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May Science Picks — Leads, Feeds and Story Seeds


In 1962, biologist and writer Rachel Carson released “Silent Spring,” a book that shed light on the negative effects of pesticides on the environment and may have sparked the modern environmental movement. May 27, 2007, marks the centennial anniversary of Carson’s birth. In honor of Carson and her legacy, this edition of Science Picks features ongoing USGS studies that could have easily been inspired by her early work. Photos and Web links are available to enhance your story. 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

May Highlights

New Database Provides Information on Fish Endocrine and Reproductive Health
Cape Cod Study Points Out Conditions for Arsenic Mobility in Groundwater
Fishing for Answers - USGS Scientists Work to Advance Understanding of the Conditions Causing Methyl Mercury in Streams
Collaborative Study Looks for Pesticides in Nation’s Parks and Refuges
Flame Retardants Remain a Burning Issue
One Era’s Goldmine is Another Era’s Problem
It’s in Their Blood - Mercury, That Is
Tortoise Shells Tell Arsenic Tales
Get LIDAR Data With Just One CLICK
MUSIC Helps Resource Managers Make Sound Decisions
Learn More About Rachel Carson

New Database Provides Information on Fish Endocrine and Reproductive Health

Recently the USGS released a national database that reports on endocrine and reproductive conditions in two species of fish. This is the first national database of endocrine information for fish collected in U.S. streams and rivers. The information in the report provides a vital national basis for comparison that will be used by scientists studying endocrine disruption at sites across the country. The database includes information on sex steroid hormones, vitellogenin - an egg protein that indicates exposure to estrogenic substances when found in male fish - and reproductive stage for common carp and largemouth bass. Data summaries are provided by reproductive season across a wide geographic scale. Check out the database at, or contact Steve Goodbred at 916-278-9492 or

Cape Cod Study Points Out Conditions for Arsenic Mobility in Groundwater:

Did you know the release of naturally occurring arsenic from sediments can adversely affect groundwater quality, even when the concentration of arsenic in the sediments is low? USGS hydrological experiments show abundant nitrate and iron levels in groundwater can affect the mobility of trace amounts of arsenic. Learn about USGS field experiments on Cape Cod designed to understand the processes that control arsenic mobility in groundwater at or contact Douglas Kent at 650-329-4461 or

Fishing for Answers — USGS Scientists Work to Advance Understanding of the Conditions Causing Methyl Mercury in Streams:

As in many places across the nation, there are fish consumption advisories for some Montana streams due to high mercury concentrations. USGS scientists and their colleagues have been studying two Montana streams to determine what controls the concentration of the highly toxic methyl mercury. USGS research shows that mercury concentrations in streams vary based on daily fluctuations in temperature, sunlight intensity, and other factors-the findings suggest that even though mercury concentrations in these streams were low, the concentrations in fish were high enough that anglers are advised to limit consumption of their catch. For more information about mercury and the environment, go to, or contact David Nimick at 406-457-5918 or

Collaborative Study Looks for Pesticides in Nation’s Parks and Refuges:

It’s easy to assume that national parks and wildlife refuges are places where wildlife are protected from the impacts of society and industry. A new study of the occurrence of pesticides in vernal pools used as amphibian habitat at national parks in three states, however, showed that none were totally free of pesticides, and several pesticides were present at some locations. To find out more about this study, conducted by the USGS, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, contact William Battaglin at 303-236-4882, ext. 256, or For more information on pesticide occurrence in U.S. streams and groundwater, see or

Flame Retardants Remain a Burning Issue:

For many years, flame retardants in clothing, electronics and furnishings have been regarded as a protective benefit, but as time passes, science may prove otherwise. Consider this: Flame retardants have been found in fish-eating osprey and the eggs of double-crested cormorants sampled in Oregon and Washington. One specific group of retardants, generally known as PBDEs, is believed to move up the food chain to accumulate in animal tissues. For humans, these compounds are believed to disrupt thyroid hormone action and impair the development of the nervous system. Trends suggest the levels of the compounds found in fish are doubling, every two to four years. Additional osprey egg sampling in 2007 is planned along the lower Columbia River to evaluate changes in PBDE concentrations since 2004 and potential reproductive effects on the species. For more information, contact Charles Henny at 541-757-4840 or

It’s in Their Blood — Mercury, That Is:

So what’s the common feather among some waterbirds in the San Francisco Bay Delta? They share the legacy of mercury contamination from historical mercury and gold mining in California. They also are the focus of a large collaborative project being conducted by biologists from the USGS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, and PRBO Conservation Science. The project includes capturing and radio-marking birds to track their movements and habitat use, sampling bird blood and feathers for mercury concentrations and chemical signatures of diet, monitoring nesting success, and examining chick movements and survival. Scientists are investigating the risks of mercury to waterbirds breeding within the estuary. Initiated in 2005, the study has shown that 5 percent of black-necked stilts, 6 percent of American avocets, 10 percent of Caspian terns, and 58 percent of Forster’s terns breeding within South Bay sites had blood mercury concentrations high enough to be at risk of reproductive impairment. To learn more, contact Josh Ackerman at 530-752-0485 or

Tortoise Shells Tell Arsenic Tales:

USGS scientists have found that the outer layer of a tortoise’s shell, which has growth scales, provides a chronology of elemental uptake from a tortoise’s environment. Desert tortoises are long-lived plant-eaters that spend much of their lives in contact with dust, soil and sediments, including potentially toxic elements. A survey of 66 elements in soil, stream sediment, and plant samples from six tortoise study areas in the Mojave and Colorado deserts has revealed arsenic in anomalous concentrations region-wide. Arsenic has been linked to both shell and respiratory diseases in desert tortoises. The highest concentrations occurred in soils and plants in or near areas contaminated by mining of arsenic-rich ores. For more information, contact Kristin Berry at 951-697-5361 or; Maurice Chaffee at 303-236-1855 or or Andrea Foster at 650-329-5437 or


Get LIDAR Data With Just One CLICK:

The Center for LIDAR Information Coordination and Knowledge (CLICK) web portal allows LIDAR users to download available LIDAR datasets, ask and answer questions and coordinate with those looking for data or with data available to share. CLICK enables partners and potential partners to coordinate efforts to collect LIDAR data and make it widely available, thereby reducing costs to all interested parties. Find out more at, or contact Jordan Menig at 605-594-6892 or

MUSIC Helps Resource Managers Make Sound Decisions:

Have questions about research efforts - water allocation issues in Hawaii, mountaintop mining in West Virginia, sage grouse ecosystem restoration and development issues in Colorado, Nevada and California? Try MUSIC (Massachusetts Institute of Technology-USGS Science Impact Collaborative). MUSIC is helping resource managers develop tools and methods for a more effective uses of science to solve natural resource management and environmental policy issues. For more information, check out, or contact Herman Karl at 617-324-0262 or


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