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USGS science picks -- leads, feeds and story seeds

In this edition of Science Picks, discover details about the recent major earthquake in China, including expectations for aftershocks, and find out about a hypothetical earthquake scenario unveiled for Southern California and new publications on how to trek along the Hayward fault line. Learn about climate change impacts on the Colorado River basin and an opportunity to attend a briefing on the issue, how mineral production data reflect the U.S. economic slowdown, and the start of hurricane season. 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

June Highlights:

  • Major Earthquake in China Results in Casualties and Severe Damage
  • Disaster Earthquake Scenario Unveiled for Southern California
  • Tracing the Hayward Fault: Online and On the Ground
  • Climate Change Impacts to the Colorado River Basin
  • Mineral Production Data Reflect Economic Slowdown
  • Hurricanes: The Season is Here
  • What's Up With Sinkholes?
  • Dying Bats in the Northeast Remain a Mystery
  • Boldly Going Where No Man (or Woman) Goes: USGS Unmanned Aircraft
  • Is the Water Warm Enough for a Dip?
  • No Bandying Around: The Future of the Bird Banding Laboratory
  • Humans Hunting Wolves: Effects on Wolf Packs
  • Sea Otters: Picky Eaters
  • Ducking in for a Spring Break: Southern Oregon and Northeastern California

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

Major Earthquake in China Results in Casualties and Severe Damage

A magnitude-7.9 earthquake occurred on May 12, about 55 miles west of Chengdu, Sichuan, China, an urban area with a population of more than 10 million. As a result of this earthquake, there have been at least 34,000 casualties and severe damage in the nearby mountainouse Fleskes at 707-678-0682 x628 or

areas. The earthquake was felt throughout South Asia, including as far away as Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam. Earthquakes in this part of China are infrequent but not unexpected. The most recent damaging earthquakes were a magnitude-6.1 earthquake in 1989 and a magnitude-7.5 earthquake in 1933, which killed more than 9,000 people. Aftershocks of the May 12 quake are expected to continue for months. Within the first few hours following the 7.9 quake, more than 13 moderate-size earthquakes were recorded, the largest being a magnitude 6.0. The USGS is continuing to monitor earthquake activity in the area. More detailed information about these and other earthquakes around the world can be found at For more information, contact Clarice Nassif Ransom at 703-648-4299 or

Disaster Earthquake Scenario Unveiled for Southern California

Scientists recently unveiled a hypothetical scenario describing how a magnitude-7.8 Southern California earthquake similar to the recent earthquake in China would impact the region. Impacts include loss of lives and massive damage to infrastructure, including critical transportation, power, and water systems. In the scenario, the earthquake would kill 1800 people, injure 50,000, cause $200 billion in damage, and have long-lasting social and economic consequences. This is the most comprehensive analysis ever of what a major Southern California earthquake would mean, and is the scientific framework for what will be the largest earthquake preparedness drill in California history, scheduled for November 13, 2008. A copy of the full technical report "The ShakeOut Scenario" is available online at, and a non-technical summary narrative is online at Paper copies of the narrative are available by request. High-resolution images and a computer animation showing the scenario earthquake rupture and the waves of energy spreading across Southern California are online at For more information, contact Clarice Nassif Ransom at 703-648-4299 or

Tracing the Hayward Fault: Online and On the Ground

Ever wonder exactly where the Hayward Fault is located? Three new educational publications will show you just where to look. A field trip guidebook, online virtual tour, and factsheet aimed at increasing awareness of the greater Bay Area's most hazardous and urbanized fault are available courtesy of USGS scientists. The 140th anniversary of the 1868 Hayward earthquake this October 21 marks an important milestone the past five large earthquakes on the Hayward Fault have been about 140 years apart on average, and a repeat of this powerful earthquake could happen at any moment. A recent report indicates that the Hayward Fault is the most likely fault to produce a magnitude-6.7 or larger earthquake in the greater Bay Area in the next 30 years. The field trip guidebook is available online at, the online virtual tour at, and the factsheet at For more information, contact Susan Garcia at 650-329-4668 or

Climate Change Impacts to the Colorado River Basin

Scientific research indicates that warmer temperatures may create substantial water supply shortages in the Colorado River. This would greatly impact the more than 25 million people who rely on this source for water and power. Science-based tools and information are needed to adapt to changing climate conditions in this region of growing population and limited water resources. For more information on the USGS model showing potential shortages from this basin, visit The USGS is hosting a congressional briefing on June 6 in Washington, D.C. on climate change impacts on the Colorado River. The briefing is open to the public. For more information about this briefing, visit or contact Jessica Robertson at 703-648-6624 or

Mineral Production Data Reflect Economic Slowdown

The USGS releases minerals information essential to the U.S. economy and national security. The latest quarterly USGS data on U.S. mineral production reflect the domestic housing market decline over the past year. The USGS study shows significant declines in domestic production for a number of construction materials, including cement, gypsum, crushed stone, and construction sand and gravel. USGS mineral data are used by the Federal Reserve System's Board of Governors in preparing its index of industrial production, a principal economic indicator. To see the report "U.S. Production of Selected Mineral Commodities," visit For more information on the USGS Mineral Resources Program, visit You can also contact Jessica Robertson at 703-648-6624 or

FEEDS: (USGS tools and resources)

Hurricanes: The Season is Here

June 1 marks the start of this year's hurricane season and the USGS has science that weathers the storm. More than half of the U.S. population is located within 50 miles of a coast, and that number is continuously increasing. A major goal of the USGS is to reduce the vulnerability of the people and areas most at risk from natural hazards. Learn more about what the USGS is doing by visiting For more information, contact Jennifer LaVista at 703-648-4432 or

What's Up With Sinkholes?

