————————————————————————

Scientists from the USGS South Atlantic Water Science Center are sampling Sope Creek, Cobb County, west of Atlanta, Georgia. 

Chemical and physical consituents can vary from bank to bank even in a small creek like this. Just taking a single sample from a chosen horizontal and vertical point in the creek would not give accurate information about the water quality of the creek as a whole. Thus, samples are taken at various horizontal intervals across the creek and also in a continuous vertical column, from the surface down to the river bed. The scientist on the left is holding a churn, where all the water samples are dumped into and sufficiently mixed before a single bottle is taken (which is representative of the creek as a whole).

October 18, 2009

USGS South Carolina Water Science Center Research Ecologist Dr. Paul Bradley discusses USGS Toxic Substances Research on emerging contaminants in rivers and streams.

January 26, 2010

USGS South Carolina Water Science Center Data Chief, John Shelton in a special hydrologic expedition down the Congo River, West Africa. Part one of a three part episode, sets the stage for the trials and tribulations of water investigations for a changing world.

January 26, 2010

USGS North Carolina Data Chief, Jeanne Robbins, provides an overview on hydrologic data collection techniques for North Carolina.

April 30, 2010

USGS Water Quality Specialist Celeste Journey discusses Geosmin. What is it? What
causes it? and Will it harm you?

June 2, 2010

Development can have negative effects on streams in urban and suburban areas. As a watershed becomes covered with pavement, sidewalks, and other types of urban land cover, stream organisms are confronted with an increased volume of storm water runoff, increased exposure to fertilizers and pesticides, and dramatic changes in physical living spaces within the stream itself. In this episode, USGS scientist Jerry McMahon describes two take home messages for managers.

July 12, 2010

USGS South Carolina Water Science Center Data Chief, John Shelton in a special hydrologic expedition down West Africa's Congo River. In part two of this three part episode John describes the trials and tribulations of data collection on the Congo River.

March 6, 2011

Groundwater is not a single vast pool of underground water; rather, it is contained within a variety of aquifer systems. Each of these aquifers has its own set of questions and challenges. From large drawdowns in the Great Plains aquifer to arsenic in some wells in New England, this episode of CoreCast highlights six different USGS groundwater studies all across the United States.

April 18, 2011

USGS South Carolina Water Science Center Data Chief, John Shelton in a special hydrologic expedition down the Congo River, West Africa. Part three of the three part episode, reveals a hydrologic data set that changed the world record books.

May 10, 2011

Faith Fitzpatrick (U.S. Geological Survey) describes how urban development affects aquatic habitat in streams, and how stream rehabilitation efforts across the USA are improving urban stream habitat and improving people's connection to their urban streams.

May 10, 2011

Faith Fitzpatrick (U.S. Geological Survey) outlines the importance of habitat to the health of streams and shows examples of connecting people to urban streams through rehabilitation efforts across the USA. (5 minute version)

May 12, 2011

An update on USGS Water activities in South Carolina as SC Water Science Center Director Eric Strom is interviewed by SC Public Radio ‘Your Day’ host, Donna London.

May 18, 2011

Tom Cuffney and Song Qian describe their U.S. Geological Survey research on the effects of urbanization on stream ecology, while fly fishing.

September 5, 2011

North Carolina, like many years before, is responding to flooding in the East and drought in the West. Holly Weyers, USGS North Carolina Water Science Center Director, discusses these extreme events.

Crop dusting is one technique used to spread pesticides on agricultural lands in the Albemarle Sound region.
June 4, 2012

Albemarle Sound National Monitoring Network Pilot

Albemarle Monitoring: Organics

Crop dusting is one technique used to spread pesticides on agricultural lands
in the Albemarle Sound region.

September 20, 2012

Kitty Kolb, a geographer for the U.S. Geological Survey North Carolina Water Science Center, had a lot of fun last year working with the hydrologic benchmark monitoring team in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During her day, Kitty worked to collect algae and aquatic insect larvae. The team counted the different species of fish found in the streams to help them understand the habitat of the park.

Source and disposition of water, North Carolina, 2010
2012 (approx.)

This diagram uses a "cylinder and pipe" layout to show the source (surface water or groundwater) of the North Carolina's freshwater and for what purposes the water was used in 2010. The data are broken out for each category of use by surface water and groundwater as the source. The top row of cylinders represents where America's freshwater came from (source) in 2010, either from surface water (blue) or from groundwater (brown). The pipes leading out of the surface-water and groundwater cylinders on the top row and flowing into the bottom rows of cylinders (green) show the categories of water use where the water was sent after being withdrawn from a river, lake, reservoir, or well. Each green cylinder represents a category of water use.

Source and use of freshwater, South Carolina, 2010
2012 (approx.)

This diagram uses a "cylinder and pipe" layout to show the source (surface water or groundwater) of the North Carolina's freshwater and for what purposes the water was used in 2010. The data are broken out for each category of use by surface water and groundwater as the source. The top row of cylinders represents where America's freshwater came from (source) in 2010, either from surface water (blue) or from groundwater (brown). The pipes leading out of the surface-water and groundwater cylinders on the top row and flowing into the bottom rows of cylinders (green) show the categories of water use where the water was sent after being withdrawn from a river, lake, reservoir, or well. Each green cylinder represents a category of water use.

Source and use of freshwater, Georgia, 2010
2012 (approx.)

