14 Eye-Opening USGS Images from 2014

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As we wind down 2014, let’s refresh your science trivia knowledge and brighten your eyes and brain with a list of fun facts and gorgeous images from USGS.

As we wind down 2014, let’s refresh your science trivia knowledge and brighten your eyes and brain with a list of fun facts and gorgeous images from USGS.

We’ve picked out a few snapshots and videos from the 2014 year of USGS science — a tiny fraction of all the new discoveries, earthly phenomena, and new publications we worked on this past year. It’s impossible to encompass all that we survey for our nation on this planet and beyond, but we hope you enjoy this little visual morsel before we head into another new year. So let’s get started!

USGS geologist standing near an active lava flow with smoke coming from the lava

After slowly moving downslope from Kīlauea Volcano’s East Rift Zone since June 27, 2014, this active lava flow in Hawaiʻi reached the town of Pāhoa just before Halloween, destroying roads, a cemetery, and private property in this community. Amazingly, the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō vent began erupting in 1983 and has continued erupting essentially nonstop for more than 31 years, though this recent flow was the first to threaten homes since 2012. In this photo from October 26, 2014, a USGS geologist is mapping the margin of the active lava flow in an open field west of the town of Pāhoa; the lava has continued its advance as of December. USGS Hawaiian Volcano ObservatoryPublic domain

1. Hawaiʻi Hot Lava

After slowly moving downslope from Kīlauea Volcano’s East Rift Zone since June 27, 2014, this active lava flow in Hawaiʻi reached the town of Pāhoa just before Halloween, destroying roads, a cemetery, and private property in this community. Amazingly, the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō vent began erupting in 1983 and has continued erupting essentially nonstop for more than 31 years, though this recent flow was the first to threaten homes since 2012. In this photo from October 26, 2014, a USGS geologist is mapping the margin of the active lava flow in an open field west of the town of Pāhoa; the lava has continued its advance as of December. (Photo by USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory)

Stay tuned to the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in January 2015 when they host the annual “Volcano Awareness Month” with many public education events on the Island of Hawaiʻi.

 

scientist shown taking a lava temp using a heat shield

In this photo, a USGS researcher is taking a temperature measurement on a sluggish channel eddy on Kīlauea Volcano in 1984. The research in Hawaiʻi is just one of many projects overseen by the USGS Volcano Hazards Program, which monitors active and potentially active volcanoes, assesses their hazards, responds to volcanic crises, and conducts research on how volcanoes work.P.W. Lipman, USGS

2. Volcano #TBT

If you can stand the heat, study geology! USGS is responsible for issuing “timely warnings” of potential volcanic hazards to emergency-management authorities and to the populace affected. In this photo, a USGS researcher is taking a temperature measurement on a sluggish channel eddy on Kīlauea Volcano in 1984. The research in Hawaiʻi is just one of many projects overseen by the USGS Volcano Hazards Program, which monitors active and potentially active volcanoes, assesses their hazards, responds to volcanic crises, and conducts research on how volcanoes work.

If you’ve been following USGS on Instagram in 2014, then you’ve already seen this crazy classic photo we posted in August as part of the “Throwback Thursday” meme. Follow us on our social media accounts like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to keep up with our science photos and videos — as well as glimpses from the past. (Photo by P.W. Lipman/USGS)

 

Video Transcript

Magnitude 9.2: The 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake is a short video relating how the largest quake in U.S. history had profound and lasting impacts on our lives. The video features USGS geologist George Plafker who, in the 1960's, correctly interpreted the quake as a subduction zone event. This was a great leap forward in resolving key mechanisms of the developing theory of plate tectonics. Loss of life and destruction from the quake and accompanying tsunamis was the impetus for things like the NOAA Tsunami Warning Centers and the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program.Stephen M. Wessells, U.S. Geological SurveyPublic domain

 

3. The Largest Earthquake in U.S. History

Forget action movies with computer graphics — major earthquakes are a real phenomenon, and they impact real communities across our nation. March 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake, a magnitude 9.2 event that shifted land downward by 8 feet and upward as much as 38 feet in some locations. USGS scientists were immediately at the frontlines in 1964 studying this catastrophic earthquake — which led to some groundbreaking changes in geologic theories and paved the foundation for our current research and monitoring efforts of earthquakes in the United States.

