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USGS News: Data, Tools and Technology
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News about new data sets, websites, hardware and software advancements, etc from the USGS.
News about new data sets, websites, hardware and software advancements, etc from the USGS.

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EarthView–January Rain, Snow Refills California Reservoirs: EarthViews is a continuing series in which we share a USGS Image of the Week featuring the USGS/NASA Landsat program. From the artistry of Earth imagery to natural and human-caused land change over time, check back every Friday to finish your week with a visual flourish! In this January 30, 2017, Landsat 8 view of California’s Lake San Antonio and Lake Nacimiento, the rain and snow’s effects can be seen in the raised water level. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat program. (Public domain.) The EarthView: January Rain, Snow Refills California Reservoirs Description: A decade of drought in California has eased after the first month of 2017 thanks to heavy rains and snow, a fact that Landsat images are helping to confirm. For the first time in three years, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported in late January 2017 that not a single area in California is considered in “exceptional drought,” the most severe category. A year ago, about 40 percent of the state was under the most severe designation. Landsat 8’s Operational Land Imager captures the dramatic reversal in these false-color views of Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio along the coast in central California between Los Angeles and San Francisco. In this December 29, 2016, Landsat 8 view of California’s Lake San Antonio and Lake Nacimiento, the decade-long drought’s effects can be seen in the low water level. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat program. (Public domain.) Drought left Lake Nacimiento at only 22 percent full as of late 2016. Since 2014, Lake San Antonio had been emptied to critical levels to help recharge the groundwater in the Salinas Valley. At only 3 percent full, the lake was closed to public use on July 1, 2015. The red burn scar from the Chimney Fire in August 2016 is a vivid reminder of the drought’s impact on the area. Today, however, the January 30, 2017, image shows how the recent precipitation has transformed the water levels in these two lakes. Lake Nacimiento is now at 81 percent full, while Lake San Antonio—virtually dry before—sits at 26 percent full. All told, more than 48 percent of California was drought free as of February 1, 2017, compared to only 5 percent a year ago, according to the Drought Monitor. Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science. #technology #data

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EarthView–Argentina Flooding Has Major Impact on Soybean Production: EarthViews is a continuing series in which we share a USGS Image of the Week featuring the USGS/NASA Landsat program. From the artistry of Earth imagery to natural and human-caused land change over time, check back every Friday to finish your week with a visual flourish! In this follow-up Landsat 8 image, taken on January 23, 2017, flooding along the rivers through Argentina’s soybean-growing areas can be seen. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program. (Public domain.) The EarthView: Argentina Flooding Has Major Impact on Soybean Production Description: Heavy rains in late December 2016 and early January 2017 are affecting soybean production in Argentina’s bread-basket provinces while impacting soy prices worldwide. Landsat 8’s Operational Land Imager is a valuable tool for confirming weather’s impact on crop production. While rainfall is common in northeastern Argentina from December through February each year, the flooding of soybean fields in that area is dramatic in the January 2017 Landsat image, compared to a similar period in January 2015, when no such inundation covers the landscape. In this Landsat 8 image, taken on January 2, 2015, Argentina’s soybean farmlands can be seen with thin blue bands streaking through where rivers are. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program. (Public domain.) The flooding in the world’s third largest soybean-exporting country caused soybean and soymeal prices to hit six-month highs in mid-January on the Chicago Board of Trade, commodity analysts said. Argentina’s Rosario Grains Exchange has reported that almost 4 million acres of soybeans in that country were damaged by this recent flooding. This image shows a portion of that inundation. As the longest-running satellite system covering the Earth, Landsat is vital to national and international food production. The Landsat imagery not only helps verify crop damage, as it did in this case, but is also valuable to agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture for formulating reports on crop production, condition, progress, and projecting yields. Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science. #technology #data

