June Science Picks

In this edition of Science Picks, learn what the USGS is doing in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and how satellite imagery can be used to get information after a major disaster. Also, learn how the USGS is helping restore the Chesapeake Bay and how to receive text messages from rivers and streams. You can even go on a pollinator safari and follow a sea turtle named Bertha!

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Leads (top news in natural science)

USGS Responds to Deepwater Horizon Oil

The USGS continues to gather scientific data and information on the environmental impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, providing decision support tools to help mitigate the effects of the oil spill and assist in restoration efforts. Specifically, scientists are collecting samples to find out the levels of toxicity to soils and water systems. Scientists are also collecting satellite imagery to assess the impact on wetlands and coasts. Take a look at satellite imagery of the Gulf as part of the Hazards Data Distribution System at http://hdds.usgs.gov/hdds/tier1/index.php?disaster=201004_Oilspill_GulfOfMexico. Photos of USGS work in the Gulf of Mexico are available in the USGS Multimedia Gallery at http://gallery.usgs.gov/collections/Deepwater_Horizon_Oil_Spill_2010. Visit the USGS Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill website for complete information about the USGS’s response at http://www.usgs.gov/deepwater_horizon/.

Images from Above: Katrina, Haiti and the Gulf of Mexico

After a major disaster, a satellite image or aerial photo is often the most immediate way to determine the scope and severity of the event. The USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., operates the Hazard Data Distribution System, which acquires and delivers satellite and aerial imagery in near-real time during natural or human-caused disasters. After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, Landsat satellite images showed when and where the floodwaters drained. High resolution satellite imagery showed the landscape and building damage before and after the magnitude 7 earthquake hit Haiti in the beginning of 2010. More recently, the USGS obtained satellite imagery from the International Charter to help assess the scope of the oil spill in the Gulf. This imagery is available to all U.S. emergency management officials at the federal, state and local levels. For more information, contact Brenda Jones at [email protected].

A New Strategy for Restoring the Chesapeake Bay

After more than two decades of restoration efforts through the Chesapeake Bay Program, the Chesapeake Bay scored an ecosystem health rating of 45 percent out of 100 in this year’s Bay Barometer. A new Presidential Executive Order provides the federal government with a fresh strategy for restoring clean water, recovering habitats, sustaining fish and wildlife, and conserving lands. The USGS, partnered with NOAA, will be central to the strategy by leading efforts to provide scientific information that addresses the impacts of climate change and land use on the Bay ecosystem, including sea level rise and changes in stream flow, water temperature and nutrients. Using an approach called ecosystem-based adaptive management, the USGS will help partners target restoration activities, monitor ecosystem improvement, and evaluate the effectiveness of restoration actions and policies. For more information about the USGS role in the Chesapeake Bay Strategy and specific USGS studies, visit the USGS Chesapeake Bay website at http://chesapeake.usgs.gov/index.html, or contact Scott Phillips at [email protected].

Feeds (science updates and happenings)

Have the River Send a Txt 2 U

Now you can receive daily or hourly updates about water conditions in rivers and streams by subscribing to WaterAlert, a new service from the USGS based on an extensive, real-time water information network of over 9,500 sites where USGS collects real-time water information. This data is crucial for managing water resources, including during floods, droughts and chemical spills, and WaterAlert gets it into the hands of those who need it as soon as it’s available. WaterAlert also allows kayakers, rafters and boaters to better understand when conditions are optimal and safe for recreational activities. Users can set the system to alert them when conditions are above a value, below a value, and between or outside of a range. Sign up at water.usgs.gov/wateralert. For more information, contact Robert Mason at [email protected].

Calling All Shutterbugs: Go On Safari for Pollinators

Did you know that roughly one-third of the food you eat requires insect pollination? However, bees and other pollinators face increasing risk from pesticide use, habitat loss, climate change and diseases. You can help scientists find out more about how bees are doing by taking digital photographs for “Bee Hunt.” This citizen science project is part of Discover Life, a key partner of the USGS-NBII Invasive Species Information Node. So go grab your pith helmet, watch a short video describing how to take photographs in the field, and join us for an exciting small-scale safari. Discover Life is also rallying citizen scientists to monitor plants, fungi, lichens, ladybugs, moths, butterflies, caterpillars and other critters. For more information, visit http://www.discoverlife.org/bee or contact Nancy Lowe at [email protected].