Premiered in January, our documentary video “The Great Alaska Earthquake,” interviews those same USGS scientists and reflects on the scientific and natural hazard response lessons learned from 1964. (Film directed by Stephen Wessells/USGS)

 

 2014 USGS National Seismic Hazard Map, displaying intensity of potential ground shaking from an earthquake in 50 years (which i

4. Will I Be Shaken or Stirred?

In July 2014, USGS updated the U.S. National Seismic Hazard Maps, which reflect the best and most current understanding of where future earthquakes will occur, how often they will occur, and how hard the ground will likely shake as a result. Along with other data, the updates review new information on East Coast earthquakes, new California faults, and human-induced earthquakes, and helps local governments and communities improve public safety, building design, and insurance practices. (Map by USGS Geologic Hazards Science Center)

Earthquakes pose significant hazards to 75 million Americans in 39 States. The USGS has responsibility for recording and reporting earthquake activity nationwide, and also tracks earthquakes worldwide. And while citizens, emergency responders, and engineers rely on the USGS for accurate and timely information on earthquake events, USGS also relies on you, the public — whenever you fill out the Did You Feel It survey online — which provides valuable data on earthquakes to our scientists!

 

Map of yttrium throughout the U.S.

If you’re admiring the glow of LED tree lights or watching your favorite football team on your LED television this winter season, you have yttrium to thank for that. Named in the 1700s after the Swedish village Ytterby, yttrium is one of the “rare earth elements” very much needed for human technology. The elements yttrium, europium, and terbium are used in fluorescent and LED lighting and televisions.In May 2014, USGS scientists finished compiling the Geochemical and Mineralogical Maps for the Soils of the Conterminous U.S. — an extraordinary dataset charting the abundance and distribution of chemical elements and minerals — including yttrium — in soils throughout the lower 48 U.S. states at three different soil horizons. This astounding achievement represents a baseline from which any future changes to our soil chemistry may be detected and measured against — information which can improve our nation’s agriculture, land-use planning, and even law enforcement. Credit: USGS

 

5. Yttrium on the Soles of Your Shoes

If you’re admiring the glow of LED tree lights or watching your favorite football team on your LED television this winter season, you have yttrium to thank for that. Named in the 1700s after the Swedish village Ytterby, yttrium is one of the “rare earth elements” very much needed for human technology. The elements yttrium, europium, and terbium are used in fluorescent and LED lighting and televisions.

In May 2014, USGS scientists finished compiling the Geochemical and Mineralogical Maps for the Soils of the Conterminous U.S. — an extraordinary dataset charting the abundance and distribution of chemical elements and minerals — including yttrium — in soils throughout the lower 48 U.S. states at three different soil horizons. This astounding achievement represents a baseline from which any future changes to our soil chemistry may be detected and measured against — information which can improve our nation’s agriculture, land-use planning, and even law enforcement. (Visualization by USGS Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center)

 

Geological map of Mars

This global geologic map of Mars, which records the distribution of geologic units and landforms on the planet's surface through time, is based on unprecedented variety, quality, and quantity of remotely sensed data acquired since the Viking Orbiters. These data have provided morphologic, topographic, spectral, thermophysical, radar sounding, and other observations for integration, analysis, and interpretation in support of geologic mapping. In particular, the precise topographic mapping now available has enabled consistent morphologic portrayal of the surface for global mapping (whereas previously used visual-range image bases were less effective, because they combined morphologic and albedo information and, locally, atmospheric haze). Also, thermal infrared image bases used for this map tended to be less affected by atmospheric haze and thus are reliable for analysis of surface morphology and texture at even higher resolution than the topographic products. Credit: USGS, Public domain

6. A Cartographer of Mars

In July 2014, USGS completed a global Geologic Map of Mars for our colleagues at NASA. You heard that right — USGS not only creates maps of Earth, but of other planets, too! Using data from the Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey probes, this is the best map currently available of the geologic units and landforms on the Red Planet. (Map by USGS Astrogeology Science Center)

Maps like these are the work of the USGS Astrogeology Research Program, which works with NASA and other institutions to select landing sites, create mission maps, and carry out scientific investigations on planetary missions. So the next time you look at a Martian or Lunar map online or in your hands, squint and see if you can find the USGS name in the map credits!

