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125 years of science for America 1879-2004
Sound Waves Monthly Newsletter - Coastal Science and Research News from Across the USGS
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Ten Years of Ask-A-Geologist

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Ask-A-Geologist Web page
Above: Ask-A-Geologist Web page

The Ask-A-Geologist project has answered more than 32,000 questions by e-mail since October 4, 1994. We encourage questions from students, teachers, and the general public, who enjoy getting answers from U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists. People with questions can visit our Ask-a-Geologist Web site at or e-mail questions directly to ask-a-geologist@usgs.gov.

We began in the Branch of Pacific Marine Geology (now the Western Coastal and Marine Geology Team), using 35 scientists who volunteered to answer questions. For the first year, each scientist answered all the questions for a day. The service was so popular that some days they answered (or tried to answer) 50 questions!

In 1995, we recruited several hundred scientists from across the USGS who each answered a few questions. Today, 91 scientists answer questions, most answering about six questions apiece on one day each month.

Ask-A-Geologist, the Internet, and the USGS have been through many changes since 1994, but a few things have remained constant:

  • Anyone can e-mail a question to Ask-A-Geologist. We get questions from all over the United States, and a few from around the world. We get questions from grade-school students, teachers, college students, professionals, and the curious public.
  • We try to answer all of the questions. Very few "ask a scientist" services try to answer all incoming questions. On average, we answer about 90 percent of all questions.
  • The public likes to get replies from working scientists. We've received hundreds of thank-you e-mails from grateful correspondents. Many correspondents express appreciation for a personalized reply from a working scientist.
  • USGS employees, contractors, emeriti, and volunteers answer all types of Earth-science questions, not just those on topics in their speciality. These scientists get to use all of their Earth-science knowledge and often learn new things outside their specialty that enable better-integrated science.
  • Ask-A-Geologist scientists enjoy answering the questions. No one is required to answer the questions, and so for all of them, this is a labor of love. Many enjoy working with the public in a way that minimizes the impact on their regular work.
  • Nobody has been paid explicitly to work on Ask-A-Geologist, and no funds have been budgeted to run Ask-A-Geologist. The project is run by Rex Sanders (Santa Cruz, CA), with the assistance of Carol Madison (Menlo Park, CA). On average, Rex and Carol spend only a few hours per month working on Ask-A-Geologist, with custom software handling all the routine chores efficiently. The scientists who answer the questions often do so during lunch breaks, after hours, or from home.
  • Six USGS scientists have answered Ask-A-Geologist questions since the beginning: Peter Barnes, Ken Bird, Gretchen Luepke, Mike Marlow, Dave Scholl, and Andy Stevenson (all in Menlo Park, CA). Peter, Gretchen, Mike, and Dave continue to answer questions after retiring from the USGS!

Over the 10-year life of Ask-A-Geologist:

  • We received more than 94,000 e-mails (many were spam and were not answered).
  • We've answered more than 32,000 questions.
  • 425 USGS scientists participated in Ask-A-Geologist at least once.
  • Several other Earth-science research organizations have set up similar services and asked our project for advice, including the British Geological Survey and the Geological Survey of Canada.

What will the next 10 years be like for Ask-A-Geologist? See our next Sound Waves article in 2014!

Related Web Sites
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Western Region Coastal & Marine Geology
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Santa Cruz & Menlo Park, CA

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Coastal Ground Water Discharge

Benthic Habitats Near Oil Platforms

Research Abundance and Distribution of Southern California Seabirds

Suspended Sediment, Turbidity, and Fish Feeding Behavior

USGS Monterey Bay Science Prototype

Outreach Woods Hole Science Center Participates in Open House

10 Years of Ask-A-Geologist

Awards Scientists Rescue Boy from Rip Current

USGS Biologists Receive DOI Honor Awards

Staff & Center News Oceanographer Joins Western Coastal and Marine Geology Team

Netherlands Students Assist USGS in Florida

USGS Represented in Parade

Publications Report on Hazards Offshore Ventura County

USGS Contributes to New Book About Point Loma

November Publications List

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Updated December 02, 2016 @ 12:09 PM (JSS)