Where Sea Turtles Go, Nobody Knows

Sea turtles — with their nighttime nesting habits and seafaring ways — have long captivated the imagination of landlubbers. Protecting sea turtles in the Dry Tortugas islands in Florida is a challenge because so little is known about their behavior, but a sea turtle nicknamed “Bertha” is doing her part to shed light on turtle habits. Bertha has been transmitting information to USGS scientists via satellite for almost two years about the location of her nesting events and where she goes post-nesting. So far, scientists have watched Bertha take off for the Bahamas after the 2008 nesting season and remain there ever since. For more about Bertha and the science of turtle tracking, check out the USGS Southeast Ecological Science Center website at http://fl.biology.usgs.gov/Science_Feature_Archive/2010/turtle_tracking/dry_tortugas.html, or contact Dr. Kristen Hart at [email protected].

The Remarkable Corals of Hurricane Hole

A surprising abundance and diversity of corals was recently discovered growing on and among the prop roots of red mangroves in Hurricane Hole, a sheltered area within Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Among several coral species that play an important role in building the structural framework of coral reefs, USGS scientists also discovered a few rare species, normally found in deeper water. Several of the largest coral colonies had survived a major bleaching and disease event that devastated other corals on reefs in St. John in 2005 and 2006. USGS biologists are collaborating with scientists from the University of the Virgin Islands to understand what allows these corals to thrive. Photos are available online. For more information, check out a recent edition of USGS Soundwaves at http://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2010/04/, or contact Dr. Caroline Rogers at [email protected].

Story Seeds (points to ponder or investigate)

Don’t Judge a Shrubland by Its Cover

When you drive through the flat, open spaces of the Western United States, you may see sagebrush shrublands for miles and miles. This scenery, dominated by short, stubby shrubs, may look dull and monotonous to the untrained eye. In reality, this ecosystem is home to a complex web of organisms and processes and is heavily studied by USGS Scientists. It is also one of the most at-risk habitats in North America and presents major challenges for conservation. Invasive cheatgrass promotes frequent wildfires, which destroy habitat and prevent sagebrush from reestablishing. This is bad news for birds, such as the sage grouse, that depend on shrubland habitats. In fact, shrubland birds are experiencing some of the most rapid declines of any group of birds in North America, largely because of this loss of habitat. Learn more in the latest USGS Oregon Science Podcast found at http://gallery.usgs.gov/audios/347. For more information, contact Steven Knick at [email protected].

Nuisance Blooms Hit Chilean Rivers

An extensive bloom of the invasive diatom known as “didymo” (Didymosphenia geminata) has been identified in South America for the first time. Didymo is a significant concern because it can erupt into massive “nuisance blooms” that cover stream and river bottoms. These dense masses substantially alter the habitat of invertebrates, fish and other aquatic life. A USGS scientist confirmed that this bloom, found on 35 miles of two remote Chilean rivers near Esquel, Argentina, was caused by didymo. Because didymo can survive in damp conditions for more than 30 days, it is easily transported from one stream to another on the gear of anglers and boaters — the suspected cause of most occurrences, including the one in Chile. More information on didymo is available online at http://www.fort.usgs.gov/Products/Publications/pub_abstract.asp?PubID=22046, or contact USGS ecologist Sarah Spaulding at [email protected].

Birds without Borders

Canada, Mexico and the continental United States share 882 native landbird species. Many of these species are highly threatened and have declining populations. To this end, the USGS has partnered with other organizations to produce “Saving Our Shared Birds: Partners in Flight Tri-National Vision for Landbird Conservation,” which identifies birds in need of conservation and unites our three countries to help species at risk and keep common birds common through voluntary partnerships. This document is the first comprehensive conservation assessment of landbirds at the tri-national level. Addressing this issue at an international level is important because nearly half of these native landbird species depend on habitats in at least two of the three countries. Co-author and USGS scientist Janet Ruth is the USGS coordinator for Partners in Flight, the organization that produced the assessment. For more information visit http://www.savingoursharedbirds.org/, or contact Janet Ruth at [email protected].

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