Science picks--Leads, feeds and story seeds (December 2002)

December 09, 2002

LEADS

Picture If You Will a Giant Pinball Machine--And you'll begin to get a picture of the extent of shaking caused by the November magnitude 7.9 earthquake in Alaska that affected quite frankly the entire continent, according to the USGS ground-water monitoring network. Yes, that's right, ground-water wells in Pennsylvania, Texas, Connecticut, California and Maine showed strange anomalies of dropping levels and muddy waters almost immediately following the Alaska temblor. The energy released by earthquakes travels not only along the surface - causing the damage we're accustomed to seeing on the ground - but also travels deep down toward the center of the Earth. Along that voyage energy bounces against deep geologic formations, much like in a giant pinball machine and is bounced or reflected into areas at great distance from the epicenter of the earthquake. That's why ground water in Pennsylvania was showing the effects of the power released by the earthquake more than 3,000 miles away. Talk about your pinball wizardry. Water in lakes and swimming pools sloshed about thousands of miles from the epicenter while similar sloshing occurred in aquifers leading to water-level changes and muddy wells. Butch Kinerney (bkinerney@usgs.gov) 703-648-4460

Red is High; Blue is Low - Where Do You Live?--Curious as to whether or not you live on shaky ground? There are more than 75 million Americans in 39 states who live in cities with moderate to high risk from earthquakes. USGS scientists and their partner colleagues have just revised and updated the national seismic hazard maps that provide information essential to seismic design provisions of building codes in the United States. This means that engineers and planners now have updated information to ensure that buildings, bridges, highways and utilities are built or rebuilt to meet modern seismic design provisions - and that means they're better able to withstand the shaking of earthquakes. Standing up to the shaking of an earthquake not only means that lives are saved but also that critical activities can continue after the shaking with less disruption - like power lines, transportation corridors, and other vital infrastructure. The updated versions of the maps - color-coded (red is high; blue is low) as to the level of seismic hazard - are now available at http://geohazards.cr.usgs.gov/eq/. In the upcoming weeks, other features presently available on the website will be updated to match the revised maps, including the ground-shaking levels for 150,000 sites, the seismicity catalogs and fault parameters used to make the updated maps, customizable hazard mapping and being able to create hazardous earthquake scenarios for a given location. Kathleen Gohn (kgohn@usgs.gov) 703-648-4460

Mapping A Flood...Before It Happens--Just think of the possibilities in saving lives and protecting property if you could know ahead of time where a flood was going to go and how high the water would be. Need a crystal ball for that? Building on its long-standing partnerships with FEMA's flood-plain mapping expertise and the National Weather Service's flood-forecasting responsibilities, a new USGS mapping method can produce flood-inundation maps as much as three to five days ahead of a storm, giving flood-response officials and others time to respond. The new maps show computer-generated scenarios of flooded areas and flood depths for a specific storm. The USGS method combines high-accuracy elevation data, a new computer flow model and a geographic information system, producing maps in real-time that are then put on the Internet. Check out this new method online at http://pubs.water.usgs.gov/wri024251/. Butch Kinerney (bkinerney@usgs.gov) 703-648-4460

Of Lahars, Jokulhlaups and Climate Change--The newest chapter (North American Glaciers) in an 11-volume Satellite Image Atlas of Glaciers of the World has just been released by the USGS. This glossy publication, chocked full of stunning scenic photos, satellite images and detailed scientific data on the extent and distribution of glaciers in Canada, the conterminous United States and Mexico (Alaska has its own separate volume in the series), provides an accurate regional inventory of glacier ice on our planet during the 1970's as part of an international effort to measure global environmental change on the Earth's surface. The 400-page USGS report is a review of historical and ongoing changes in these North American glaciers using Landsat imagery acquired primarily during the middle to late 1970s. Long-term monitoring of fluctuations of glaciers provides an important indicator of changes in regional and global climates. Volcanoes capped by glaciers pose significant threats in the form of lahars and jokulhlaups (mudflows and glacier outburst floods). The book, published as USGS Professional Paper 1386-J, is the result of a collaborative effort between the USGS, the National Park Service, U.S. and Canadian universities, the Geological Survey of Canada and the International Glaciological Society of the United Kingdom. Additional information about the USGS Glacier Project and other volumes in the series is available at http://www.glaciers.er.usgs.gov Carolyn Bell (cbell@usgs.gov) 703-648-4460

FEEDS

A Kiss is Just a Kiss, But Mistletoe is So Much More--The next time you pucker up under the mistletoe, consider this: mistletoe also provides essential food, cover, and nesting sites for an amazing number of birds, butterflies, and mammals in the United States, according to the USGS. That may take some of the romance out of the kiss but it sure makes the more than 1,300 species of mistletoe worldwide - more than 20 of which are endangered - happy to know that you're thinking about their welfare. Mistletoes are rather strange plants that grow on the branches of trees and shrubs. In fact, according to USGS biologists, the American mistletoe's scientific name, Phoradendron, means "thief of the tree" in Greek. Once its seed lands on a host tree, the mistletoe sends out roots that penetrate the tree and eventually start pirating some of the host tree's nutrients and minerals. But mistletoes are not true parasites; instead they are what scientists call "hemi-parasites" because most of them have the green leaves necessary for photosynthesis. Eventually, mistletoes grow into thick masses of branching, misshapen stems, giving rise to a popular name of witches' brooms, or the apt Navajo name of "basket on high." The plant's common name -- mistletoe -- is derived from early observations that mistletoe would often appear in places where birds had left their droppings. "Mistel" is the Anglo-Saxon word for "dung," and "tan" is the word for "twig." Thus, mistletoe means "dung-on-a-twig." Talk about taking the romance out of that next kiss under the mistletoe! Even though bird droppings do not generate mistletoe plants, birds are an important part of mistletoe life. Birds find mistletoe a great place for nesting and many birds eat mistletoe berries, including grouse, mourning doves, bluebirds, evening grosbeaks, robins and pigeons. Check out http://www.usgs.gov/mistletoe/index.html Carolyn Bell (cbell@usgs.gov) 703-648-4460

STORY SEEDS

Kilauea Volcano Just Keeps On Going and Going--When January 3, 2003, rolls around, Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii's Big Island will have been erupting for 20 years. The eruption, which began in 1983 and shows no signs of slowing down, is the longest on Kilauea's rift zone in 600 years, has covered 189 buildings and around 8 miles of highway and added 220 hectares (544 acres) to the island's southern shore. Kilauea is Hawaii's youngest volcano and one of the most active. USGS scientists keep a watchful eye on this incredibly active volcano 24 hours a day. Vivid color images and current information are available at http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/kilauea/update/ Looking for B roll of the volcano? Contact Don Becker at becker@usgs.gov or 605-594-6175. Kathleen Gohn (kgohn@usgs.gov) 703-648-4460

USGS to Embark with Lewis and Clark--Can it really be 200 years ago that Lewis and Clark began their historic voyage of discovery? Yes, on January 14-18, 2003, the USGS joins many partners at the opening ceremonies of a 3-year celebration - the bicentennial commemoration of the Lewis and Clark expedition. This inaugural event, at Monticello in Charlottesville, Va., is the first of 13 planned events and marks the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's dispatch of a letter to Congress asking for support of a federal expedition to the Pacific Ocean. The USGS, which carries on the Lewis and Clark legacy of surveying and monitoring the nation's natural heritage, will provide expert speakers on scientific topics related to the first federally funded expedition. For more information see http://nd.water.usgs.gov/lewisandclark/ Jon Campbell (joncampbell@usgs.gov) 703-648-4460
-end-


US Geological Survey

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