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USGS April 2008 science picks

In this edition of Science Picks, you can discover recent dramatic developments at Kilauea Volcano, who is groovin to the tunes of nature, and how the USGS helps forecast and notify emergency managers of potential floods, which is especially important since April showers are on their way. You can also find out how the USGS is helping improve life for millions of Iraqis, and as you start gearing-up for baseball season, learn about the evolution and importance of clay in sports. 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

LEADS: (top news, updates and happenings in natural science)

Dramatic Developments at Kilauea Volcano

Explosive eruptions and noxious gas emissions at Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii have prompted scientists to work around the clock to understand what will happen next and how to keep the public out of harms way. Scientists are monitoring gas emissions and seismic activity at Kilauea, which on March 19 experienced its first explosive eruption since 1924. The volcano is also emitting sulfur dioxide at toxic levels. The USGS is issuing frequent updates, which can be accessed at To listen to a podcast interview with USGS Volcano Hazards Program Coordinator John Eichelberger describing the activity at Kilauea, visit For more information, contact Clarice Nassif Ransom at (703) 648-4299 or

Groovin to the Tunes of Nature

Just what does a bear do in the woods? USGS scientist Kate Kendall knows. Kendalls group recently used remote photography to learn more about black bears and grizzly bears use of naturally occurring bear rubs and how they respond to baited hair traps. The video and photographs are part of a study to determine the size and distribution of bear populations in northwestern Montana. Bears are identified and counted through genetic analysis of hair samples collected from barbed wire hair traps and bear rub trees. To find out more about the project and view the footage, visit or contact Katherine Kendall at (406) 888-7994 or

April Showers May Bring Spring Flooding

A series of winter storms has left parts of the Midwest and New England buried under snow, and many USGS Water Science Centers are anticipating significant spring flooding. The USGS operates a network of more than 7000 streamgages that measure the flow and height of streams and rivers throughout the United States. The gages relay measurements 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through telephones or satellites to offices where data is processed automatically. Users, such as the National Weather Service, rely on USGS gage data for flood forecasting and to notify emergency managers. Field personnel are routinely dispatched to collect and verify data during storms or floods. For more information on USGS flood-related activities, visit, or for more detailed information by state, visit You can also contact Diane Noserale at (703) 648-4333 or

USGS at the 2008 AAG Annual Meeting

USGS scientists will illustrate new strategies to confront environmental challenges at the 2008 Association for American Geographers Annual Meeting held April 1519 in Boston, Mass. For more information about USGS participation in the meeting, visit, or contact Jon Campbell at (703) 648-4180 or

USGS presentations include

  • Facing Tomorrows Challenges USGS Science Strategy
    A growing global economy, limited resources, climate change, and formidable hazards, such as earthquakes, wildland fires, floods and droughts, are addressed by a new USGS Science Strategy, 20072017. Learn about new USGS science directions to meet these challenges in a luncheon address by USGS Director Mark Myers.

  • Ecosystem Services: Research Directions
    Understanding the value of ecosystem services (such as clean water, storm protection, and recreation) is necessary to make decisions that involve conservation and development. Find out what research and information are needed and available to help resource managers make informed conservation decisions.

  • Modeling the National Land Cover Database
    The USGS and the federal interagency Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium have completed a massive database, the National Land Cover Database, that details the land surface condition of each of the 50 states and Puerto Rico. Find out about the creation of the database and how the data can help answer land change questions.

  • Evolution of the National Map: 2008 and Beyond
    Accessible, versatile, authoritative geographic information is essential in confronting the most pressing natural resource and environmental issues of our nation including hypoxia in the Gulf, wildfires in California, climate change, and natural hazards. Learn about further research and operational development concerning The National Map.

United States and Indonesia to Establish Regional Volcano Observatory in North Sulawesi

The United States recently signed an agreement with Indonesia to create a regional volcano observatory in the North Sulawesi-Sangihe Islands. The agreement calls for scientific agencies from both countries to establish a regional volcano observatory with the capability to monitor volcanic activity and provide early warning of volcanic eruptions. The North Sulawesi-Sangihe Islands area is home to 11 active volcanoes and has a vulnerable population of close to a half million people. Based in Vancouver, Wash., the U.S. Volcano Disaster Assistance Program combines the scientific expertise of the USGS with the disaster relief experience of the U.S. Agency for International Developments Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. For more information, visit, or contact Clarice Ransom at (703) 648-4299 or

National Earthquake Conference Understanding Earthquakes: From Research to Resilience

The USGS is co-sponsoring the 2008 National Earthquake Conference held April 2226, 2008, in Seattle, Wash. Conference activities include a plenary session featuring USGS Director Mark Myers, live webcast sessions with colleagues in countries impacted by the 2004 Sumatran earthquake and tsunami, working group panels and discussions, posters, field trips, and more. The latest research, successful hazard mitigation, and response programs in the public and private sectors will be showcased. Strategies and new approaches to achieving resiliency to earthquakes will be debated and discussed. For more information and to register, visit, or contact Joan Gomberg at (206) 616-5581 or

