USGS Scientists Gear Up For El Nino

November 06, 1997

From the West Coast to South Florida, the U.S. Geological Survey is gearing up as part of the scientific front line in studying and reducing the impact of El Nino.

"El Nino is a reminder of the importance of keeping our science guard up against real-time hazards. As earth and biological scientists, we are concerned that El Nino may increase the number and intensity of storms, triggering floods, landslides, coastal erosion, and damage to fragile ecosystems. These changes may occur as early as October in an El Nino year, but typically are strongest in winter and early spring," said USGS Acting Director Mark Schaefer during testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Water and Power on October 31, 1997.

"We can't forecast exactly what El Nino will do, but I've asked USGS scientists to be ready. As just part of our front line, the USGS is working to ensure that stream gauges in the West and across the country will be fully operational during extreme conditions should they develop," Schaefer said.

"We now monitor streams for flooding at nearly 7,000 stations across the country," said Dr. Robert Hirsch, USGS Chief Hydrologist. "Half of our stations are equipped to transmit information in real time to local, state, and national emergency management and warning agencies such as the National Weather Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. Real-time data are also available to the public via the World Wide Web. Our purpose is to provide data so that the public has the earliest possible warning of an impending flood.

"As vital as the automated equipment is, we have learned from past floods that our technicians in the field remain the critical link to ensure that the best possible information is available for making decisions that will affect lives and property," Hirsch said.

Efforts to monitor and reduce El Nino's impact include:In addition, special response teams are on call 24 hours a day to ensure that topographic and special maps are in the hands of State and Federal emergency coordinators within hours after a flood or landslide.

As the nation's largest natural resources science and mapping agency, the USGS works in cooperation with nearly 2000 organizations to provide reliable, impartial, scientific information to resource managers, planners, and other customers. USGS hydrologists, geologists, biologists and cartographers work in every state to minimize the loss of life and property from natural disasters, contribute to wise economic and physical development of the nation's natural resources, and enhance the quality of life.

US Geological Survey

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