Public Release: 

November science picks!

Leads, feeds and story seeds

US Geological Survey

We promise, no turkeys this month -- Just a harvest of great science stories. And in honor of Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Month, we even have some interesting work involving antique photos of Native Americans. This monthly collection can help you cover ongoing earth and natural science research and investigations at the U.S. Geological Survey -- photos and web links are provided to enhance your story.

Included this month:

  • California Wildfires Test Scientists' Skills
  • West Nile Deaths Continue
  • Earth Escapes Brunt of Violent Solar Storms
  • Abbey Road: Lost Photos of Native Americans Salvaged in South Dakota
  • Watching Volcanoes From Space
  • USGS is Geography Aware


Southern California Wildfires Also Test Scientists' Skills: Throughout the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists scrambled to contain damage from this fall's deadly wildfires in Southern California, and ensure that a core USGS mission -- science for public safety -- was unaffected by the sweeping fires. Fires damaged earthquake measurement equipment, throwing offline seismic sensors which monitored small earthquakes north of Los Angeles. Quick-thinking seismologists developed workarounds to ensure information delivery until permanent repairs could be made. Similarly, USGS hydrologists worry that sediments washing from now denuded hillsides could clog streamgages which track water flowing in rivers and streams. USGS landslide experts, working with local emergency managers and federal partners, are determining the risk of landslides that could follow expected rains in the burned mountainous regions. USGS mapping experts were also hard at work providing the U.S. Forest Service with emergency topographic map coverage of the Cleveland National Forest in California for fire crews working on containment of the Cedar East Fire. USGS topographic maps provide the greatest level of detail for fire crews working to control wildfires. USGS researchers validated map coverage of the critical area, assembled the required map products, and packaged a shipment for delivery in less than one hour. A new USGS-hosted web-based tool, GeoMAC, received record-breaking use during the fires. The GeoMAC website received more than 6 million hits during the fires. The Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination Group or GeoMAC, is an Internet-based mapping tool that provides access to online maps of current fire locations and perimeters. The USGS serves and maintains the website, which is populated by data from the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and National Interagency Fire Center. Access the site at For more information on USGS response to the fires, call Butch Kinerney at 703-648-4732.

From Crows to Pelicans -- Deaths from West Nile Virus Continue: Even the majestic white birds with their bright orange bills, black-tipped wings, and wingspans of 55 to 70 inches that Lewis and Clark observed in North Dakota are falling victim to the virus as it moves west. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center, in Madison, Wisc., confirms that West Nile Virus caused major die-offs of white pelicans this year in several north central states, including Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas. Losses are estimated in the thousands. Although the virus killed adult white pelicans, the greatest losses were in juveniles in nesting colonies. Up to 100 percent of pre-fledgling pelicans died at some National Wildlife Refuges, with high temperatures and drought potentially contributing to the extensive losses. USGS wildlife health scientists are concerned about the effects of the virus on white pelican colonies and on other bird populations; in particular, scientists are concerned that endangered birds, such as the brown pelican and the numerous endangered birds on the Hawaiian Islands may be at risk. USGS scientists are also performing laboratory tests to predict potential effects of WNV as it continues to infect new species and new regions. Contact Kathryn Converse, 608-270-2445. For picture: and For maps see:

Spots on Face of Sun Are More Than Just Nature?s Acne: While two enormous, Jupiter-sized sunspots appeared on the Sun?s face During the week of October 20th, and a series of massive solar eruptions ensued hurling billions of tons of plasma (ionized particles) toward Earth, little damage was done here on the home planet. The Earth's magnetic field shields us from the direct effects of this radiation, but the charged plasma interacts with the Earth's magnetic field and can cause large and sometimes rapid fluctuations in the geomagnetic field which then can cause power outages, disrupt the GPS satellite system, cause communication problems, and a host of other hazards. Initially these solar explosions did not produce such effects because the direction of the magnetic fields of these ejected plasmas themselves were not favorable to interact with the Earth's magnetic field. But conditions changed on October 29-30 and a major magnetic storm did occur. Airline pilots in the polar regions reported difficulties with their communication systems and auroras were reported as far south as Florida, but satellite and power grid operators took precautions and no major problems have been reported. The USGS operates a network of 14 magnetic observatories that continuously monitor the Earth's magnetic field. These data are used by the U.S. Air Force to ascertain conditions for Air Force space weather operations, and by the Space Environment Center of NOAA to warn power companies, satellite operators, and other customers of impending dangers due to geomagnetic storms. For more information, contact Don Herzog, 303-273-8487.