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Christian Zimmerman to Lead Studies as New Director of the Alaska Science Center: (Public domain.) “We are very pleased and fortunate to have Dr. Zimmerman accept this position,” said USGS Alaska Regional Director Aimee Devaris. “His dedication and awareness of the unique challenges and opportunities that the Center faces will serve the staff well.” Zimmerman has a Bachelor of Science in Fisheries with a minor in Geography from Humboldt State University and spent a year studying limnology at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. After earning a masters and doctorate degrees at Oregon State University he took a Post-doc at the University of Washington and the USGS Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle, Washington. “The Alaska Science Center is critical to the Department of Interior's mission in Alaska, providing objective and timely information to support management decisions regarding natural resources, natural hazards and ecosystems.  Dr. Zimmerman's experience leading multidisciplinary research and operational programs in Alaska have prepared him well for this new role.” said Devaris. Zimmerman’s federal service began as a biological science technician at the Redwood National Park in California and he has also worked at the Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in Oregon. Chris came to the Alaska Science Center in 2001 as a research fish biologist and was the team leader for the Fish and Aquatic Ecology Program from 2005 to 2014. Since 2014, Chris has led the Water, Ice and Landscapes Dynamics Office. Shasby will remain with the Center working on a special assignment to coordinate the development of the next generation of satellite data products for Alaska. Shasby’s assignment working with the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center and NASA on mapping products will bring him full circle in his career in a way that will provide USGS and the state resource management agencies with a valuable legacy of useful and innovative information. #technology #data

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EarthView–West Africa Atlas Details Efforts to Manage, Preserve Okomu Forest: EarthViews is a continuing series in which we share a USGS Image of the Week featuring the USGS/NASA Landsat program. From the artistry of Earth imagery to natural and human-caused land change over time, check back every Friday to finish your week with a visual flourish! The EarthView: West Africa Atlas Details Efforts to Manage, Preserve Okomu Forest In this Landsat 8 image, taken on January 4, 2017, nearly 33 years of change in land-use can be seen in the Okomu Forest Reserve. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program. (Public domain.) Description: A new atlas named Landscapes of West Africa: A Window on a Changing World tells the story of transformations and trends across many lands in West Africa, including this look at the threat of human activities in the Okomu Forest Reserve in southern Nigeria. Closed-canopy tropical moist forest once covered large parts of this Nigerian landscape. Since the 1940s, however, systematic rotational logging and farming have caused major losses of natural forest. In this Landsat 5 image, taken on December 11, 1984, the Okomu Forest Reserve can be seen in the center. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program. (Public domain.) In the 1984 Landsat 5 image, parts of the reserve have already been converted to plantations of oil palm and rubber trees, as seen in shades of magenta. In 1985, a wildlife sanctuary of 44 square miles was carved out of the most intact area of the forest reserve to protect a small population of forest elephants and several species of threatened primates. The sanctuary was designated the Okomu National Park in 1999 to give it more protection from plantation and farm development, as well as human settlement expansion. The visible impact of large-scale rubber and oil palm plantation expansion in the northern half of the forest reserve is easily seen in the 2017 Landsat 8 image. However, the Okomu National Park remains largely protected within the reserve and stands out against its surroundings. The atlas and its accompanying datasets are valuable tools to Nigerian forest managers in their effort to protect Okomu from further ecosystem degradation. Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science. #technology #data

