Science Picks-Leads, Feeds and Story Seeds (June 2003)

June 06, 2003


Mapping the Trail of a Killer - USGS is again mapping the trail of the West Nile Virus in 2003 online and in near real-time. The USGS website,, shows where the disease has been identified in humans, birds, mosquitoes and horses. In 1999 and 2000, outbreaks of West Nile Virus were reported in the New York City metropolitan area, New Jersey, and Connecticut. In these two years, 83 human cases of West Nile illness were reported; 9 died. In 2001, human infection with the virus occurred in 10 states with 66 cases and 9 deaths. In 2002, virus activity spread to 44 states, with 4,156 human cases and 284 deaths. West Nile Virus is transmitted to humans through mosquito bites. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on infected birds that have high levels of the virus in their blood. Infected mosquitoes can then transmit the virus when they feed on humans or other animals. Butch Kinerney,, 703-648-4732.

Mapping the Watery Topography of the Everglades - So flat, so broad, so indeterminate is the boundary between land and water in the Florida Everglades that it is famously known as a River of Grass. Yet even here, across more than 10,000 square miles of soggy, inaccessible, pancake-flat terrain, water still, though almost imperceptibly, flows downhill. The USGS has meticulously mapped the above ground and underwater topography of the Everglades to support the hydrologic and ecological modeling studies needed for ecosystem restoration planning. Because the Everglades is so expansive and remote and includes environmentally sensitive areas, impenetrable vegetation, and other areas unapproachable by airboat, access to many places is possible only by helicopter. The USGS has developed a helicopter-based instrument, known as the Airborne Height Finder (AHF) which is able to measure the terrain surface elevation, whether above or under the water, in a noninvasive, nondestructive manner. Using an airborne surveying platform (the helicopter) equipped with GPS (global positioning system) technology and a high-tech version of the surveyor's plumb bob, the AHF system distinguishes itself from remote sensing technologies in its ability to physically penetrate vegetation and murky water, providing reliable measurement of the underlying topographic surface. To see the AHF in action, go to Further information is available at Jon Campbell,, 703-648-4180.

Charting the Post-Fire Impacts of Wildfire - Although wildfires are still a threat in Colorado this year, other hazards like flooding and debris flows are more likely in fire-scorched areas across the state due to heavy rains and runoff. Nearly a year ago, the Hayman, Coal Seam and Missionary Ridge fires burned over 220,000 acres combined. In response, the USGS developed post-wildfire mitigation maps that detail flood potential and debris flow in these areas. These maps are currently available to emergency planners and will soon be accessible online to the public. Heidi Koontz,, 303-202-4763.


The Genetic Potential of Potentilla rupincola - Molecular genetic tools have become increasingly important in wildlife studies. Genetic techniques contribute to analyses of population dynamics and can document genetic diversity in a variety of species, including Greater Sage-Grouse, Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Trumpeter Swans, Midget Faded Rattlesnakes, Lesser Prairie-Chickens, Mountain Plover, and Potentilla rupincola. The USGS and the University of Denver have jointly developed the Rocky Mountain Center for Conservation Genetics and Systematics, a regional multi-partner collaboration that promotes molecular studies of conservation genetics and systematics. A grand opening ceremony and open house on June 13 at the University of Denver will feature the science and capabilities of the facility. Heidi Koontz,, 303-202-4763.

What Planet Are They From? - The USGS works with NASA and others to map the planets and their moons and to plan and conduct planetary exploration missions. In the process, USGS has produced an amazing collection of images, maps, and animations that are just out of this world! Check it out at A.B. Wade,, 703-648-4460.


Independence Found in Many Places - There's always a story in geographic names. Just pick a holiday, a topic, or an historical figure to learn how a placename is scattered across the landscape. For example, there are 528 features named "Independence" on USGS topographic maps - the source for the Geographic Names Information System. Missouri has the most occurrences of the name "Independence" (53), Illinois (43), California (37), Ohio (30) and Colorado (27). To get this information you can query a search engine at Click on Geographic Names under "Products," look under "Query the GNIS Online Data Bases" for United States and Territories. Include "variant names" to get historical features. You can even find out which watershed the feature is in. And, of course, the database shows the latitude and longitude on the USGS topo map - after all we do maps and geography at USGS as well as the earth and natural sciences. There are also 51 instances where Independence is the name of a mine - looks like a lot of folks hoped that sinking that mine would bring them their own independence Gail Wendt,, 703-648-5604.

What Puts the "BANG" in Your Fourth of July? To celebrate Independence Day, Americans are drawn to spectacular fireworks displays. But what makes the colors, lights, and sounds so vivid? Each color in a fireworks display is produced by a specific mineral compound. Bright greens are from barium; blues come from copper; and yellow requires sodium. More colors result by mixing compounds. The role of minerals in fireworks is just one example of our society's growing reliance on minerals for making things from automobiles to toothpaste. Wanna know more? Visit to learn about the USGS statistics on production, trade, and resources for about 90 mineral commodities from around the world. For fun facts see: Diane Noserale,, 703-648-4333.

US Geological Survey

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