Powell150 1869-2019: John Wesley Powell's Legacy of USGS Exploration

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In 2019, the USGS Youth & Education in Science (YES) team marked the 150th anniversary of the first John Wesley Powell expedition down ~1000 miles of the Green & Colorado rivers with a national-scale educational project known as "Powell150." Educational resources about the science along the rivers and a social media campaign around the theme of exploration were developed to engage youth and the public. The project included a partnership with the Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition (SCREE) where small groups of interdisciplinary USGS staff participated in a trip down Powell's path, sharing their experiences online and with their local communities after their time on the river. Learn more at: www.usgs.gov/Powell150


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Length: 00:06:13

Location Taken: US


Powell 150

1869-2019: John Wesley Powell’s Legacy of Exploration at USGS

In 1869, Civil War veteran and geologist, John Wesley Powell, led a crew of ten men on a  ~1000-mile river expedition into the “Great Unknown.” Over 94 days, Powell and his crew floated from Green River Station (now Wyoming) to the mouth of the Virgin River (now Nevada) through a wild, unmapped system of river canyons. The goals of the expedition were to take scientific measurements, chart the region, and fill gaps in the Nation’s maps. Powell began with ten men in four boats. Only six men and two boats made it to the journey’s end. Powell later became one of the founders of the United States Geological Survey and served as its second Director (1881-1894).

Today, the USGS has scientists and support staff in all 50 U.S. states and territories. The USGS specializes in the scientific studies of Earth, including water, mapping, natural hazards, ecosystems, energy, minerals, and environmental health. Today, the Survey continues Powell’s legacy of providing sound science to policy makers: Science for a Changing World.

In 2019, 150 years after Powell’s expedition, the USGS partnered with the Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition to recreated Powell’s historic journey. The Youth & Education in Science (YES) team led the USGS effort, using the theme of exploration to share USGS science with the public. In total, 28 people from different areas of expertise across the Bureau participated in the expedition, covering every segment. From technicians to the USGS Director, the participants represented a diverse, interdisciplinary group of USGS personnel. This expedition provided a unique opportunity for scientists from around the country to engage with new colleagues. For 70 days, the participants collaborated on basin-wide projects, collecting data for educational purposes. Over the course of ~1000 river miles, they conducted bat, bird, and aquatic surveys, studied the water, and made observations of riparian vegetation, geology, and landforms. The YES team participated in four outreach events along the journey. These event hosted keynote speakers and youth activities and were aimed to inform the general public about the current state of the Colorado River Basin. The USGS used this platform to engage the public using #PaperPowell and other social media campaigns.

“This is our Flat Powell, or Paper, Powell. This is our representation of John Wesley Powell accompanying us down the rivers so we can pay tribute and to recognize that we’re all here largely because of this fellow.”

“This is John Wesley Powell. The 150th anniversary of his travels down the Colorado.”