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New Global Geologic Map of Mars

July 15, 2014 Comments off

New Global Geologic Map of Mars
Source: USGS

A new global geologic map of Mars –the most thorough representation of the “Red Planet’s” surface – has been published by the U.S. Geological Survey. This map provides a framework for continued scientific investigation of Mars as the long-range target for human space exploration.

The new map brings together observations and scientific findings from four orbiting spacecraft that have been acquiring data for more than 16 years. The result is an updated understanding of the geologic history of the surface of Mars – the solar system’s most Earth-like planet and the only other one in our Sun’s “habitable zone.” The new geologic map of Mars is available for download online.

For hundreds of years, geologic maps have helped drive scientific thought. This new global geologic map of Mars, as well as the recent global geologic maps of Jupiter’s moons Ganymede and Io, also illustrates the overall importance of geologic mapping as an essential tool for the exploration of the solar system.

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USGS Release: Large Rivers in U.S. are Becoming Less Acidic

July 8, 2014 Comments off

USGS Release: Large Rivers in U.S. are Becoming Less Acidic
Source: USGS (Science for the Total Environment)

Several large rivers in the U.S. are less acidic now, due to decreasing acidic inputs, such as industrial waste, acid mine drainage, and atmospheric deposition.

A USGS study showed that alkalinity, a measurement of a river’s capacity to neutralize acid inputs, has increased over the past 65 years in 14 of the 23 rivers assessed in the U.S.

Reduced acidity levels were especially common in rivers in the Northeast, such as the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers; the Midwest, such as the Illinois and Ohio Rivers; and the Missouri River in the Great Plains.

“Long-term monitoring of streamflow and water-quality is essential to track how changes in climate and land use are impacting rivers and how riverine inputs may impact valuable commercial and recreational fisheries in estuaries across the Nation,” said William Werkheiser, associate director for water. “Increasing alkalinity levels in large rivers across the country since 1945 is a positive trend.”

Carbon Storage in U.S. Eastern Ecosystems Helps Counter Greenhouse Gas Emissions Contributing to Climate Change

June 30, 2014 Comments off

Carbon Storage in U.S. Eastern Ecosystems Helps Counter Greenhouse Gas Emissions Contributing to Climate Change
Source: USGS

On the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today released a new report showing that forests, wetlands and farms in the eastern United States naturally store 300 million tons of carbon a year (1,100 million tons of CO2 equivalent), which is nearly 15 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions EPA estimates the country emits each year or an amount that exceeds and offsets yearly U.S. car emissions.

In conjunction with the national assessment, today USGS also released a new web tool, which allows users to see the land and water carbon storage and change in their ecosystems between 2005 and 2050 in the lower 48 states. This tool was called for in the President’s Climate Action Plan.

“Today we are taking another step forward in our ongoing effort to bring sound science to bear as we seek to tackle a central challenge of the 21st century – a changing climate,” said Secretary Jewell. “This landmark study by the U.S. Geological Survey provides yet another reason for being good stewards of our natural landscapes, as ecosystems play a critical role in removing harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that contributes to climate change.”

With today’s report on the eastern United States, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has completed the national biological carbon assessment for ecosystems in the lower 48 states – a national inventory of the capacity of land-based and aquatic ecosystems to naturally store, or sequester, carbon, which was called for by Congress in 2007.

Together, the ecosystems across the lower 48 states sequester about 474 million tons of carbon a year (1,738 million tons of CO2 equivalent), comparable to counter-balancing nearly two years of U.S. car emissions, or more than 20 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions EPA estimates the country emits each year.

Human Activities Increase Salt Content in Many of the Nation’s Streams

June 20, 2014 Comments off

Human Activities Increase Salt Content in Many of the Nation’s Streams
Source: USGS

Concentrations of dissolved solids, a measure of the salt content in water, are elevated in many of the Nations streams as a result of human activities, according to a new USGS study. Excessive dissolved-solids concentrations in water can have adverse effects on the environment and on agricultural, domestic, municipal, and industrial water users.

Results from this study provide a nation-wide picture of where dissolved-solids concentrations are likely to be of concern, as well as the sources leading to such conditions.

