USGS End of Year Accomplishments 2020

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A 2020 year in review of the many accomplishments of the US Geological Survey. A year that began with seismic activity in Southwest Puerto Rico, to the first-ever public testing of USGS ShakeAlerts, USGS scientists and technicians helped to track storm data during the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season. Mapping in high resolution the Nation's rivers and streams, to precise maps of the Red Planet. Improved eDNA sample collection for early detection of invasive species, strategies to identify factors that may facilitate the transmission of the infectious chronic wasting disease. Energy assessments from the Marcellus Shale and Point Pleasant-Utica Shale formations of the Appalachian Basin to Alaska's Central North Slope. In 2020, a bold vision for how the USGS will plan, conduct, and deliver science was developed. EarthMap will deliver actionable intelligence to our partners to manage the Nation's natural resources, save lives and property, and promote economic prosperity.


Date Taken:

Length: 00:06:52

Location Taken: US

Video Credits

Narration: Marisa Lubeck Script

Writers: Ryan McClymont, Donyelle Davis. Drew LaPointe

Additional Footage: Josh Miller


2020 has been a busy and productive year for the U.S. Geological Survey. 

We continued our mission by delivering high-quality scientific information to our sister DOI bureaus, other Federal agencies, Tribes, States, municipalities, and the public.


The year began with our response to on-going seismic activity in Southwest Puerto Rico that produced dozens of damaging earthquakes and debris flows.

In partnership with the state of California, we conducted the first-ever statewide public testing of the California Earthquake Early Warning System, powered by USGS ShakeAlerts. These alerts provide residents with critical seconds to take protective action before a quake hits.

In Oregon and Washington, we expanded our National Volcano Early Warning System to deliver life-saving eruption alerts for Americans living near Mount Hood and Mount Rainier.

During the 2020 fire season, we provided real-time situational awareness in the form of imagery, data, and tools, helping land- and resource managers make sound decisions before, during, and after wildland fires.  For example, first responders used USGS maps showing potential for post-fire debris flows to safely stage personnel and equipment.  


The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season was one of the busiest the Nation has faced. We deployed dozens of scientists and technicians along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts to collect valuable data to inform emergency planning and response before, during, and after the storms.

During the coronavirus pandemic, crews kept our network of about 11,300 streamgages working properly.  This information is relied upon by the National Weather Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and FEMA.

Nearly 85% of the Nation’s rivers and streams are now mapped in high resolution. The National Hydrography Dataset, or NHDPlus HR, provides geospatial information that supports decisions about water quality and availability, flood risk management, and coastal change monitoring.

We have developed a Next Generation Water Observing System or NGWOS, which will provide real-time data on water quantity and quality more rapidly and in more locations helping states and municipalities manage water and plan for floods and drought.


Invasive species cost the U.S. more than $1 billion each year.  In 2020, we improved eDNA sample-collection and analysis standards to speed processing and lower costs. We collaborated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to more effectively and efficiently use eDNA for early detection of invasive Asian carp to prevent their establishment in the Great Lakes and to help the National Park Service determine where to focus efforts to control invasive pythons in the Everglades.

The infectious chronic wasting disease is fatal to animals in the deer family. We are developing strategies for early detection and identifying environmental factors that may facilitate transmission. FWS, the NPS, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture use this information to make informed, effective conservation decisions.


The USGS 3D Elevation Program, or 3DEP, worked with partners to acquire nearly 155,000 square miles of high-quality 3D elevation data during 2020, reaching 70% of our goal of nationwide coverage by 2023.

We developed and tested the Landsat 9 ground system in preparation for its launch next year. 2020 also saw completion of the architectural design studies for the Landsat NEXT satellite.

The USGS Landsat data archive provides high-quality images to the public. In March 2020, the archive hit an extraordinary milestone, marking 100 million images downloaded.

When NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars in 2021, it will be equipped with the most precise maps of the Red Planet ever created, ensuring a safe rover landing. 


We assessed oil and gas resources in the Marcellus Shale and Point Pleasant-Utica Shale formations of the Appalachian Basin.  Additional 2020 assessments include the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and adjacent offshore waters in cooperation with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and Alaska’s Central North Slope in support of Secretarial Order 3352.

We partnered with the Department of Energy to map lithium and other rare earth elements and critical mineral resources in western Nevada. These materials are essential for batteries and electronics as well as renewable energy.

Geothermal energy has the potential to be an important source of electric power.  In 2020, we announced a new partnership with DOE to locate undiscovered geothermal resources.


Changes to our Earth systems will create new challenges for the safety, security, and sustainability of our Nation and for the stewardship of land, water, mineral, energy, and ecosystem resources. 

In 2020, we developed a bold vision for how we will plan, conduct, and deliver our science to the Nation in the coming decades.

This 21st Century Science Strategy capitalizes on our multidisciplinary expertise and embraces emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and high-performance and cloud computing.

A key element of this plan is an integrated, predictive science capability called Earth Monitoring, Analyses and Prediction, or EarthMAP.

When fully realized, EarthMAP will enable us to deliver actionable intelligence to our partners at the speed and scales they need to wisely manage the Nation’s natural resources, save lives and property, and promote economic prosperity.  

Looking forward to 2021 and beyond, we will begin implementing our 21st Century Science Strategy.  We will launch an integrated science pilot project in the Colorado River Basin that will engage stakeholders and leverage advanced technologies to deliver answers to the complex earth science questions related to drought.

USGS: providing science for a changing world and leading the way in ensuring the safety, security, and prosperity of American communities for generations to come.