Deliver Your News to the World

FebruaryScience Picks — Leads, Feeds and Story Seeds



The President has proposed a budget of $968.5 million for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in fiscal year (FY) 2009. The FY 2009 budget focuses on the highest priorities for research while ensuring that the USGS builds the expertise it needs to continue answering the complex scientific questions that may arise. So, what is the USGS funding going towards? This edition of Science Picks provides a glimpse of USGS research (both current and future) that supports key Departmental and Presidential priorities. 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

February Highlights:

* How Will the USGS Spend its Money?
* Scientists Drill 2,132 Foot Ice Core to Help Study 100,000 Years of Climate History
* Bird Flights and Accompanying Diseases Require No Passport
* How Much Water is Available for America?
* Invasive Snake Poses Threat to Florida’s Species
* Desert Tortoises Cope after Critical Habitat Burned
* It’s in Their Blood - Mercury, That Is
* Desert Tortoises Exposed to and Affected by High Arsenic Levels
* Mystery of a Declining Migratory Sea Duck Population
* Breeding Bird Survey Sees Tequila Sunrise
* ·New Challenges Emerging for Water Resources Management
* Coastal Resilience to Hurricane Impacts
* Focusing on Earth Imagery
* CLIMATE: An Early Warning System for Assessing Climate Effects
* How Will Everglades Restoration Affect Threatened Crocodiles?
* Seeing the Big Picture: Conservation in Sagebrush Ecosystems
* The Everglades Won’t Go Without Flow
* What Lived, Lives, and Will Live in the Oceans?

How Will the USGS Spend its Money?

The President has proposed a budget of $968.5 million for the USGS in FY 2009. With this proposed funding, the USGS will provide timely, objective scientific information in support of key Departmental and Presidential priorities, including Water for America, Birds Forever, Healthy Lands, and Ocean and Coastal Frontiers. The USGS will also strengthen their efforts in climate change studies, priority ecosystems research and the development of a National Land Imaging Program. For FY 2009, the proposed USGS budget includes a total of $9.5 million for the Water for America Initiative, an increase of $8.2 million; a $1.0 million increase for the Birds Forever Initiative; a $3.5 million increase to expand activities in support of the Healthy Lands Initiative; a $7 million increase for the Ocean and Coastal Frontiers Initiative; and a $2 million increase for a National Land Imaging Program. The FY 2009 budget also includes a total of $26.6 million for global change and $10.4 million for priority ecosystems studies. For more information, visit or contact Jessica Robertson at (703) 648-6624 or, or Carla Burzyk at (703) 648-4443 or
Scientists Drill 2,132 Foot Ice Core to Help Study 100,000 Years of Climate History

After three weeks of round-the-clock drilling for the National Science Foundation’s West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide Ice Core Project, scientists, engineers and technicians from multiple U.S. institutions produced a 2,132-foot ice core. This is the first section of what is hoped to be an 11,300-foot column of ice, just over two-miles long, detailing 100,000 years of Earth’s climate history. With only 40 days a year when the weather is warm enough for drilling, fieldwork is expected to be completed in January 2010. The core will be archived at the National Ice Core Laboratory, which is run by the USGS with funding from the National Science Foundation. For more information, visit or contact Heidi Koontz at (303) 202-4763 or
Bird Flights and Accompanying Diseases Require No Passport

A hunter in Mississippi recently recovered a pintail duck originally banded in Japan eight years earlier, illustrating the connectivity between the United States and Asia through migratory birds. Highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 has previously occurred in Japan, and scientists now have the opportunity to study whether the North American and Asian pintail populations are exchanging avian influenza viruses and whether it is possible for pintails to transmit these viruses from Japan to North America. USGS scientists are undertaking detailed band-recovery analyses with the Yamashina Institute of Ornithology in Tokyo, Japan; collaborating with the University of Tokyo on a satellite telemetry study of summer distributions of pintails wintering in Japan; and examining evidence of genetic exchange among avian influenza viruses isolated from pintails in North America and Asia. For additional information, visit or contact Dirk Derksen at (907) 786-3531 or
How Much Water is Available for America?

Currently, there is no definite answer regarding how much water is available for America’s use. To help address this issue, the President’s FY 2009 budget proposes to increase USGS funding by $9.5 million to assess the availability and use of our nation’s water resources. USGS scientists will characterize current water availability; how streamflows, groundwater and basin storage are changing over time; and the amount of water that will be accessible for America’s future. Funding will also support improving aquifer maps and refining the rates of aquifer recharge, as well as reinstating 50 discontinued streamgages and upgrading 350 streamgages to allow for better management during floods and droughts. This research will help managers ensure a reliable water supply, while balancing human and ecological needs for this limited resource. A pilot study on water availability and use was conducted by the USGS in the Great Lakes Basin, and additional information on this study can be found at For more information, call Jennifer LaVista at (703) 648-4432 or
Invasive Snake Poses Threat to Florida’s Species

