The system of drainage channels and natural stream channels in the Albuquerque metropolitan area is a source of concern because of potential local flooding and water-quality problems. Rapid urbanization since 1970 has increased precipitation runoff to these channels, which in many instances return flow to the Rio Grande. As an important element of the City of Albuquerque’s water-resources management, accurate hydrologic data are needed for designing storm drainage and addressing storm-water-quality regulations established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority (AMAFCA) and the City of Albuquerque, in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey, began a program in 1976 to collect hydrologic data to help assess the quality and quantity of surface-water resources and determine long-term trends in the Albuquerque area.
Aquatic Systems Branch scientists analyze rings of riparian trees relating tree growth and establishment to historical flow. We then use the tree rings to reconstruct the flow in past centuries. Flow reconstructions discover the frequency and magnitude of past droughts and floods—information that is essential for management of rivers and water supplies. We also use downscaled climate projections and watershed models to predict changes in flow and tree growth resulting from human-induced climate change. We have pioneered the use of cottonwood, a dominant riparian species, for tree ring analysis; this is a significant advance in arid regions where old trees of other species are scarce. Ongoing studies focus on rivers of the Upper Missouri Basin and the Tarim River in China.
Aquatic invertebrates are a key component of freshwater ecosystems, and an understanding of aquatic invertebrate taxonomy is central to freshwater science. The U.S. Geological Survey Aquatic Experimental Lab (AXL) at the Fort Collins Science Center has developed the North American Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Digital Reference Collection (NAAMDRC) to provide users with a graphic tool to aid in the identification and verification of aquatic macroinvertebrates.
AXL has developed a method for cataloging and digitizing reference specimens in such a way that a series of digital images provides enough information on key structures so a physical specimen is no longer necessary for verification. By using the most advanced and widely used taxonomic keys available, we have annotated important defining characteristics of each specimen so that non-expert technicians can more easily identify invertebrates found in aquatic samples.
Drought is killing riparian trees along many rivers in the western United States. The cause can be increasing temperature or decreasing precipitation, flow or water-table elevation. At multiple locations we are relating water availability to physiological measurements of tree survival and water stress, such as ring width, carbon stable isotope ratio and branch hydraulic conductivity. These relations will allow us to determine the minimum amount of water necessary to keep trees alive, and to predict how changes in flow, groundwater level, precipitation or temperature would affect survival.
Although there are ways of developing causal relationships between stressors and aquatic community responses without experimentation; some argue that experimental manipulation under controlled conditions is both critical and necessary to establish causation. Single species toxicity tests are the gold standard for developing toxicant biological response relationships however these tests are criticized for their lack of environmental realism and relevance to ecosystems.
Natural resource agencies are challenged not only by climate change impacts on terrestrial and marine resources, but also by related effects on human communities that depend on these lands and waters. These effects include changes in economic activity, subsistence practices, demographic trends, human health, recreation, infrastructure, and community resilience. While there are many policy documents addressing the human dimensions of climate change, there is little guidance directly relevant to the operational challenges of resource management. The Human Dimensions of Climate Change: An Interagency Collaborative (HDCC) has been developed to fill this need.
The Department of Interior (DOI) produces annual estimates of the economic contributions of DOI programs, activities, and services. USGS economists contribute to the annual analysis, and the USGS Information Science Branch has developed an interactive data visualization to display results: https://my.usgs.gov/doidv/.
There is a lack of knowledge and understanding of how widespread use of pesticides may affect bees as they move across a diverse agricultural landscape. Studies have shown there are impacts to honey bees due to exposure to pesticides including neonicotinoid insecticides and fungicides, but the effects of these compounds on native pollinators are largely unknown.
Beginning in 2012, the USGS collaborated with the USDA to assess the effectiveness of pollinator plantings and how alteration of landscapes has affected native pollinators and potentially contributed to their decline. The 2008 Farm Bill recognized contributions made by pollinators and made conservation of pollinator habitat a priority. The USGS is assessing native bee habitat, diversity, and richness in eastern Colorado grasslands and croplands to evaluate the extent to which they provide food and refuge.
The National Park Service (NPS) preserves and protects more than 84 million acres of important historic, cultural, and natural resources across 401 sites for the enjoyment of present and future generations. Protected resources and landscapes managed by the National Park Service contribute to the societal welfare of the American public, reflected by ecosystem service values derived from their use as well as their preservation.
There is a well-known bias in the location of protected areas both within the US and globally. Lands protected for conservation tend to be located on less productive soils at high elevations far from cities. USGS is exploring whether this ‘high and far’ paradigm applies within protected areas as well. That is, does human modification within lands that already have some degree of protection, also occur preferentially on more productive soils at low elevations close to cities?
Invasive species are considered to be second only to habitat degradation in terms of negative impacts on the Earth’s ecosystems, and our scientists make up a significant proportion of the global expertise in the rapidly-growing problem of invasive reptiles.