This diagram uses a "cylinder and pipe" layout to show the source (surface water or groundwater) of the North Carolina's freshwater and for what purposes the water was used in 2010. The data are broken out for each category of use by surface water and groundwater as the source. The top row of cylinders represents where America's freshwater came from (source) in 2010, either from surface water (blue) or from groundwater (brown). The pipes leading out of the surface-water and groundwater cylinders on the top row and flowing into the bottom rows of cylinders (green) show the categories of water use where the water was sent after being withdrawn from a river, lake, reservoir, or well. Each green cylinder represents a category of water use.

Hydrologist calibrating a station
March 19, 2013

Hydrologist calibrating a station at Lake Mattamuskeet

Hydrologist servicing a station
March 19, 2013

Hydrologist servicing a station on Lake Mattamuskeet

April 14, 2013

Melinda Chapman and Sharon Fitzgerald discuss the U.S. Geological Survey groundwater sampling program to characterize water-suppy well water quality in the area of North Carolina with potential for shale gas production. The sampling program is designed to provide a pre-devolpment baseline that can be compared with well-water quality after shale gas development has occurred to assess any impacts on water quality.

April 14, 2013

Melinda Chapman and Sharon Fitzgerald discuss the U.S. Geological Survey quality control and quality assurance for the USGS groundwater sampling program to characterize water-suppy well water quality in the area of North Carolina with potential for shale gas production. The sampling program is designed to provide a pre-devolpment baseline that can be compared with well-water quality after shale gas development has occurred to assess any impacts on water quality.

Government agencies working together
August 16, 2013

USGS and FWS working together at Lake Mattamuskeet

Stream Ecosystems Change With Urban Development
November 14, 2013

Stream Ecosystems Change With Urban Development

The healthy condition of the physical living space in a natural stream—defined by unaltered hydrology (streamflow), high diversity of habitat features, and natural water chemistry—supports diverse biological communities with aquatic species that are sensitive to disturbances.

In a highly degraded urban stream, the poor condition of the physical living space—streambank and tree root damage from altered hydrology, low diversity of habitat, and inputs of chemical contaminants—contributes to biological communities with low diversity and high tolerance to disturbance.

Map of monitoring locations on Lake Mattamuskeet
May 14, 2015

Map of monitoring locations on Lake Mattamuskeet

Aerial picture of Atlanta, Georgia showing paved areas, an example of impervious surfaces.
2016 (approx.)

Impervious Surfaces and Flooding

If you are not familiar with the term "impervious surface," this picture of a typical landscape in suburban Atlanta, Georgia, USA, will help explain it. As cities grow and more development occurs, the natural landscape is replaced by roads, buildings, housing developments, and parking lots. The metro Atlanta region has experienced explosive growth over the last 50 years, and, along with it, large amounts of impervious surfaces have replaced the natural landscape.

Impervious surfaces can have an effect on local streams, both in water quality and streamflow and flooding characteristics. In areas that have a lot of impervious areas, more runoff water enters local streams and also enters at a faster rate, which can result in local flooding. Water-quality problems can occur from development which disturbs the natural landscape. For example, if development is occuring alongside a tributary and proper sediment controls are not taken, then after a rainstorm, sediment-laden water from a tributary can contribute large amounts of sediment into larger rivers.

Learn more:

Pictures comparing a freshwater spring during normal groundwater levels and during a drought, when groundwater levels had fallen
July 19, 2016

Comparison of water from an underground spring in Georgia  during non-drought and drought periods.
Radium Springs, Albany, Georgia, USA

Freshwater springs on the land's surface are fed by groudwater findings its way to the surface. But, groundwater levels go up and down depending on the supply of water from precipitation and flow through the ground. During a drought, groundwater levels can fall, which affects the water coming to the surface in the spring. 

As this picture shows, during non-drought periods clear freshwater flows to the land surface, as the left side picture shows. The right side picture was taken when a drought affected Georgia. Groundwater levels fell to a level that no longer "fed" the spring, resulting in a stagnant pond.

• Learn more about springs.

Suspended sediment from a tributary can affect water quality of a receiving river.
2016 (approx.)

Sediment-Laden Tributary Entering a Clearer River

In this picture, sediment-laden water from a inflow tributary stream is entering a much clearer river, the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Just like all rivers, the Chattahoochee River has a main stem with tributaries coming into it at various points along its path. These tributaries contribute water to the main-stem flow. The watersheds of the tributaries may drain landscape that is very different in nature, and espeically in land use, than the basin of the main-stem river, and thus, water from tributaries can alter the water characteristics and water quality of the main river as it flows towards the oceans. As this picture shows, a tributary can contribute large amounts of sediment to a larger river.

A situation like this can be a result of construction occuring in the watershed surrounding the tributary along with occurrence of a large rainstorm. If proper sediment-trapping systems were not used, then rainfall runoff could wash large amounts of sediment into the tributary, where it eventually will flow into the main stem of the Chattahoochee River. These events could occur many miles away and affect the water quality far downstream.

Learn more:

Tidal Marshland in the Plum Island Estuary, Massachusetts
2016 (approx.)

Tidal Marshland in the Plum Island Estuary, Massachusetts

The marshes of Plum Island Estuary are among those predicted by scientists to submerge during the next century under conservative projections of sea-level rise. Many coastal wetlands worldwide-including several on the U.S. Atlantic coast—may be more sensitive than previously thought to climate change and sea-level rise projections for the 21st century.

Several coastal marshes along the east coast of the United States, for example, have limited sediment supplies and are likely to disappear this century. Vulnerable east coast marshes include the Plum Island Estuary (the largest estuary in New England) and coastal wetlands in North Carolina's Albemarle-Pamlico Sound (the second-largest estuary in the United States).

Credit: Matthew Kirwan, USGS