 

Landsat 7 poster showing three different views of drought conditions over California

After several consecutive years of below-normal precipitation, the U.S. state of California is preparing for its most severe drought emergency in decades. The current drought is due in part to decreased rainfall along with reduced winter snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. In 2013, California received less precipitation than any other year since it became a state in 1850. Water conservation efforts are already in place for many locations. For 2014, there is potential for major agricultural impacts, and the wildfire danger is expected to be unusually high.These three images show a portion of California's Central Valley (left side of the images) and the neighboring Sierra Nevada mountains as viewed by Landsat in February 2011, 2013, and 2014.The decrease of winter snow cover can be seen in this progression of images. The reduction of available water supplies in the Central Valley is also indicated by the changing outlines of Folsom Lake, Camanche Reservoir, and other lakes and reservoirs in the images.The 40-year archive of Landsat imagery is useful for monitoring the changing conditions of Earth's surface areas through time.Public domain

 

7. Watching Over Earth

Of course, USGS is best known for training its eye on the changes and rhythms of Planet Earth. Much of this work is thanks to the Landsat Missions, a joint program between USGS and NASA, wherein the USGS operates satellites that help us scan the Earth’s surface for natural and man-made changes. The first satellite, Landsat 1, was launched in 1972, and the latest mission, Landsat 8, celebrated its first birthday on February 11, 2014.

The Landsat missions have now collected over 42 years of global land imagery data. One benefit of this incredible record is the ability to visualize landscape conditions, such as drought impacts to California. The decrease of winter snow cover in the Sierra Nevada Mountains can be seen in this progression of images, captured by Landsat in February 2011, 2013, and 2014. California is heavily dependent on large Sierra Nevada snowpacks to replenish its annual water supply and sustain its vast agricultural lands and diverse ecosystems, and this satellite record underscores the current water shortage plight of the Golden State. (Image by USGS/NASA)

 

Topo map of Washington D.C. West area

The most downloaded US Topo Map of 2014—the Washington West quadrangle featuring the District of Columbia., USGS

 

8. Top of the Topo

USGS has always been known for its maps, and we are still in the business. However, topographic maps — the essential tool for planners, hikers, emergency response crews, and other professionals and enthusiasts — have caught up with the digital age. US Topo Maps are now delivered in PDF format with geospatial extensions via GeoPDF®, which allows layers of information to be turned on or off, and provides flexible zooming and printing options. Our maps are available as free downloads via the USGS Map Locator at the USGS Store, making it easy for anyone to grab map PDFs for their tablets or smartphones before heading out for some outdoor sightseeing.

And what were the most downloaded US Topo Maps in 2014? At the top is the Washington West quadrangle, featuring the District of Columbia. Other interesting top downloads include Santa Fe, New Mexico; Moab, Utah; Central Park in New York and Yuma in Michigan!

 

 

Image: Time-Lapse of Measuring Streamflow

This time-lapse photo shows the process that U.S. Geological Survey hydrographers use to measure streamflow across the cross-section of a wadeable river. USGS hydrographers follow standard, documented techniques and methods to ensure high-qualtiy, reliable data.Dan Hess, USGS Idaho Water Science CenterPublic domain

9. Attack of the Hydrologist Clones

No, USGS isn’t cloning hydrologists or hiring lesser-known X-Men to do science. This is a time-lapse composite photograph from December showing a USGS technician crossing a stream near Thompson Falls, Montana, to measure water flow at different points across a stream transect. This is just one of the many scientific duties of the USGS Water Mission Area. (Photo by Dan Hess/USGS)

USGS provides NOAA’s National Weather Service with stream data for critical flood warnings. Additionally, these stream surveys allow scientists to compute the streamflow of rivers across the United States, and help with fish habitat restoration, and other ecosystem studies. Advanced computer models and long-term analyses are of little use without the data collected by technicians and scientists working long, hard days in the field!

 

USGS streamgage located on Little Back Creek, Bath, Virginia

USGS streamgage located below the upper reservoir at the pump-storage station on Little Back Creeek, in Bath, Virginia, located in George Washington National Forest.Alan Cressler, USGSPublic domain

 

10. Dreaming of Streams in Green

USGS operates about 7,400 streamgages around the United States, including this gage photographed in August 2014 in the serene, verdant woods of Little Back Creek, located within the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. You can find this photo in the USGS Flickr gallery. (Photo Credit: Alan Cressler/USGS)

Streamgages are operated by the USGS National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP), whose mission is to provide real-time streamflow data to local, state, regional, and national leaders, so communities can continuously monitor changes in their local waters, track drought and flood conditions, and manage accordingly.

 

 

Screenshot from the USGS windFarm map

A screenshot from the USGS's windFarm app, an interactive app mapping wind energy turbines around the U.S., USGS

11. Interactive Energy

Investigating natural sources of energy has always been a task for USGS, helping our nation study and assess the location, quantity, and quality of energy resources, including the economic and environmental effects of resource extraction and use. From the exploration assessment of oil and natural gas to habitat restoration after dam removals, USGS has evolved with the changing needs and considerations of energy use in the United States.

