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April 21, 2016

Celebrate Earth Day on April 22! Learn about USGS science for a changing world.

The USGS is joining people across the world to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, 2016. To help build environmental awareness, the USGS has outlined some of the critical issues facing our planet as well as science projects underway to address these challenges. Starting with science provides a valuable foundation for managers, policymakers, and other decision makers to make the most informed decisions to protect our changing world.

Powering Up

Geothermal Energy

Deep within the Earth’s crust lies an extremely important but underutilized renewable energy resource: geothermal energy. In 2008, the USGS released a national assessment of geothermal power resources, showing more than 550,000 Megawatts–electric power–generating potential. Since then, the USGS has continued to research and assess geothermal power potential all over the country.

“Interest in geothermal energy has rapidly grown. Recent permitting activity has seen dozens of applications for geothermal leases. All of this is based on the fundamental resource assessment efforts of the USGS – without that basic research, the benefits of this renewable energy resource would be achieved much more slowly and at much greater expense.” — William Glassley, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of California, Davis


Sea-level Rise

Even small amounts of sea-level rise can have significant societal and economic impacts. Think about coastal erosion, vulnerability to storms, saltwater intruding into groundwater, loss of wetlands, and stresses on infrastructure. Two of the main causes of sea-level rise are the warming of oceans and the melting of land-based ice sheets and glaciers. The USGS calculates coastal vulnerability levels and provides science on historical, present, and potential future conditions. The USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal allows people to visualize these changes.

“The ability to easily locate and access USGS research and data through the new Coastal Change Hazards Portal is of great value for coastal managers. This information directly supports our work with local cities and towns to assess risk and communicate current and future hazards.” — Bruce Carlisle, Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management



Landslides occur in all 50 States and U.S. Territories. Each year they cause fatalities and result in billions of dollars in damage. USGS science helps communities understand their vulnerability and prepare for landslides as well as other natural hazards, such as volcanic eruptions, floods, coastal storms, and earthquakes.

“Snohomish County responded to one of the largest natural disasters we have ever encountered in spring of 2014. Having USGS scientists on site to help guide and advise Public Works was invaluable as we supported search teams working in and around this very large mudslide.” — Steven E. Thomsen, P.E., Public Works Director, Snohomish County, Washington


Water Availability

Water is critical for human consumption, agriculture, energy, and industry; it is fundamental for ecosystem health, biodiversity, and resilience. USGS scientists study all aspects of water, including its quality and quantity, its location and flow, its use, and even its history. The USGS is the primary Federal science agency for water information.

“USGS’s data and information are relied upon by groundwater professionals as they work to meet the Nation’s water supply needs. The planned National Ground Water Monitoring Network data portal will enhance the ease with which USGS data can be integrated with State and other comparable data for informed decision-making.” — Kevin B. McCray, Chief Executive Officer, National Ground Water Association



The USGS delivers unbiased science and information to understand mineral resource potential, production, and consumption, as well as how mineral resources interact with the environment. USGS focuses on helping ensure a sustainable supply of critical minerals, such as rare earth elements, which are vital to supporting the Nation’s economy and security.

“The USGS National Minerals Information Center provides the most comprehensive public data on mineral supply. We use these data sets in our company internal assessment of material supply risk.” — Dr. Anthony Ku, General Electric Global Research



Nations would crumble without pollination by bees, birds, butterflies, bats, and beetles, which provide vital but often invisible services. Wherever flowering plants flourish, pollinators are hard at work. USGS and partners study monarch butterflies, native bees, and other pollinators to help sustain and keep ecosystems resilient. For example, bee pollination is responsible for $15 billion in increased crop value each year in the United States.