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Maps Made With Light Show the Way: The valley’s beauty makes it a magnet for newcomers, some of them Hollywood and Silicon Valley celebrities. In a bare-earth lidar image, with the land surface portrayed in detail, Stickney saw what no one knew existed: an active seismic fault with the potential to trigger a magnitude 6.5 to 7.5 earthquake. Such a quake would be “devastating,” said Stickney, director of the earthquake studies office at the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology. “A quake of that magnitude could rupture a dam, flood a nearby town, bring down buildings in Missoula, and destroy homes in the valley where 150,000 people now live.” “People have always thought the area was relatively immune to large earthquakes,” he said. No large quakes have ever been recorded there. “We knew the fault existed, but the best available evidence was that it was not active.” Image showing part of Montana's Bitterroot Valley in an overlay of both high-resolution lidar and satellite data. The Bitterroot River flood plain is in the center, and a scarp of the Bitterroot fault is left of center. Lidar imagery courtesy of Michael Stickney, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology By chance, better seismic evidence came along: a bare-earth lidar map. Lidar, which stands for “light detection and ranging,” is the 21st-century version of George Washington’s surveyor’s compass and chain. Unlike aerial photography, lidar shows not only vegetation and objects on the land’s surface, but the structures beneath. With lidar images, a forester can gauge the yield of a stand of trees. A solar power entrepreneur can estimate the energy reflectance of rooftops. A vehicle designer can improve fuel efficiency with technology that uses elevation data to determine when transmissions should upshift or downshift. A structural engineer can study an aging bridge for signs of potential failure. Missed Opportunities? Lidar mapping is usually done to meet specific needs: private companies conduct data-gathering flights and provide information to business and government clients. Clients’ requests and company practices determine what areas are mapped, how accurately and how often, and how data are analyzed, used, stored, and shared. The result is a crazy quilt that, in 2014, included high-quality lidar coverage of less than one-sixth of the lower 49 States and territories. Those discontinuities severely limit the usefulness of lidar maps to anyone except the original clients. The result is missed economic opportunities, along with chances to protect the American people from earthquakes, floods, landslides, and other hazards. The USGS is tackling the problem. The USGS’ National Geospatial Program is in year one of an 8-year program to create the first publicly available, national 3D elevation map using lidar. Called the 3D Elevation Program or 3DEP, it is a collaboration of Federal agencies, States, territories, local governments, and private industries. 3DEP is systematically collecting lidar data across the country and leveraging existing lidar surveys into a central collection. The program established data quality standards and is now acquiring new lidar data to fill crucial gaps. USGS map showing data collected in FY 2016 by the 3D Elevation Program. This map was updated on June 30, 2016. Radar-based technology (known as “ifsar”) used in Alaska, where weather conditions interfere with lidar flights.  3DEP is expected to produce a tremendous return on an investment of $1 billion over 8 years, with costs shared among the USGS and other Federal agencies, as well as State and local partners. A 2011 national assessment led by the USGS documented more than 600 business uses for 3DEP products. Some applications have the potential to spark new technologies and industries, with economic benefits ranging from $690 million to $13 billion per year. These benefits extend to all 50 States and Puerto Rico. A Pennsylvania utility company expects to save at least $67 million yearly by using lidar mapping to track trees’ encroachment on power lines. A major agricultural consulting firm estimates that lidar-based precision agriculture could save corn and wheat growers $50 million per year in the Red River Valley alone. The discovery of the Bitterroot fault might never have happened if scientists had been unable to share lidar data. Stickney explained that only a Federal initiative will ensure lidar data are available nationwide to help every State identify hazards, assess risks, and inform and protect citizens. Important finds are in the future as 3DEP completes the national lidar data coverage. “Every time we have gotten lidar data for Montana,” Stickney said, “we’ve made new discoveries.” GIF showing an aerial orthophoto of the area around the Pole Creek Fire in Oregon combined with a shaded relief image from lidar. Features that are impossible to identify from airborne imagery become very evident when using lidar. Aerial orthophoto source is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Imagery Program. Lidar source is USGS. Important finds are in the future as 3DEP completes the national lidar data coverage. “Every time we have gotten lidar data for Montana,” Stickney said, “we’ve made new discoveries.” For more information,  Read more stories about USGS science in action. Click here for the print version.   #technology #data

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EarthView–Wildfires Scorch Pampas Region of Argentina: EarthViews is a continuing series in which we share a USGS Image of the Week featuring the USGS/NASA Landsat program. From the artistry of Earth imagery to natural and human-caused land change over time, check back every Friday to finish your week with a visual flourish! This Landsat 8 view of the Pampas region of Argentina, taken on December 22, 2016, shows initial fire scars. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program. (Public domain.) The EarthView: Wildfires Scorch Pampas Region of Argentina Description: Since mid-December 2016, roughly two dozen wildfires in the Pampas region of Argentina have consumed almost 2.5 million acres while unleashing giant plumes of dense smoke above the rural landscapes. Likely caused by thunderstorms that followed a stretch of severe drought in the winter and spring of 2016, the first fires started southwest of the city of Bahía Blanca. A scene from Landsat 8’s Operational Land Imager (OLI) on December 22, 2016, shows smaller red burn scars from those initial blazes—an area of approximately 100,000 acres. This followup Landsat 8 view of the Pampas region of Argentina, taken on January 7, 2017, shows significantly increased fire scars. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program. (Public domain.) Despite rain in the final days of December, a handful of hot spots persisted, and the fires spread. When it passed overhead on January 7, 2017, OLI captured dramatic imagery of large red burn scars across the landscape of Argentina’s central province of La Pampa, and its southern province of Rio Negro. On January 5, 2017, the International Charter “Space and Major Disasters,” of which USGS is a member, granted Argentina’s request for Charter members’ available satellite data to help in rapidly assessing the extent of damage and determining a disaster response. Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science. #technology #data