Alaska Volcano Observatory Turns 20

This April, the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) is celebrating 20 years of partnership in support of public safety and volcano science. Alaska has dozens of active volcanoes, some of which erupt explosively multiple times a year. Since the 19891990 eruption of Redoubt Volcano in Alaska and a near-disastrous encounter between a resulting volcanic ash cloud and a jet aircraft, the AVOs use of advanced technology to monitor volcanoes and issue timely warnings has helped to insure that no additional damaging encounters with volcanic ash have occurred in Alaska. AVOs success would not have been possible without strong partnerships with other government agencies and the private sector. The AVO has also contributed to a better understanding of how volcanoes work and what role volcanoes play in shaping Alaskas dynamic landscape. The AVO is a collaborative project of the USGS, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, and the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys. To commemorate the AVOs 20th anniversary, events will be held on April 2 in Washington, D.C., and on April 29 in Anchorage, Alaska. For more information, visit the AVO Web site at, or contact Jennifer Adleman at (907) 786-7019 or

FEEDS: (USGS tools and resources)

USGS Expertise Improves Life for Millions of Iraqis

Scientists and engineers from the USGS and other agencies are working with employees of Iraqs Ministry of Water Resources to construct a modern hydrometeorological network for providing real-time information vital for public water supply, agricultural needs, ecological restoration, and flood control. The USGS, with more than 100 years of stream-gaging expertise, taught them how to use real-time, satellite-assisted stream-gauging stations and how to take field streamflow measurements with acoustic Doppler current profilers. This training enabled them to better analyze and manage Iraq's valuable water resources. Funding and equipment were provided by the U.S. Department of States Iraq Transition Assistance Office and the Italian Ministry of Environment and Territory. For more information, visit, or contact Timothy Merrick at (208) 387-1305 or

$3.4 Million in Earthquake Research Grants

The USGS will award up to $3.4 million in grants and cooperative agreements for earthquake research in 2009. Interested researchers can apply online at Applications are due May 15, 2008. USGS grants support research that will assist in achieving the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Programs goal to mitigate the nations earthquake losses by providing earth science data and assessments essential for land-use planning, engineering design, and emergency preparedness decisions. Last year, the USGS awarded 92 research grants to universities, state geological surveys and private institutions. For more information, visit or contact Elizabeth Lemersal at (703) 648-6701 or

Invasions Lead Extinctions by 24-to-1

Plant invaders keep on coming, with no end in sight. This is bad news for native species. Plant species from other countries continue to invade the United States at alarming rates, according to a recent paper in Ecology Letters authored by USGS scientist Tom Stohlgren and colleagues. Over the past 400 years in the United States, exotic species invasion rate exceeds their extinction rate by roughly a 24-to-1 margin. On average, four or five plant species per year have invaded the Pacific Northwest states over the past 100 years. Authors of this new paper also report that the plant invasions are continuing, exotic plants are rapidly spreading county to county, and the greatest invasions occur in plant communities with the largest number of native species. Currently there is no sign that native plant communities are filled to the brim with native species. Many of these exotic plants are noxious weeds, which increase fire hazards and degrade property values and wildlife habitat. For more information, visit, or contact Tom Stohlgren at (970) 491-1980 or

STORY SEEDS: (points to ponder or investigate)

Baseball Season is Here! Time to Play in the Clay

Clay is used on baseball and softball fields in the base paths, batters boxes, bullpens, pitchers mounds, and practice areas. If used by itself, however, clay is not an ideal surface for play. In the early days of baseball, the clay infield would become as hard as concrete in the summer heat and a slippery marsh after a rain storm. One improvement in the evolution of field clay is calcined clay, which is clay that has been heated in a furnace at about 2,000 F. Once calcined, the clay is ground into a powder that readily absorbs water, reduces soil compaction, and will not stick to cleats. This type of product is used as an infield conditioner and to dry wet spots on a field or track quickly. For more information about clays, visit or, or contact Robert Virta at (703) 648-7726 or

Could Doppler Images Capture More than the Weather?

When we watch the weather forecast on television, we often see images depicting current conditions produced by Doppler radar. This same system also inadvertently records migrating birds. USGS scientist Rick Sojda has been working with a Montana State University graduate student to develop artificial intelligence based algorithms to determine if birds can be digitally detected. Next fall, the group will record large flocks of geese in the Midwest, download the corresponding weather radar scenes, and further test the theory. For more information, contact Rick Sojda at (406) 994-1820 or


Contact: Jessica Robertson
United States Geological Survey

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