Invasive Burmese Python are now present in the greater Everglades ecosystem and are expanding their range in South Florida. These snakes, averaging up to 20 feet and 250 lbs, are a threat to native species, including those that are federally threatened and endangered. USGS scientists are collaborating with other agencies in developing techniques and tools for detecting, capturing, and controlling populations of giant constricting snakes in Florida. Scientists are also conducting a risk assessment of invasion potential among several giant constrictor species to help formulate policy to prevent further invasions in the Everglades region, Key Largo, and other vulnerable habitats. For more information, visit or contact Gordon Rodda at (970) 226-9471 or
Desert Tortoises Cope after Critical Habitat Burned

Two years ago, tens of thousands of acres of habitat critical for desert tortoises were burned in fires fueled primarily by invasive Mediterranean grasses. Scientists are currently hot on tortoises’ tracks to study their adaptation to the surrounding environment. In 2006, USGS scientists collaborated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Nevada Department of Wildlife to research if and how the surviving tortoises are using habitats on and near large burned sites in the Mojave Desert. Initial findings indicate that tortoises on the border of the burned area are using both burned and unburned habitat, and annual plants comprising the tortoise’s diet were more abundant in burned areas. To learn more, contact Ken Nussear at (702) 564-4515 or
It’s in Their Blood — Mercury, That Is

What do a variety of waterbirds have in common in the San Francisco Bay-Delta? They share the legacy of mercury contamination from historical mercury and gold mining in California. They are also the focus of a collaborative project, to which USGS scientists are contributing, investigating the risks that mercury poses to waterbirds breeding within the estuary. Scientists are studying the area’s mercury levels and dietary resources, as well as the effects on avian reproduction, by tracking birds’ movement and habitat use, sampling bird blood and feathers, monitoring nesting success, and examining chick movements and survival. Initial findings show mercury concentrations in San Francisco Bay-Delta waterbirds high enough to cause concern. For more information, visit or contact Josh Ackerman at (530) 752-0485 or
Desert Tortoises Exposed to and Affected by High Arsenic Levels

Desert tortoises spend much of their lives in contact with dust, soil and sediments, including potentially toxic elements. A study by USGS scientists on soil, stream sediment and plant samples in the Mojave and Colorado deserts, inhabited by tortoises, revealed abnormal concentrations of arsenic due to nearby mining of arsenic-rich ores. Scientists also found that both shell and respiratory diseases in desert tortoises are linked to arsenic exposure and that the outer layer of a tortoise’s shell provides a chronological timeline of elements in their environment. USGS scientists are continuing research in this area by studying inhalation as a pathway for arsenic exposure and assessing which particles are most likely to be airborne. For more information, visit or contact Kristin Berry at (951) 697-5361 or, Maurice Chaffee at (303) 236-1855 or, or Andrea Foster at (650) 329-5437 or

Mystery of a Declining Migratory Sea Duck Population

To better understand the population decline of surf scoters, a migratory sea duck, scientists are studying their breeding and nonbreeding sites, as well as how food availability in stop-over areas and contaminants accumulated in winter regions affect reproduction. During 2005 and 2006, a USGS-led team tracked scoters from their coastal wintering area in the San Francisco Bay to their nesting areas 2000 miles away in Canada. Currently, they are using nest location data and satellite imagery to determine nesting habitat requirements of these birds. USGS scientists also recently collaborated with Humboldt State University, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the University of California, Davis, to begin studying how the Cosco Busan oil spill in the San Francisco Bay affected scoters’ winter survival. For more information, visit or contact John Takekawa at (707) 562-2000 or, or Susan Wainwright-De La Cruz at (707) 562-2004 or
Breeding Bird Survey Sees Tequila Sunrise

For more than 100 species that breed in the United States and poorly surveyed areas of northern Mexico, a lack of information from the Mexican side is an impediment to developing the full population picture important for making biologically sound avian conservation and management decisions. To fill this void, Mexico’s National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity has partnered with the USGS and the Canadian Wildlife Service to expand their North American Breeding Bird Survey into northern Mexico. This is a significant step toward making this bird survey a truly North American program. To see the results of the three-year pilot project, visit http://igsaceeswbdev01/bbs/bbsnews/MeetingProducts/Mexico-poster-NAOC(final).pdf. For more information, contact Keith Pardieck at (301) 497-5843 or, or Dave Ziolkowski at (301) 497-5753 or
New Challenges Emerging for Water Resources Management

The world invests over $500 billion per year in water infrastructure, but a basic principle that guides how infrastructure decisions are made is now in doubt. Scientists and engineers have long worked under the assumption that nature will behave in the future the same way it has in the past, but changes in climate and land use are likely to shift averages and extremes for rainfall, snowfall, evaporation and streamflow. These are critical factors when planning for floods or droughts, choosing the size of water reservoirs, or deciding how much water to allocate for residential, industrial and agricultural uses. A team of scientists and engineers, including USGS scientists, authored a recently published article in Science magazine addressing the need for new approaches to planning for and managing water resources. For more information, contact Chris Milly at (609) 452-6507 or
Coastal Resilience to Hurricane Impacts

