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New Fact Sheets Highlight Coastal and Ocean Science in the Western Region

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Hawaiian coral reef.
Above: Hawaiian coral reef. [larger version]

The science conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) along our Nation's west coast and Pacific Islands ranges from documenting coastal erosion on Alaska's Arctic coast to analyzing the decline of tropical coral-reef ecosystems in Hawai‘i.

Three new USGS Fact Sheets, the first in a new series highlighting the Western Region's coastal and ocean science, illustrate the spectrum of USGS research that provides information for resource managers and policy makers who must balance conservation mandates with increasing demands for resources that sustain the Nation's economy. These Fact Sheets include an overview of the entire region (Western Region), a more detailed look at a specific area (Alaska), and a narrower focus on one topic (seabirds). These cascading Fact Sheets are designed to nest into each other to provide a packaged overview of coastal and ocean science conducted by the USGS in Alaska, Hawai'i, the Pacific Islands, Washington, Oregon, and California.

A Look at the Western Region

USGS Western Region coastal and ocean science is interdisciplinary and collaborative, with projects that integrate expertise from science centers across the region. USGS Western Region, Coastal and Ocean Science (Fact Sheet 2009-3068) highlights many of these projects.

New modeling, monitoring, and mapping technologies are being developed to understand how changes in coastal watersheds affect nearshore coral reefs. This ridge-to-reef approach is a response to concerns about the health and decline of tropical coral-reef ecosystems in Hawai'i and the Pacific Islands.

Kasatochi Volcano in July 2008 (left) and October 2008 (right).
Above: Kasatochi Volcano in July 2008 (left) and October 2008 (right). The volcano erupted on August 7, 2008, blowing an ash cloud 45,000 ft into the air. The area of the island grew by 32 percent, owing to ash and lahar flows, and all signs of plant and wildlife were extinguished. (Photographs are at different scales.) [larger version]

The Santa Barbara Channel is of interest to numerous stakeholders, and the USGS conducts research to provide a range of scientific information to these partners. Projects include comprehensive seafloor mapping, studies of rockfish ecology in relation to oil and gas platforms, investigations of contaminants in fish, and studies of natural oil and gas seeps on the ocean floor.

Natural-gas hydrates are a potential energy resource and may play a role in global climate change. The USGS is compiling a global inventory of gas-hydrate occurrences and conducting scientific studies to provide information about this potential resource.

Massive amounts of sediment will be released when two dams are removed on the Elwha River in northwestern Washington in 2012. USGS scientists are conducting studies to better understand the likely impacts of dam removal on fluvial and coastal systems, including important salmon habitat, beaches, shellfish fisheries, and kelp beds.

Science Conducted in the Last Frontier

Alaska has more coastline than the rest of the United States combined. The range of science conducted in Alaska reflects the vastness of the largest State and the scientific information needed to manage its resources. USGS Western Region; Alaska Coastal and Ocean Science (Fact Sheet 2009-3069) highlights many of the key research efforts.

Research on species that depend on sea ice—such as the polar bear, listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, and the Pacific walrus, currently under status review—help define and constrain the consequences to these species of projected sea-ice loss. Satellite remote-sensing methods developed by the USGS allow researchers to detect sea-ice changes and determine the underlying mechanisms of change affecting the habitat of these Arctic species.

Erosion rates along the Arctic coast are among the highest in the world and have accelerated, possibly as a result of declining sea ice and increases in storm power on a coastline underpinned by warming permafrost. USGS research helps forecast future shoreline and potential ecological consequences.

In 2008, Kasatochi Volcano in the Aleutian Islands erupted, destroying much of the maritime ecosystem of the island and its seabird-nesting areas. The USGS and several partners are studying the ecological effects of the eruption to better understand the impact of volcanic events on ecosystems.

The USGS monitors many of Alaska's coastal glaciers and provides quantitative information on glacier mass balance—including a 50-year record of changes in glacier volume—allowing analyses of climate-change influences on water supplies and sea-level rise.

The extraordinary nonstop migration of a shorebird, the Bar-tailed Godwit, from Alaska to New Zealand and then back to Alaska was documented by the USGS with satellite telemetry. This technology helps scientists track animals around the globe as part of a larger effort to understand the potential transmission of avian influenza viruses from Asia to North America.

Seabird Research Across the Region

Double-crested Cormorant.
Above: Double-crested Cormorant. [larger version]

Seabirds in the Pacific remain one of the great wildlife spectacles on the Earth. Yet seabirds face a number of threats, such as oil spills, introduction of predators, and conflicts with fisheries. Management agencies require increasingly sophisticated information on population dynamics, breeding biology, and feeding ecology to successfully manage seabird species and their ecosystems. USGS Western Region; Seabirds, Coastal and Ocean Science (Fact Sheet 2009-3067) highlights the research underway on many of these little-known species.

In Alaska, scientists are studying the status and ecology of the Kittlitz's Murrelet and the Marbled Murrelet. This information is essential to management agencies planning habitat conservation and discussing Endangered Species Act listing for each species.

In the Pacific Islands and Hawai‘i, the USGS monitors seabird-population status and trends on the National Wildlife Refuges, providing standardized protocols for 13 species to meet seabird-management goals.

In San Francisco Bay, researchers are investigating contaminant concentrations and effects on several seabirds, including Forster's Terns, Caspian Terns, and Double-crested Cormorants. Several species show elevated mercury concentrations, linked to historical mining, that may be leading to eggs that fail to hatch and impaired chick growth and survival.

More Fact Sheets to Come!

These Fact Sheets are available as models that other centers, programs, and projects in the USGS Western Region can use to create their own, highlighting additional science activities at the regional, area, topical, or project level. You can download copies of the three Fact Sheets at the following links:

Related Web Sites
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Western Region, Coastal and Ocean Science
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Western Region; Alaska, Coastal and Ocean Science
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Western Region; Seabirds, Coastal and Ocean Science

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cover story:
Link Between Arctic Methane Seeps and Degassing Methane Hydrates

Dive Team Assists with Contaminant Study

Research Remote Sensing Provides Unique Maps and Datasets

Staff Powell Named Director of National Wetlands Research Center

Publications New Fact Sheets Highlight Coastal and Ocean Science

October 2009 Publications List

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