“This study provides the most comprehensive national-scale assessment to date of dissolved solids in our streams,” said William Werkheiser, USGS Associate Director for Water. “For years we have known that activities, such as road de-icing, irrigation, and other activities in urban and agricultural lands increase the dissolved solids concentrations above natural levels caused by rock weathering, and now we have improved science-based information on the primary sources of dissolved-solids in the nation’s streams.”

The highest concentrations are found in streams in an area that extends from west Texas to North Dakota. Widespread occurrences of moderate concentrations are found in streams extending in an arc from eastern Texas to northern Minnesota to eastern Ohio. Low concentrations are found in many states along the Atlantic coast and in the Pacific Northwest.

CRS — Fish and Wildlife Service: Compensation to Local Governments

June 5, 2014 Comments off

Fish and Wildlife Service: Compensation to Local Governments (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via National Agricultural Law Center)

Many counties are compensated for the presence of federal lands within their boundaries because these lands are exempt from local taxes. Counties with lands under the primary jurisdiction of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are compensated through the National Wildlife Refuge Fund (NWRF). Counties have argued that the program is underfunded; in some instances, counties raise lack of funding as an argument against the establishment of new refuges. At the same time, some hold that budget constraints argue for a reduction in the program. Congress has begun to examine the program for possible changes.

USGS — Global Platinum-Group Resources Estimated at More than 150K Metric Tons

May 19, 2014 Comments off

Global Platinum-Group Resources Estimated at More than 150K Metric Tons
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

The first-ever inventory and geological assessment of known and undiscovered platinum-group element (PGE) resources estimates that more than 150,000 metric tons of PGEs may exist in the two southern African countries that produce most of the global supply of these critical elements.

The USGS study identifies 78K metric tons of known PGE resources in South Africa and Zimbabwe and estimates 75K metric tons in PGE resources that may be present, but are undiscovered. This is more than 20 times the total tonnage produced since the 1920s when PGE mining began in these countries.

The U.S. is 90 percent reliant on imports of PGEs which are essential for cleaning automobile exhaust, for manufacturing glass, fertilizer, high-octane fuel, and a variety of chemicals, including cancer fighting drugs. They are widely used in jewelry and electronics such as hard drives, circuitry, and cell phones. PGEs could play a crucial role in fuel cell technology to produce clean energy for cars, homes, and businesses.

Elevated Levels of Mercury Found in Fish in Western U.S. National Parks

April 22, 2014 Comments off

Elevated Levels of Mercury Found in Fish in Western U.S. National Parks
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Mercury has been discovered in fish in some of the most remote national park lakes and streams in the western United States and Alaska. Mercury levels in some fish exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health thresholds for potential impacts to fish, birds, and humans.

The information about mercury, and its appearance in protected areas considered to be relatively pristine and removed from environmental contaminants, is in a recently published scientific report from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service.

The study of mercury in fish is the first of its kind to incorporate information from remote places at 21 national parks in 10 western states, including Alaska. Western parks were selected for this study because of the significant role that atmospheric mercury deposition plays in remote places, and the lack of broad-scale assessments on mercury in fish in remote areas of the west.

Mercury concentrations in fish sampled from these parks were generally low, but were elevated in some instances. This study examines total mercury in fish, of which 95 percent is in the form of methylmercury, the most dangerous form to human and wildlife health.

Mercury is harmful to human and wildlife health, and is among the most widespread contaminants in the world. It is distributed at a global scale from natural sources, such as volcanic eruptions and from human sources such as burning fossil fuels in power plants. Mercury is distributed at local or regional scales as a result of current and historic mining activities. These human activities have increased levels of atmospheric mercury at least three fold during the past 150 years.

Nation’s Authoritative Land Cover Map New and Improved

April 21, 2014 Comments off

Nation’s Authoritative Land Cover Map New and Improved
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Just released, the latest edition of the nation’s most comprehensive look at land-surface conditions from coast to coast shows the extent of land cover types from forests to urban areas. The National Land Cover Database (NLCD 2011) is made available to the public by the U.S. Geological Survey and partners.

Dividing the lower 48 states into 9 billion geographic cells, the massive database provides consistent information about land conditions at regional to nationwide scales. Collected in repeated five-year cycles, NLCD data is used by resource managers and decision-makers to conduct ecosystem studies, determine spatial patterns of biodiversity, trace indications of climate change, and develop best practices in land management.

