Science Center Objects

For big game, USGS research on migrating animals interacting with housing and energy development suggests that this development and change to migration routes can alter optimal foraging. Continued energy development will lead to the loss of the foraging benefit of migration. 

Each project below is associated with a type of energy production or transmission. Types of energy production or transmission are represented by the following icons:

Energy, Oil and Gas, and Offshore wind energy icons

Abbreviations used in project descriptions are defined on the Energy and Wildife Abbrevations page.

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Oil and gas extraction icon

Distribution and Abundance of Pacific Walrus in Relation to Offshore Development in Alaska

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Increasing ice-free periods in the Arctic creates greater opportunities for offshore oil and gas development in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska. These activities, and their reliance on onshore infrastructure and shipping, require information on the distribution of Pacific walrus and their habitats to identify ways for industry to operate effectively while meeting conservation goals set by government agencies. USGS scientists developed novel satellite radio tracking devices to map feeding areas used by walruses. These maps are used by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard for managing vessel transit corridors. Scientists are now developing ways to use unmanned aircraft systems to estimate the abundance and distribution of Pacific walruses and their habitats in the Chukchi Sea. These studies have informed incidental take regulations and mitigation measures that can guide offshore development in minimizing interactions with walrus foraging and resting areas.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Florida Manatee Movement and Habitat Use in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

USGS scientists are investigating the distribution of Florida manatees and their habitats and travel corridors in the northern GOM. Health assessments were performed on manatees known to travel to the northern GOM, and GPS tracking devices that provide telemetry to acquire fine-scale habitat use and movement were attached to the mammals. Scientists are also conducting field studies to characterize local resources in areas that support manatee habitat or consistent use. This information is being used to inform the risk of interactions between manatees and vessels traveling to and from oil and gas structures.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species

Science Center and Cooperative Research Unit: Wetland and Aquatic Research CenterSouth Carolina Cooperative Fish and Research Unit

The Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species, or GoMMAPPS, is a multiagency partnership between BOEM, USFWS, NOAA, NOPP, and USGS with the goal of conducting broad-scale surveys of protected species to inform managers on the distribution and abundance of marine animals across seasons and years. USGS is leading efforts to provide information to GoMMAPPS on abundance, distribution, and movement patterns of sea turtles and seabirds. Some of the largest gaps in knowledge of marine turtle and seabird ecology occur in areas of heavy oil and gas use, including BOEM’s GOM Central and Western Planning Areas. Information generated by the USGS and its GoMMAPPS partners can be used in support of various BOEM/BSEE activities, including oil spill risk analysis, decommissioning of oil platforms, and movements of vessels.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Gulf Watch Alaska Program for Quantifying Coastal Marine Ecosystem Change

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Oil and gas development and transportation activities are major components of Alaska’s economy, and some of these activities occur along Alaska’s coasts. The USGS is engaged in a collaborative marine monitoring program, Gulf Watch Alaska, which documents the status, variation over time, and underlying drivers of change in Alaska’s coastal marine ecosystems. This work quantifies the abundance, distribution, and change in hundreds of marine species, including many of high interest to management agencies. The USGS has been heavily involved in studies documenting the effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill on the recovery of the wildlife population. This work provides a context for understanding the potential response of marine ecosystems to energy development relative to other sources of change.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Measuring the Impacts of Industrial Activities on Polar Bears

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS scientists are characterizing change in the abundance, distribution, and health of polar bears relative to human activities in the Arctic. These studies emphasize the identification of critical habitats potentially at risk of disturbance from industrial activities along Alaska’s arctic coast. This work has informed efforts of U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) agencies and industry when considering the consequences of oil spills and exposures to pollutants and actions to mitigate such occurrences. The USGS continues to work closely with DOI and industry partners to identify circumstances in which industrial activities likely adversely affect polar bears. Future work is expected to focus on the potential for resource development activities on land and offshore to directly and indirectly benefit polar bear behavior and health.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Migration Corridors for Big Game

Cooperative Research Unit: Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

As habitat loss and fragmentation increase across ungulate ranges, identifying and prioritizing migration routes for land-use planning and conservation has taken on a new urgency. Research attention is currently focused on determining whether continued energy development will lead to the loss of the foraging benefit of migration. USGS research in Wyoming has advanced our understanding of the importance of migration for large ungulates in the West, specifically quantifying how migrating animals track spring green-up during migration, a behavior termed “surfing the green wave.” Research on corridors in which migrating animals interact with housing and energy development suggests that the resulting behavioral modifications can alter optimal foraging. In collaboration with Federal, State, and university partners, USGS has developed the Migration Mapper software that provides a step-by-step analysis to map migration corridors from the underlying GPS locations. Resulting corridor maps can easily be made available for managers, policymakers, land trusts, sportsmen’s groups, and other NGOs to use in conservation planning. A current effort is underway, through USGS-led regional workshops, to train wildlife managers from Western States to analyze migration data, and USGS continues to develop tools and methods necessary to identify opportunities to enhance conservation and management of ungulate migration corridors.

 

Collage of mammals affected by energy development

From left: Elk grazing (Credit: Danielle Brigida, USFWS). Manatee (Credit: Nick Aumen, USGS). Mule Deer (Credit: Shelley Koerner, USFWS). Polar Bear (Credit: Mario Hoppmann, NASA). Pronghorn (Credit: Tom Koerner, USFWS). (Public domain.)