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Media Advisory: Mapping Beach Changes Caused by Recent Storms: This field work complements annual surveys over a larger area, from Santa Cruz to Moss Landing, that the USGS began in October 2014 to document the volume of sand moving along the coast. Conducting surveys over many years will ultimately provide a detailed picture of how our coastline reacts to changes in waves and sand input. The results can be incorporated into future scenarios of sea-level rise and climate change, contributing directly to Monterey Bay communities working on how to protect their coastlines. Targeted surveys of vulnerable and dynamic coastal zones such as the mouth of the San Lorenzo River and the Capitola area after large winter storms will enable scientists to know what happens and how the beaches change, and will aid the understanding of how big storm events, such as those occurring during El Niño years, shape and erode the coast. What: Media availability for interviews and photo opportunity: Scientific beach surveys by boat and personal watercraft. Who: Project lead Patrick Barnard and other scientists from the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. When/Where: Friday, January 13, 9:30-10:30 a.m., at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River, on Santa Cruz Municipal Beach, California. RSVP to Patrick Barnard, 415-328-2087 Sandy coastlines are a valuable resource that protect man-made structures from waves, serve as habitat for important species, and provide a variety of recreational opportunities. Big storms that wreak havoc in the area may also do some good by helping streams carry much-needed sand to local beaches More information about this research is online.     The San Lorenzo River flows full and muddy past the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.(Credit: Andrew Stevens, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.) USGS scientist Jackson Currie navigates a personal watercraft toward Santa Cruz Main Beach to record bathymetric data along a transect(Credit: Andrew Stevens, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.) USGS scientist, Alex Snyder gathers topographic data by walking beach transects northwest of Moss Landing, California to help researchers understand how Monterey Bay will respond to changing environmental conditions. (Credit: Andrew Stevens, U.S. Geological, Survey. Public domain.) USGS scientist using a sonar-equipped All-Terrane Vehical (ATV) to map beach profile after a storm in Northern California.(Credit: Patrick Barnard, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.) USGS scientist Tim Elfers navigates a personal watercraft toward Cowell Beach to record bathymetric data along a transect.(Credit: Andrew Stevens, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.) #technology #data

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EarthView–Marree Man Geoglyph in Australia Does Reappearing Act: EarthViews is a continuing series in which we share a USGS Image of the Week featuring the USGS/NASA Landsat program. From the artistry of Earth imagery to natural and human-caused land change over time, check back every Friday to finish your week with a visual flourish! This Landsat 8 image, taken in November of 2016, shows the Australian outback after the Marree Man was re-etched. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program. (Public domain.) The EarthView: Marree Man Geoglyph in Australia Does Reappearing Act Description: In June 1998, a pilot discovered a strange sight in the Australian outback that wasn’t there before—a huge outline of what appeared to be an Aboriginal man throwing either a boomerang or a stick. It turned out to be a geoglyph, which is a design on the ground typically made of natural elements and best viewed from above. This geoglyph was distinctive and large enough to be clearly visible in Landsat images. This Landsat 5 image, taken in May of 1998, shows the Australian outback before the Marree Man was created. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program. (Public domain.) Its origin remains a mystery, as no credible source has claimed responsibility. Over the years, the “Marree Man” faded because of rain and wind. In July 2000, Landsat 7 shows an outline with far fewer details. This Landsat 5 image, taken in June of 1998, shows the Australian outback with the Marree Man. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program. (Public domain.) In August 2016, the Marree Man was re-etched. A grader and GPS were used to re-create the outline, and this time the geoglyph is expected to last longer. The lines created are wind grooves that will trap water, so over time the outline should turn green. This Landsat 7 image, taken in July of 2000, shows the Marree Man faded from weathering. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program. (Public domain.) Now clearly visible again in the November 2016 Landsat 8 image, Marree Man is among the biggest geoglyphs on Earth. It stretches 3.5 kilometers from the tip of his stick to his toes. From an airplane, a person would need to be at around 3,000 feet to view it in its entirety. Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science. #technology #data