A Few Winners, But Many More Losers: Southwestern Bird and Reptile Distributions to Shift as Climate Changes

April 9, 2014 Comments off

A Few Winners, But Many More Losers: Southwestern Bird and Reptile Distributions to Shift as Climate Changes
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Dramatic distribution losses and a few major distribution gains are forecasted for southwestern bird and reptile species as the climate changes, according to just-published research by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of New Mexico, and Northern Arizona University.

Overall, the study forecasted species distribution losses – that is, where species are able to live – of nearly half for all but one of the 5 reptile species they examined, including for the iconic chuckwalla. The threatened Sonoran (Morafka’s) desert tortoise, however, is projected to experience little to no habitat losses from climate change.

Breeding bird ranges exhibited greater expansions and contractions than did reptile species. For example, black-throated sparrows and gray vireos are projected to experience major gains in breeding habitat, but pygmy nuthatches, sage thrashers and Williamson sapsuckers are forecasted to experience large losses in breeding habitat, in some cases by as much as 80 percent. Thus, these three species might be expected to experience large future population declines.

The iconic pinyon jay is expected to experience from one-fourth to one-third loss in breeding habitat in the future, as its welfare is tied to declining pinyon pine habitat.

USGS — New Utah Maps and Road Provider

April 3, 2014 Comments off

New Utah Maps and Road Provider
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Newly released US Topo maps for Utah now feature a new commercial road data provider. The latest highway, road and street data from HERE has been added to the 1,476 revised US Topo quadrangles for the state.

The new maps also include Public Land Survey System (PLSS). These data are added to the growing list of states west of the Mississippi River. PLSS is a way of subdividing and describing land in the United States. All lands in the public domain are subject to subdivision by this rectangular system of surveys, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Other selected states will begin getting PLSS map data during the next respective revision cycle.

The new design for US Topo maps improves readability of maps for online and printed use, while retaining the look and feel of the traditional USGS topographic map. Map symbols are easy to read when the digital aerial photograph layer imagery is turned on.

Value of U.S. Mineral Production Decreased in 2013

March 20, 2014 Comments off

Value of U.S. Mineral Production Decreased in 2013
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Last year, the estimated value of mineral production in the U.S. was $74.3 billion, a slight decrease from $75.8 billion in 2012. According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s annual Mineral Commodity Summaries 2014 report, the 2013 decrease follows three consecutive years of increases. Net U.S. exports of mineral raw materials and old scrap contributed an additional $15.8 billion to the U.S. economy.

“To put this in context, the $90.1 billion value of combined mined, exported, and recycled raw materials is more than five times greater than the 2013 combined net revenues of Internet titans: Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Yahoo. This illustrates the fundamental importance of mineral resources to the nation’s economy, technology, and national security,” said Larry Meinert, USGS Mineral Resources Program Coordinator.

Minerals remain fundamental to the U.S. economy, contributing to the real gross domestic product at several levels, including mining, processing, and manufacturing finished products. The U.S. continues to rely on foreign sources for raw and processed mineral materials.

This annual USGS report is the original source of mineral production data for the world. It includes statistics on about 90 mineral commodities essential to the U.S. economy and national security, and addresses events, trends, and issues in the domestic and international minerals industries.

2012 National Park Visitor Spending Effects: Economic Contributions to Local Communities, States, and the Nation

March 18, 2014 Comments off

2012 National Park Visitor Spending Effects: Economic Contributions to Local Communities, States, and the Nation (PDF)
Source: National Park Service

The National Park Service (NPS) manages the nation’s most iconic destinations that attract millions of visitors from across the nation and around the world. Trip-related spending by NPS visitors generates and supports a considerable amount of economic activity within park gateway communities. This economic effects analysis measures how NPS visitor spending cycles through local economies, generating business sales and supporting jobs and income.

In 2012, the National Park System received over 282 million recreation visits. NPS visitors spent $14.7 billion in local gateway regions (defined as communities within 60 miles of a park). The contribution of this spending to the national economy was 243 thousand jobs, $9.3 billion in labor income, $15.8 billion in value added, and $26.8 billion in output. The lodging sector saw the highest direct contributions with more than 40 thousand jobs and $4.5 billion in output directly contributed to local gateway economies nationally. The sector with the next greatest direct contributions was restaurants and bars, with 51 thousand jobs and $3 billion in output directly contributed to local gateway economies nationally.