Sinkholes are common where the rock below the land surface can naturally be dissolved by ground water circulating through them. These rocks include limestone, gypsum and salt. As the rock dissolves, underground voids and caverns develop. The recent sinkhole and catastrophic collapse in Texas is an example of an area impacted by subsurface salt. Sinkholes are dramatic because the land surface may not show evidence of the caverns below until a collapse occurs. These collapses can range from several feet in diameter to many acres and affect houses, roads and other infrastructure. About 25 to 30 percent of our country is underlain by soluble rock, practically every state contains soluble rock in the subsurface, and large regions in the Appalachians, the Midwest, Florida and Texas are prone to sinkhole collapses. For more information about sinkholes, listen to an interview with USGS scientist Randall Orndorff at or visit You can also contact Randall Orndorff at 703-648-4316 or or David Weary at 703-648-6897 or

Dying Bats in the Northeast Remain a Mystery

Investigations continue into the cause of a mysterious illness that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of bats since March 2008. At more than 25 caves and mines in the northeastern United States, bats exhibiting a condition now referred to as "white-nosed syndrome" have been dying. The USGS recently issued a Wildlife Health Bulletin, advising wildlife and conservation officials throughout the United States to be on the lookout for the condition and report suspected cases of the disease. You can listen to a podcast interview with two USGS scientists speaking about this syndrome in bats at For more information, visit, or contact Gail Moede Rogall at 608-270-2438 or

Boldly Going Where No Man (or Woman) Goes: USGS Unmanned Aircraft

In dangerous and remote areas such as polar regions, volcanic islands, and expansive deserts remote-controlled unmanned aircraft can provide more detailed, more timely data about the status of natural resources and environmental conditions than would be feasible by any other means. That is why the USGS is establishing a new program for earth observation using unmanned aircraft systems. In many cases, this technology is simply the most cost effective way to gather earth observation data for a wide variety of applications: managing federal lands, investigating climate change, mapping and charting, conducting environmental risk assessments, and responding to and recovering from natural and human-induced disasters. Working in partnership with many other federal agencies, academic institutions and industry groups, the USGS will promote unmanned aircraft system technology for civil, domestic applications. For more information, visit or contact Heidi Koontz at 303-202-4763 or

Is the Water Warm Enough for a Dip?

Continuous real-time information on water quality is a vital asset that helps safeguard lives and property and ensures adequate water resources for a healthy economy. As the weather heats up, swimming, boating and fishing become the ideal way to spend a weekend. Find out if the water is warm enough for your favorite recreational activities by checking out real-time water quality information through the USGS WaterQualityWatch Web site at Real-time water quality measurements are available at more than 1,300 sites across the nation. Measurements include streamflow, water temperature, pH levels, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and specific conductance. For more information, contact Jennifer LaVista at 703-648-4432 or

No Bandying Around: The Future of the Bird Banding Laboratory

Since 1920, the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory and the Canadian Wildlife Service have banded more than 63 millions birds. A just-released Federal Advisory Committee report details future actions and goals for the Bird Banding Laboratory's next 10 to 15 years. Although the earliest banding studies focused on migration, information from banded birds is now used to study bird behavior and ecology; monitor populations and restored endangered species; assess the effects of environmental disturbances; set hunting regulations; educate people about the environment; and address concerns about human safety and health. For example, banding studies are helping researchers track diseases such as West Nile virus and avian influenza.  The report, authored by scientists from the bird-banding community and published by the USGS, can be accessed at For more information about the Bird Banding Laboratory, visit or contact Daniel James at 703-648-4253 or

STORY SEEDS: (points to ponder or investigate)

Humans Hunting Wolves: Effects on Wolf Populations

The prospect of hunting wolves recently removed from the Endangered Species List in the northern Rockies or the western Great Lakes region may be surprising, but throughout Alaska and Canada wolves have long been harvested by people for their pelts. The effects of human harvest on wolf populations are not well understood because wolf research has focused largely on protected, at-risk populations or those subject to agency control programs. According to a new Wildife Monograph by the USGS and Alaska Department of Fish and Game, half of the wolves harvested in the central Brooks Range of Alaska were probably transient wolves, including dispersers from local packs and distant migrants. The authors also examined other North American wolf studies and found that wolf population trends are not affected by human-caused losses that are less than 30 percent of the population each year. These results are important for wildlife managers and the public because they provide information for the debate surrounding wolf management. For more information, visit or contact Layne Adams at 907-786-7159 or

Sea Otters: Picky Eaters

"What's for dinner?" is a question researchers studying the California sea otter population have been closely examining. Understanding foraging behavior may prove helpful in pinpointing sea otters' exposure to specific vectors of food-borne diseases. Scientists at the USGS and the University of California, Santa Cruz, found that the diets of individual sea otters vary as a response to reduced food availability. By comparing sea otter populations in central California and San Nicolas Island, they found that sea otter diets are highly consistent when food is abundant. When food becomes limiting, as it has in parts of central California, individual sea otters tend to specialize on particular types of prey, and these specialized diets differ between individuals at any given location. At the population level, this results in a more diverse prey base, even though there can be reduced diet diversity at the individual level. For more information on sea otter diets and feeding strategies, visit or contact Tim Tinker at 831-459-2357 or

Ducking in for a Spring Break: Southern Oregon and Northeastern California

Over a million waterfowl per day used Southern Oregon and Northeastern California as a major layover region during their spring migration in 2002 and 2003, according to a recent USGS study. Using aerial surveys, USGS scientists studied the abundance and distribution of ducks, geese, swans and coots during spring, quantifying this region's critical importance to Pacific Flyway waterfowl. Northern pintail, a species of special concern, was the most common species that stopped there. To learn more, visit or contact Jo

Contact: Jessica Robertson
United States Geological Survey

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