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EarthView–Rare Snow Falls at the Edge of Sahara Desert: EarthViews is a continuing series in which we share a USGS Image of the Week featuring the USGS/NASA Landsat program. From the artistry of Earth imagery to natural and human-caused land change over time, check back every Friday to finish your week with a visual flourish! This Landsat 7 image shows an area on the edge of the Sahara Desert in northwestern Africa after significant snow fell. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat program.(Public domain.) The EarthView: Rare Snow Falls at the Edge of Sahara Desert Description: In mid-December 2016, a rarity occurred on the edge of the Sahara Desert in northwest Africa. It snowed. Landsat 7’s Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) sensor captured the image that shows the white covering on the caramel-colored landscape southwest of the Algerian community of Ain Sefra, a town sometimes referred to as “the gateway to the desert.” All the snow except that at the highest elevations melted soon after, a fact Landsat 8 confirmed when it passed overhead on December 27. This Landsat 8 image shows the same area a few days later after most of the snow has melted. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat program.(Public domain.) Ain Sefra’s last snowfall occurred on February 18, 1979. While snow does collect in Africa at higher elevations—Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania has long been crowned by a cap of snow and ice—snow on the edge of the Sahara Desert seldom falls. The average summertime temperature at Ain Sefra is 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Though winter temperatures are known to drop into the 30s, snow is as rare as the cool temperatures given that just a few centimeters of precipitation fall there annually. Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science. #technology #data

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EarthView–Expansion at the Port of Rotterdam: EarthViews is a continuing series in which we share a USGS Image of the Week featuring the USGS/NASA Landsat program. From the artistry of Earth imagery to natural and human-caused land change over time, check back every Friday to finish your week with a visual flourish! This Landsat 7 view of Rotterdam harbor, taken on September 28, 2001, predates the beginning of the Maasvlakte 2 port expansion project. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program. (Public domain.) The EarthView: Expansion at the Port of Rotterdam Description: A large infrastructure project has changed the shape of the coastline of the Netherlands while increasing the cargo capacity at Europe’s largest port. This pair of Landsat images spanning 15 years shows the Maasvlakte 2 project, which is an expansion of the Port of Rotterdam. The port provides accessibility for the transportation of cargo from Rotterdam to the rest of Europe. Land building at Maasvlakte 2 began in 2008. About 230 million cubic meters of sand were dredged from the North Sea to create about 5,000 acres of new land. In addition, 7 million metric tons of stone were used to construct new seawalls. In this Landsat 8 view of Rotterdam Harbor, taken on September 13, 2016, the completed Maasvlakte 2 project can be seen, which added about 5,000 acres of new land to the port. Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat Program. (Public domain.) Commercial cargo operations at the new Maasvlakte 2 facility began in December 2014. Its terminals currently can hold 2.7 million individual 20-foot shipping containers. There is more space for terminals to be built on the new land once demand increases, which would increase the port’s cargo handling capacity even more. The expansion of land resulted in some loss of permanently flooded sandbanks that affected the availability of food for some protected bird species, such as the common scoter, the sandwich tern, and the common tern. However, this loss was compensated for by establishing a protected seabed area south of the Maasvlakte 2 in the Voordelta. Also, three bird resting areas in the seabed were established where boat traffic is restricted. Landsat can help monitor this coast to ensure the positive impact of these protected areas as compensation for the land expansion. Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science. #technology #data
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