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October Science Picks—Leads, Feeds and Story Seeds


Slow news day? Fretting over frightful topics?

Slow news day? Fretting over frightful topics? As we fall back into autumn, the October edition of Science Picks will introduce readers to seemingly scary research: alien impacts, vampire bats, eruptions and earthquakes...Science Picks provides a host of intriguing and timely tips on earth and natural science research and investigations at the USGS. Photos and Web links are available. If you would like to receive Science Picks via e-mail, would like to change the recipient or no longer want to receive it, please e-mail

October Highlights:

* An Alien Experience Shaped the Lake Superior Region
* Are There Really Vampire Bats?
* Debunking the Halloween Rep of Frightful Foliage
* Beer from 15-Million-Year-Old Plant Skeletons
* How Do Dogs Affect the Threatened Desert Tortoise?
* Marsh Health - Counting Parasites as a Positive
* Just When You Thought it was Safe to Go Back in the River ...
* New USGS Map Portrays Risk of Repeat Hayward Fault Earthquake
* Mount St. Helens Eruption Reaches Third Anniversary
* How can Wildlife and Transportation Safely Cross Paths?
* Happy 100th to the Flint River Gage
* 1868 Hayward Earthquake Press Conference on Oct. 17, 2007
* The USGS Presents at the Annual Geological Society of America Conference
* National Geography Awareness Week
* USGS Headquarters Opens its Doors to the Public

An Alien Experience Shaped the Lake Superior Region

Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada, have something in common, and it’s not of this Earth. It’s a newly recognized rock layer made up of debris from the impact of a giant extraterrestrial object in this region 1,850 million years ago. The impact created a roughly 200 kilometer-diameter crater centered near Sudbury, Ontario, about 700 km from the study area from the study area. The layer contains a record of several extraordinary events that occurred within hours after the impact, including a powerful earthquake, deposition of solid and melted rocks that were blasted hundreds of kilometers from the crater and large tsunamis that swept across the area. Find out what USGS scientists and their colleagues in Canada have learned while studying this ultra-precise time marker that allows an accurate reconstruction of ancient geologic events in the Lake Superior region. For more information contact William Cannon at (703) 648-6345 or
Are There Really Vampire Bats?

Yes. Of the three species of vampires in North America, only a single specimen has been recorded for the United States, in southwest Texas. Despite ghoulish urban legend, vampires do not suck blood - they make a small incision with their sharp front teeth and lap up the blood with their tongue. Vampires in Mexico and South America feed on the blood of livestock such as cattle and horses, as well as deer, wild pigs and even seals. More than 43 species of bats occur in the United States, and most eat only insects. One species in Texas probably saves cotton farmers in that region more than $700,000 per year in pesticide costs by eating about two tons of harmful crop pests each night! Learn why USGS scientists research bats - the health of bat populations, their role in disease transmission cycles, the effects of climate change, and energy development. Visit the “Fly By Night” article, “Potential Effects of Global Change on Bats”, or for more information contact Paul Cryan at (970) 226-9389 or or Thomas O’Shea at (970) 226-9397 or
Debunking the Halloween Rep of Frightful Foliage

Halloween night, when you curl up to watch your favorite horror flick - the one with the starlet running for her life through ghostly, shrouded trees - consider this: while it sets a good backdrop for a scary movie, that frightening foliage hanging throughout the forest - bryophytes and lichens - is an important component of forests and other ecosystems around the world. They are small but abundant, and by draping tree branches and trunks and carpeting the forest floor, logs, and rocks, they slow the rate at which water is lost from the forest ecosystem and reduce erosion, a process that can that can wash away soil nutrients, damage the forest floor, and contaminate streams. For more information see Bryophytes and Lichens: Small but Indispensable Forest Dwellers (PDF) or contact Andrea Woodward at (206) 526-6282, x332 or
Beer from 15-Million-Year-Old Plant Skeletons

You might enjoy Oktoberfest or a football tailgate feast with a cold glass of beer filtered through the skeletons of microscopic, single-celled plants dating back 15 million years. Found in lake beds formed millions of years ago, freshwater diatomite deposits in the Western United States contain billions of tiny diatom skeletons, which are widely used for filtration, absorption, and abrasives. New studies by the USGS are revealing how ancient lakes in the Western States produced such large numbers of diatoms. To learn more, visit Freshwater Diatomite Deposits in the Western United States, or contact Alan Wallace at (775) 784-5789 or
How Do Dogs Affect the Threatened Desert Tortoise?

Desert tortoise populations have declined in recent decades, causing populations north and west of the Colorado River to be federally listed in 1990 as threatened. One USGS study hypothesized that attacks by domestic and feral dogs are a growing threat to recovery of the species. The scientists found tortoise populations most likely to be affected by dogs occur within 2-6 kilometers of settlements and towns. The percent of tortoises with moderate to severe trauma from predators was significantly higher at sites near settlements than in remote areas. Two tortoise populations, under study since 1980 and near settlements, also showed significantly increased frequency in moderate to severe trauma over time. Want to learn more about this study? Contact Kristin Berry at (951) 697-6361 or
Just When You Thought it was Safe to Go Back in the River...