“Monarch conservation is a truly intricate issue, requiring consideration of many ecological dimensions. The Monarch Joint Venture is excited that USGS is applying their breadth of science in innovative ways to help manage this iconic species.” — Dr. Karen Oberhauser, Monarch Joint Venture Committee Chair and University of Minnesota Monach Lab Director



Wildfire is an integral part of ecosystem processes, but it poses a significant hazard to human life, property, and natural resources. Based on data from the USGS-NASA Landsat series of earth-observing satellites, fire management agencies are provided with critical information to calculate risk, prevent fires, reduce suppression costs, and restore ecosystems in the aftermath of wildfires.

“Imagery from Landsat allows us to view the extent and severity of current wildfires in the context of fires that have occurred over the lifespan of the Landsat series of satellites. The data derived from Landsat are critical to our efforts to prepare for, respond to, and recover from wildfires across the United States.” — Tom Harbour, National Fire and Aviation Management Director, U.S. Forest Service


Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing—or fracking— involves injecting water, sand, and chemicals at high pressure into wells to increase oil and gas flow. Fracking combined with directional drilling has made “unconventional” resources like shale gas and shale oil among the fastest growing energy sources in the Nation. The USGS researches the formation, occurrence, and exploitation of unconventional oil and gas as well as potential environmental impacts and associated waste disposal activities.

“The Commission utilizes USGS geochemical investigations of produced waters to better understand the impacts associated with natural gas production in the Fayetteville Shale – information that helps inform the general public, and assist policy makers and regulators [to] develop regulations and enforcement of natural gas production in the State of Arkansas.” — Lawrence Bengal, Director, Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission



Imagine if doctors could stop procedures before an earthquake. Imagine if emergency responders had a few extra moments to gear–up, trains could be slowed or stopped, airplane landings could be redirected, and people could move to safer locations. The USGS and its partners are working to develop a prototype Earthquake Early Warning System for the U.S. West Coast, called ShakeAlert.

“Los Angeles is a global city with the Nation’s largest port and greatest seismic risk. Earthquake early warning could not be more imperative for LA, and we are proud to have partnered with the USGS and others to start developing a warning system which stands to save lives and reduce losses.” — Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles, Mayor

Soaked & Dry

Droughts & Floods

Droughts and floods rank first and second, respectively, as the most costly natural hazards the Nation faces. The USGS provides unbiased information about the Nation’s rivers and streams from more than 8,000 carefully sited streamgages and tracks the status of the Nation’s aquifers by monitoring more than 20,000 wells. Reliable and immediate, this information can help save lives and property from floods and help mitigate the costly effects of drought.

“USGS research on the role of atmospheric river storms in contributing to California’s water supply and ending drought cycles has been instrumental in our efforts to find ways to improve seasonal forecasting for drought preparedness.” — Mark Cowin, Director, California Department of Water Resources


Ecosystem Restoration

Healthy ecosystems are critical to life on Earth. They provide habitat, regulate the climate, mitigate floods and drought, and purify air and water. Florida’s Everglades is a major science focus for the USGS. Scientists are helping to understand current threats, predict future changes, and inform management decisions. The American alligator, wading birds, and the Florida panther are examples of Everglades keystone species. This area is vulnerable to invasive species, such as the Burmese python, as well as decreasing water flow, water quality, and species populations.

“The South Florida Water Management District is Florida’s lead agency in Everglades restoration, one of the largest environmental restoration efforts in the world. Science–based planning, project design and testing are a critical part of this work. The USGS, with its scientific expertise in modeling ecosystem processes, has been an integral partner in these restoration efforts.” — Blake Guillory, P.E., Executive Director, South Florida Water Management District



The 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) partnership, led by the USGS, is responding to the growing need for high-quality topographic data and other 3D representations of the Nation’s natural and constructed features. The 3D data are collected nationwide using airborne lasers (lidar) or radar (ifsar). The enhanced accuracy of the data will aid communities, commercial enterprises, natural resource managers, and private citizens.

“The enhanced elevation data available through the USGS 3DEP Program will assist professional surveyors in fulfilling their mission of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public.” — Curt Sumner, LS, Executive Director, National Society of Professional Surveyors


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