Native American Photos Lived Life of Seclusion in Monastery...Until Now: In search of historical photographs to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the USGS went to the Blue Cloud Abbey in Marvin, S.D. The USGS uncovered 337 glass plate negatives featuring Native Americans from the late 1800s to early 1900s; however, the negatives had deteriorated almost beyond restoration. The USGS is now in the process of restoring, scanning, and printing these historical photographic records of the northern Great Plains. These photos are part of a collection of more than 50,000 images that Benedictine monks gathered as they traveled through Dakota Territory ministering to tribal communities. These photos, although taken at a later date, provide a crucial insight into the landscapes and cultures that the Lewis and Clark expedition would have encountered along the Missouri River, and they also provide a valuable historical tool to Native American tribes. To honor National Native American Heritage Month, 28 of these historical Native American photos, of which many have never been published, can now be viewed online at Call Heather Friesen at 703-648-4469.

Clear Eyes for the Volcano Guy? Modern geodetic monitoring tools such as ground-sensing radar and global positioning systems may someday enable scientists to extend the warning period for volcanic eruptions. A new USGS study suggests that such systems could detect ground deformation caused by magma accumulation earlier than is possible with other techniques and could provide a better monitor for the world's active volcanoes. More advanced equipment would permit observations of eruption precursors like deep earthquakes and the carbon dioxide emission rate from volcanoes, providing more accurate eruption forecasts and allowing greater warning before unexpected and catastrophic eruptions strike. More thorough monitoring of the world's volcanoes with InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar -- which takes pictures of earth changes -- as small as 10 centimeters bulges -- from space) and continuous sensors would allow researchers to better understand a volcano's magmatic plumbing system and provide more specific alerts to residents living near active volcanoes. For more information, call Daniel Dzurisin at 360-993-8909.

It's The Water, And A Whole Lot More: Irrigators and water managers in Washington State's Methow Valley have disagreed for many years about many things, mostly about water. But thanks to a new USGS study, they can at least agree on one thing: unlined irrigation canals feed the aquifer, which seeps water back to the rivers months later. Later, as in "during the dry season," when endangered fish are at risk. The amount of water can be significant. In some parts of the Methow River, for example, about as much water seeps back to the river as is diverted from the river. The study comes at a time when the community is finalizing its watershed plan along state guidelines. Irrigators and water managers alike are looking to the USGS study for answers on how to meet the needs of irrigation and endangered fish. Get the report of the study on-line now at For more details, contact John Clemens, 253-428-3600, ext. 2635,

There's a Baby Boom at This California Beach: A single strand of rope separates threatened western snowy plovers from people recreating on the public beach of Coal Oil Point Reserve, at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Although these small, 6-inch shorebirds had seemingly abandoned this site for breeding because of human disturbance, after a 400-yard nursery was protected, it fledged 39 young snowy plovers this summer. Their success owes much to the combined effort of researchers, managers and volunteers, and an ongoing educational effort, and has earned national recognition for three groups: USGS, the Santa Barbara Audubon Society, and the University of California Natural Reserve System. Call Kevin Lafferty at 805-893-8778.


USGS Aware of Geography. Place matters at USGS. From our development of The National Map to mapping the potential for wildfire to place-based factors in human health, the "where" factor integrates USGS studies in many fields. The USGS enthusiastically supports the national celebration of Geography Awareness Week, November 16-22, and GIS Day 2003 on November 19. To find connections between USGS science and this year?s theme for Geography Awareness Week, "Habitats: Home Sweet Home," start from our home page, or call Jon Campbell at 703-648-4180.

What's Sculpting the Bay Floor? A new USGS poster features a view of the floor of San Francisco Bay and looks specifically at the deep part of the bay, where ocean-going vessels traverse the shipping lanes and strong tidal currents sculpt the bay floor. The data used to create the poster provide the first look, in detail, of a large area of the bay floor. On one side of the poster is the view of the floor and on the reverse side is a smaller, three-dimensional image for viewing with 3-D glasses, along with information about the sediment, rock pinnacles and an explanation of the mapping process used to create the views. The view of the floor of San Francisco Bay was made by USGS, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), using a state-of-the-art mapping system The poster is available by calling 1-888-ASK USGS. For more details, call Karen Wood at 703-648-4447


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