Likely invading a river near you are fish that can wreak havoc on native fish populations and boaters alike, all without a mouth full of teeth! Frightened by the noise and vibration of a passing motorboat, silver carp weighing as much as 20 pounds catapult themselves into the air and passing boats, often bruising, bloodying and getting slime on boaters, or breaking boating equipment. Another threat is below the water’s surface, where native fish are battling the ever-increasing invaders for existence in the Missouri and Mississippi River systems. Rapid maturation, explosive reproductive rates and long life-spans bolster silver carp populations, a fish that is steadily expanding its range through the interconnected river systems of the central U.S. Eating as much as 20 percent of their body weight in plankton each day, silver carp drastically change food chains, threatening the food resources of native fishes. Scientists at the Columbia Environmental Research Center are collaborating with scientists from the United States and China to better understand the biology and ecology of invasive Asian carp, developing ways to reduce the threats from these flying giants. One redeeming value of this plentiful invader is that silver carp are delicious to eat and are a good nutritional source of omega-3 fatty acids, and due to their size, one fish is large enough to feed a whole family! To learn more about invasive Asian carp, visit Facts About Bighead and Silver Carp and CERC Publications on Asian Carp. For more information contact Duane Chapman at (573) 876-1866 or
New USGS Map Portrays Hazard of Repeat Hayward Fault Earthquake

This Oct. 21 marks the 139th anniversary of the 1868 Hayward earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area - the average interval between the past five large earthquakes on the Hayward Fault has been 140 years, indicating that another large, damaging earthquake could occur at any time. On Oct.17, the USGS will announce progress towards a new map product, which portrays the strong ground shaking produced during the 1868 magnitude-7 earthquake, the 12th-deadliest in U.S. history. Are you curious about the location, number of landslides or amount of soil liquefaction? How would a modern-day magnitude-7 affect the Bay Area? The new map will show the locations at greatest risk. Have you considered the economic losses? The map will allow others to estimate the number of employees and the value of wages exposed to strong to very strong levels of ground shaking, as well as the exposure of property to these shaking levels. The 1868 ShakeMap will also be compared to computer simulations of the earthquake to help scientists better understand how the Hayward Fault ruptured in 1868. For more information contact Tom Brocher at (650) 329-4737 or or Susan Garcia at (650) 329-4668 or
Mount St. Helens Eruption Reaches Third Anniversary

Lava continues to erupt onto the crater floor of Mount St. Helens 3 years after a blast of steam and ash marked the volcano’s reawakening, after 18 years of calm. Since mid-October 2004, the erupting volcano has extruded approximately 121 million cubic yards of lava, which is equivalent in volume to about 160 large sports stadiums or the height of the Empire State Building, 1,250 ft or 102 stories. Read more about this ongoing eruption and the glacier it is displacing on the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory Web site. For more information on USGS work on natural hazards contact Clarice Ransom at (703) 648-4299 or
How can Wildlife and Transportation Safely Cross Paths?

Until now, few decision guides for wildlife road crossings were available. USGS scientists recently unveiled results of a 3-year research project that will help make the North American roaded landscape safer and more permeable for wildlife, while also reducing the risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions. With the guide, users can assess a transportation plan or project for its potential effects on wildlife and ecosystems, identify mitigation techniques that could allow wildlife to move more freely over and under a road or railway, and learn how to adaptively monitor and manage the situation over time. Check out The Web site lets you search a literature database, database of wildlife crossings in North America, related Web sites, selected literature files, and wildlife-crossings pictures. For more information contact John Bissonette of the USGS-Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at (435) 797-2511 or

Story Seeds
Happy 100th to the Flint River Gage

On Oct.1, the USGS streamgage on the Flint River at Bainbridge, Ga., turned 100-years old. The gage is central in monitoring water issues in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama and is the 18th gage in Georgia that’s been operating for more than 100 years. It’s one of a small number of gages in the network of more than 7,400 gages in the United States with 100-year records. Learn more about the river, which flows beneath the runways of the world’s busiest airport, generates electric power and provides drinking water to many communities: Go to the National Water Information System site , to see the data first hand. For more information on the USGS steamgaging network contact Jennifer LaVista at (703) 648-4432 or
The USGS Presents at the Annual Geological Society of America Conference

USGS scientists will present research findings on emerging contaminants, work in Afghanistan, coastal storms, geology and human health, groundwater, energy and more during the 2007 Geological Society of America annual meeting in Denver, Colo., October 28-31. For more information, contact Heidi Koontz at (303) 202-4763 or
National Geography Awareness Week

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing the third week in November as Geography Awareness Week, so mark your calendars for Nov. 11-17. Another special day, GIS Day, will be held Wednesday, Nov. 14. Check the USGS Web site for upcoming activities. For more information, contact Denver Makle at (703) 648-4732 or
USGS Headquarters Opens its Doors to the Public

Explore more than 125 years of earth science at the USGS Open House at USGS Headquarters in Reston, Va.: On Nov. 3, 2007, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., enjoy exhibits, demonstrations, hands-on activities and live entertainment. Admission and parking are free, and food and beverages will be for sale. Most activities are indoors, and the event will take place, rain or shine. Get driving directions for USGS. For more information contact Denver Makle at (703) 648-4732 or


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