This 2012 analysis marks a major revision to the NPS visitor spending effects analyses, with the development of a new visitor spending effects model (VSE model) that replaces the former Money Generation Model (MGM2). Many of the hallmarks and processes of the MGM2 model are preserved in the new VSE model, but the new model makes significant strides in improving the accuracy and transparency of the analysis. Because of this change from the MGM2 model to the VSE model, estimates from this year’s analysis are not directly comparable to previous analyses.

New Maps of Afghanistan Provide “Fingerprint” of Natural Resources

March 11, 2014 Comments off

New Maps of Afghanistan Provide “Fingerprint” of Natural Resources
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

A coalition of scientists from the United States and Afghanistan today released high tech maps that will help Afghanistan chart a course for future economic development. These maps represent a milestone as Afghanistan is the first country to be almost completely mapped using hyperspectral imaging data.

The coalition of the U.S. Geological Survey, the Afghanistan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, and the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), was created by the U.S. Department of Defense, to share American international science and technology as a strategic tool for promoting economic development.

“Hyperspectral data from this research provides a fingerprint that identifies Afghanistan’s natural resources,” said Dr. Suzette Kimball, acting USGS director. “This detailed data serves as the backbone of crucial scientific information needed for economic development of natural resources as well as the potential to identify water, biological and natural hazard information.”

Hyperspectral imaging is an advanced imaging technique that measures visible and near-infrared light reflecting off the Earth’s surface. Researchers use hyperspectral imaging spectrometer data to identify and characterize mineral deposits, vegetation, and other land surface features.

Global Undiscovered Copper Resources Estimated at 3.5 Billion Metric Tons

March 7, 2014 Comments off

Global Undiscovered Copper Resources Estimated at 3.5 Billion Metric Tons
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

The first-ever, geologically-based global assessment of undiscovered copper resources estimates that 3.5 billion metric tons of copper may exist worldwide. The U.S. Geological Survey outlined 225 areas for undiscovered copper in 11 regions of the world. The amount of undiscovered global copper estimated by the USGS would be enough to satisfy current world demand for more than 150 years.

According to the assessment, South America is the dominant source for both identified and undiscovered copper resources. Particularly important, several regions of Asia including China have a large potential for undiscovered copper resources.

Fiscal Year 2013 DOI Annual Aviation Safety Summary

February 10, 2014 Comments off

Fiscal Year 2013 DOI Annual Aviation Safety Summary (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of the Interior (Office of Aviation Services)

Based on accumulated flight data in FY13, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) continued to lower the historical DOI aircraft accident rate to an all time low reducing the rate by 0.12 to 7.98 accidents per 100K flight hours. The annual aircraft accident rate dropped to an all time low of 1.62 per 100K flight hours, a decrease of 5.30 from last year and completing the best 8 consecutive years in DOI history . This breakthrough performance reaffirms our belief that zero aircraft accidents is an attainable goal, one that can be obtained with the continued commitment of DOI and Bureau leadership to the principles of Safety Management Systems.

Fire Management and Invasive Plants: A Handbook

December 26, 2013 Comments off

Fire Management and Invasive Plants: A Handbook (PDF)
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Fire management can help maintain natural habitats, increase forage for wildlife, reduce fuel loads that might otherwise lead to catastrophic wildfire, and maintain natural succession. Today, there is an emerging challenge that fire managers need to be aware of: invasive plants. Fire management activities can create ideal opportunities for invasions by nonnative plants, potentially undermining the benefits of fire management actions.

This manual provides practical guidelines that fire managers should consider with respect to invasive plants.

Nitrate Levels Continue to Increase in Mississippi River; Signs of Progress in the Illinois River

November 6, 2013 Comments off

Nitrate Levels Continue to Increase in Mississippi River; Signs of Progress in the Illinois River
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

Nitrate levels in the Illinois River decreased by 21 percent between 2000 and 2010, marking the first time substantial, multi-year decreases in nitrate have been observed in the Mississippi River Basin since 1980, according to a new USGS study.

Unfortunately, similar signs of progress were not widespread. “Nitrate levels continue to increase in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, including the Mississippi’s outlet to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Lori Sprague, USGS research hydrologist.

“These results show that solving the problem of the dead zone will not be easy or quick. We will need to work together with our federal and state partners to develop strategies to address nitrate concentrations in both groundwater and surface water,” said Lori Caramanian, Department of the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science.