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Mitigating the Impacts of Energy Development on Polar Bears

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS works closely with other DOI agencies to identify science needed to inform actions that mitigate the impacts of energy development on polar bears. Information generated by USGS scientists is used by USFWS to guide regulations regarding the incidental take of polar bears by industry, BOEM to guide decisions regarding permitting of offshore oil and gas exploration and extraction, and BLM to mitigate the effects of energy development on polar bears that den within NPR–A. USGS work is focusing on improving decision-making tools for these agencies to assess the relative importance of environmental and anthropogenic stressors to polar bears.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Survey Data

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS produced the North Pacific Pelagic Seabird Database, an online resource compiling the results of 40 years of bird surveys from the United States, Canada, Japan, and Russia. The database documents the abundance and distribution of 160 seabird and 41 marine mammal species over a 26-million-square-kilometer, or 10-million-square-mile, region of the North Pacific. This database is a powerful tool for analysis and mitigation of anthropogenic effects on marine ecosystems of the Arctic and North Pacific, including the impacts of oil development and production, fisheries, and vessel traffic. Use of this tool also provides an unprecedented opportunity to study the biogeography and marine ecology of dozens of species of seabirds and marine mammals throughout their range in Continental Shelf waters of the United States.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Oil and Gas Development Influences on Big Game Hunting in Wyoming 

Science Center: Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center

To better understand how oil and gas development affects big game hunting, USGS scientists examined the influence of oil and gas development density on harvest efficiency within all hunting areas in Wyoming from 2008 to 2014 for three big-game species: elk, mule deer, and pronghorn. The presence of oil and gas wells had a positive influence on harvest efficiency for elk and mule deer. Although there was no overall effect to pronghorn, there was a negative influence of wells on juvenile pronghorn harvest efficiency. Changes in harvest efficiency due to expanding oil and gas development could alter the amount of time hunters spend hunting and their chances of harvesting an animal, which could have subsequent impacts on hunter satisfaction, game populations, and economic revenue generated by recreational hunters.

 

Offshore wind and oil and gas extraction icons

Pacific Marine Bird and Mammal Research and Monitoring Programs

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

USGS and partners have gathered information about marine bird and mammal research and monitoring programs into an online database to support environmental risk assessments for species and habitats sensitive to offshore energy activities in the southern California and Washington-Oregon Planning Areas and the Hawaiian OCS of BOEM. The database includes information from programs that assessed distribution, abundance, and biology of marine birds, such as seabirds, waterbirds, sea ducks, or shorebirds, and marine mammals, such as cetaceans, pinnipeds, or sea otters. Much of the information focuses on species protected under the Endangered Species or Marine Mammal Protection Acts. This database can be easily updated as new information becomes available.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Pygmy Rabbit Distribution and Abundance Relative to Energy Development in Wyoming

Science Center: Fort Collins Science Center

Pygmy rabbits rely on sagebrush for both food and cover year-round and are sensitive to oil and gas development. Pygmy rabbits are a species of conservation concern in several States. In Wyoming, USGS scientists are investigating the influence of oil and gas development on pygmy rabbit populations. This research can help determine the distribution of pygmy rabbit habitat relative to ongoing oil and gas well development and how far from the nearest well pad, road, or pipelines pygmy rabbit presence and abundance may be affected. The scientists anticipate expanding this work to other States where pygmy rabbits and energy development co-occur. This information can help inform the development of future oil and gas fields and reduce the effects of disturbance on pygmy rabbits and other sagebrush obligate wildlife.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Quantifying the Response of Pacific Walrus to Ocean Noise in the Arctic

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Walruses spend the majority of their time in water, where their underwater acoustic environment enables them to communicate with one another using sound and thus respond to disturbance. USGS scientists are using telemetry data and remote sensing information of sea ice and other environmental variables to study the effects of ocean noise from vessel traffic and offshore industrial activities on Pacific walrus activity patterns. Models are being developed to link levels of activity patterns to walrus energy expenditures and their potential effect on walrus rates of reproduction and survival. The results of these studies can be used to quantify the potential population-level impacts to walruses from offshore oil and gas development and associated support vessels off the coast of arctic Alaska.

 

Electric Generation Icon

Science to Support the Transition of Florida Manatees to Natural Warm-Water Sites

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

A large segment of the Florida manatee population uses warm-water effluents of coastal powerplants as a winter refuge. The power industry in Florida is working with USFWS and USGS in support of manatee research and protection measures as it upgrades powerplant operations and reduces warm-water effluents year-round. USGS scientists are developing models that estimate manatee survival and movement of individuals among warm-water sites. These models can be used by USFWS and industry to inform implementation of the warm-water action plan.

 

Offshore wind power icon

Southern California Marine Bird and Mammal Surveys

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

The Southern California Bight and the Pacific OCS biome off the central coast of California support a diverse assemblage of marine birds and mammals. This area supports substantial global populations of several species, including black storm-petrel, brown pelican, Scripps’s murrelet, elegant tern, and approximately half of the world population of endemic ashy storm-petrels. USGS scientists are conducting aerial surveys and developing new techniques to provide updated status and distribution of seabirds and marine mammals in areas where renewable energy projects may be proposed and relate this updated information to past surveys.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Summary of Wildlife-Related Research in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS summarized publicly available information from studies within the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as well as terrestrial and coastal ecosystems elsewhere in the Arctic Coastal Plain that are relevant to the 1002 Area. The report provides an update on earlier research summaries on caribou, forage quality and quantity, polar bears, muskoxen, and snow geese, and resources such as forage quality and quantity. The report also includes information on new research related to climate, migratory birds, permafrost, coastal erosion, coastal lagoons, fish, water resources, and the potential effects of industrial disturbance on wildlife.