In February 2014, USGS unveiled windFarm, an interactive app mapping wind energy turbines around the United States, visualizing a never-before-assembled national dataset for anyone to access online. Knowing the location of individual turbines, their make, model, height, blade area, and capacity offers important information for land and resource managers and scientists studying wildlife-turbine collisions or interactions between wind turbines and ground-based radar. Click on the link to give it a spin!

 

 

Macrophotograph of the backend of a plain sweat bee

This is the backend of a Lipotriches (Plain Sweat Bee) collected in Australia. This is one of the bees in which the males are known to form sleeping aggregations – small groups to dozens of individuals clustering together on the same twig late in the afternoon and remaining there until after dawn. There may be quite a lot of “jockeying for position” as males alight too close to another individual with low key aggressive interactions. Some clusters might contain more than one species. There has been little research on the reason for this aggregating behavior, although safety in numbers might play a role. Credit: USGS, Public domain

12. Bee Butts Break the Internet?

Not quite, but they are still amazing to look at! This macrophotograph uploaded in November 2014 shows the bee-hind of a “plain sweat bee” (Lipotriches spp.) collected from Australia. This stunning image is part of the collection made by the USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program, which develops identification tools for native bee species in the United States and elsewhere. This virtual museum provides a critical service for scientists studying bees around the world, their role in the pollinating our plants and crops, and why they are suffering from declines. (Photo by USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program)

USGS also manages similar monitoring programs and information hubs on other species issues, including amphibian decline (Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative) and aquatic invasive species (Nonindigenous Aquatic Species).

 

 

This video was edited and compiled from raw footage recorded by a camera equipped radio collar that was put on a female polar bear in the Beaufort Sea during April 2014 by the US Geological Survey. This new type of camera technology was developed by videographer Adam Ravetch with the support of the World Wildlife Fund. The video, which is the first ever from a free-ranging polar bear on Arctic sea ice, shows an interaction with a potential mate, playing with food, and swimming at the water's surface and under the sea ice. These videos will be used by the US Geological Survey in research to understand polar bear behavior and energetics in an Arctic with declining sea ice. Note: Some creative license has been taken to make this footage easier to follow and understand, including playful language that helps describe the polar bear's actions.Paul Laustsen, USGS Office of Communications and PublishingPublic domain

13. From a Polar Bear Point of View

This is no footage from a soda pop television commercial: A USGS researcher attached video cameras to four female polar bears as part of a study on how bears expend their energy. In this video cut we posted online in June 2014, you can see polar bears swim in arctic waters, tackle a dead seal meal — and nuzzle with another bear.

Combined with satellite telemetry data, behavior observations like this help scientists understand how much food and rest bears need to survive, and whether environmental change like decreased sea ice are stressing this threatened species. The ongoing research is part of the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative, one of many USGS research programs on wildlife populations, climate change, and land use change. (Footage by USGS; edited by Stephen Wessells/USGS)

 

Image: Purple Sea Star (Pisaster ochraceus)

Tidepool scenes of vibrantly colored sea stars could become a rarity as the Sea Star Wasting Disease spreads. Kevin Lafferty, USGSPublic domain

 

14. Falling Sea Stars

Tidepool scenes of vibrantly colored sea stars like this one in San Juan Islands, Washington, could become a rare sight as the Sea Star Wasting Disease spreads. The disease causes sea stars to fall apart and disintegrate within days, and has been killing these sea creatures in droves from Mexico to Alaska. In November 2014, a new Cornell University study with assistance from USGS scientists finally pointed to a prime suspect in the deadly epidemic: a previously unknown virus. (Photo by Kevin Lafferty/USGS)

 

Research and monitoring of ecosystem trends, water resources, natural hazards, environmental health, and climate change are important elements of the USGS mission, which has grown from its roots in geology and mapping. Today’s USGS looks much different than the one that began 135 years ago under President Rutherford B. Hayes, and the scientific methods and survey scope our agency is charged with today were probably undreamed of in the 1870s — now in all 50 states and U.S. territories, with partner nations around the world, and on other planetary bodies in the Solar System.

So look around in our changing world — you’ll be surprised where you can find USGS!

Additional assistance by Paul Laustsen, Scott Horvath, Ryan McClymont, Mark Newell, Steve Sobieszczyk, and Amelia Barrales, with material previously written by Leslie Gordon, Alex Demas, Jessica Robertson, Mark Petersen, and other USGS and NASA staff.