CRS — Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service

October 28, 2013 Comments off

Administrative Appeals in the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Merit Systems Protection Board Watch)

Congress has expressed an interest in the appeals processes of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service because of those processes’ complexity, and because of allegations that the appeals processes have restricted the ability of the agencies to manage the resources under their care. In 2011, Congress changed the project review process from one that provided for automatic stays and multiple levels of review to a pre-decisional objection process (P.L. 112-74, §428). In amending the 1992 Forest Service Decisionmaking and Appeals Reform Act process, Congress aimed to expedite agency review. The changes took effect in March 2013.

Administrative appeals are challenges to agency actions that agencies attempt to resolve themselves. Agencies set up hearing processes and regulations to meet the requirements guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—that no person will be deprived of property without the due process of the law. This report describes the appeals processes of the BLM of the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture. These appeals are not all formal adjudicatory proceedings under the Administrative Procedure Act (although some have similar procedures), but are defined primarily by agency regulation.

BLM has many different types of administrative appeals. The type of appeal depends, in large part, on the type of action taken by BLM. Decisions regarding land use plans have one type of review that differs slightly for challenges by governors. Decisions regarding minerals, oil and gas, forests, and grazing have different appeals processes, sometimes even having different processes within those categories. Many, but not all, BLM decisions have a final agency review by an appeals board under the Department of the Interior. Sometimes the final review is completed by an Administrative Law Judge.

The Forest Service also has multiple types of reviews, although it does not have an appeals board or Administrative Law Judges. For the most part, Forest Service administrative appeals are based on the type of decision being challenged. Forest plans have one process. Projects implementing those plans have a pre-decisional appeal known as an objection. Decisions regarding use and occupancy of forests have yet another appeals process, which differs depending on the level of employee who made the decision being challenged. Congress also has exempted many projects deemed emergency situations from administrative review.

New From the GAO

September 23, 2013 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Oil and Gas Development: BLM Needs Better Data to Track Permit Processing Times and Prioritize Inspections. GAO-13-572, August 23.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-572
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/657177.pdf

2. Corporate Tax Compliance: IRS Should Determine Whether Its Streamlined Corporate Audit Process Is Meeting Its Goals. GAO-13-662, August 22.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-662
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/657093.pdf

3. National Airspace System: Improved Budgeting Could Help FAA Better Determine Future Operations and Maintenance Priorities. GAO-13-693, August 22.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-693
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/657139.pdf

4. Automatic IRAS: Lower-Earning Households Could Realize Increases in Retirement Income. GAO-13-699, August 23.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-699
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/657172.pdf

Health of U.S. Streams Reduced by Streamflow Modifications and Contaminants

July 14, 2013 Comments off

Health of U.S. Streams Reduced by Streamflow Modifications and Contaminants
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

A new USGS report describes how the health of our Nation’s streams is being degraded by streamflow modifications and elevated levels of nutrients and pesticides.

The national assessment of stream health was unprecedented in the breadth of the measurements—including assessments of multiple biological communities as well as streamflow modifications and measurements of over 100 chemical constituents in water and streambed sediments.

“Healthy streams are an essential part of our natural heritage. They are important to everyone — not only for recreation and for public water supply and public health, but also for economic growth,” said USGS acting Director Suzette Kimball. “A broad understanding of the complex factors that affect stream health across the Nation will aid us in making efficient, long term decisions that support healthy streams.”

The ability of a stream to support algal, macroinvertebrate, and fish communities is a direct measure of stream health. USGS image. (High resolution image)
To assess ecological health, USGS scientists examined the relationship of the condition of three biological communities (algae, macroinvertebrates, and fish) to man-made changes in streamflow characteristics and water quality. The ability of a stream to support these biological communities is a direct measure of stream health.

Stream health was reduced at the vast majority of streams assessed in agricultural and urban areas. In these areas, at least one of the three aquatic communities was altered at 83 percent of the streams assessed.

In contrast, nearly one in five streams in agricultural and urban areas was in relatively good health, signaling that it is possible to maintain stream health in watersheds with substantial land and water-use development.

“Understanding the interacting factors that impact multiple aquatic communities is essential to developing effective stream restoration strategies,” said Daren Carlisle, USGS ecologist and lead scientist of this study.

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