Sediment-built barrier islands and sediment-rich coastal wetlands are natural defenses against storm surge from hurricanes. In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita stripped the Gulf Coast of its protective surface. As part of a visiting scientist exchange with Delft Hydraulics, USGS scientists are currently working with students from Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands, to integrate U.S. models with Dutch models (Delft3D and the new XBeach modelDelft) that forecast coastal inundation and erosion during hurricanes. This effort will improve understanding of how sediment is transported during hurricanes and ultimately aid in long-term coastal planning. For more information, visit or contact David Thompson at or (727) 803-8747, ext. 3079.
Focusing on Earth Imagery

The surface of the earth is changing rapidly, with significant repercussions for people, the economy and the environment. Remote-sensing satellites monitor the earth, providing images which serve many purposes: from assessing the impact of natural disasters to monitoring the impact of climate and other global changes. The President’s FY 2009 budget request highlights the intent to create a National Land Imaging Program within DOI to provide leadership and management for the nation’s civil-operational land-imaging efforts. The USGS provides a portal to the world’s largest archive of remotely sensed land data, which are provided by the Landsat series of earth-observing satellites. To support this Presidential priority, the USGS will continue to help preserve the U.S. Landsat imaging archive and advance U.S. interests in new land imaging technologies and applications. To learn more about the National Land Imaging Program, visit or contact Ron Beck at or (605) 594-6550.

Story Seeds
CLIMATE: An Early Warning System for Assessing Climate Effects

Whether looking at today or 50 years from now, land and resource managers are facing many challenges when it comes to anticipating the potential effects of climate change on the resources they manage. The USGS is developing CLIMATE, a national observation and research network designed for tracking, understanding and responding to the effects of climate change on the nation’s natural resources and ecosystems at local, regional and national scales. This network will provide land and resources managers with critical information needed to develop adaptation and mitigation strategies. For more information, contact Peter Murdoch at (518) 285-5663 or
How Will Everglades Restoration Affect Threatened Crocodiles?

The threatened American crocodile is this country’s only crocodile species, and it resides in South Florida and the Florida Keys. Planned restoration projects in Everglades National Park will likely cause changes throughout the crocodile’s habitat, resulting in potentially beneficial and harmful effects. For example, restoration efforts may alter salinity levels, possibly impacting the animal’s nesting areas. USGS scientists are creating simulation models of the South Florida ecosystem to help protect the species, better understand their response to restoration activities, and guide effective management decisions. For more information, visit or contact Tim Green at (352) 264-3556 or
Seeing the Big Picture: Conservation in Sagebrush Ecosystems

Since European settlement, sagebrush ecosystems have undergone dramatic changes as ever-increasing human populations have expanded their use of these landscapes, including the recent surge in energy development. Currently, little is known about the cumulative, landscape-scale effects of habitat loss and energy extraction on wildlife species of concern, such as sage-grouse. USGS scientists are collaboratively working to mitigate the effects of land-use changes on the sagebrush ecosystem and its wildlife by developing methods to map sagebrush cover and human developments across Wyoming. Scientists are using field data to develop statewide models and maps, assess the impacts of land-use change on sagebrush-dependent wildlife, and identify key habitat needs for these species at the landscape level. For more information, visit or contact Zack Bowen at (970) 226-9218 or
The Everglades Won’t Go Without Flow

The Everglades is a vast resource of unique and diverse biological communities, as well as a critical drinking water source for humans in southeast Florida. USGS scientists and colleagues are investigating surface water flow’s role in maintaining a sustainable ecosystem, which is the key to implementing successful Everglades restoration. Of particular interest is explaining the Everglades striking landscape of high and low spots, referred to as ridges and sloughs, which support the high diversity of plants and organisms. Ridges and sloughs are currently being eliminated due to interactions between shallow water depth, plant growth, and sediment accretion in the relatively slow flowing waters of the managed Everglades. Field experiments and modeling recently demonstrated the importance of higher flow velocity in removing organic material from sloughs and depositing it on ridges. These results explain the origin of the patterned Everglades landscape and specify important hydrologic criteria for successful restoration. For more information, visit or contact Jud Harvey at (703) 648-5876 or, Greg Noe at, or Laurel Larsen at
What Lived, Lives, and Will Live in the Oceans?

Scientists are currently working to enhance the amount of marine biological data - such as information on species distributions, organism classification, images, maps and more - from all over the world that is freely available online. The USGS recently participated in a workshop, organized by the Census of Marine Life, to demonstrate the importance of incorporating biological data into the Integrated Ocean Observing System. Scientists are also discussing the advantages of making marine biological data available to the observing system through the U.S. Ocean Biogeographic Information System, which is housed by the USGS National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII). For more information on NBII, visit or contact Dr. Toral Patel-Weynand at (703) 648-4217 or


This news content was configured by WebWire editorial staff. Linking is permitted.

News Release Distribution and Press Release Distribution Services Provided by WebWire.