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From Climate Change and Avian Flu to Mars and Titan: USGS at AAAS
Released: 2/15/2007 6:21:50 PM

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Catherine Puckett 1-click interview
Phone: 352-264-3532

Leslie Gordon 1-click interview
Phone: 650-329-4006 (office) 650-793-1534 (cell)



For reporters at AAAS, please call Leslie Gordon for media inquiries; she will be at the conference.

Avian Influenza in Wildlife. This talk will focus on the current state of scientific knowledge about highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 and wild birds, as well as summarize the findings of the joint federal-state program established in 2006 for the early detection of this virus in the United States' wild bird population. In 2005, H5N1 avian influenza spread rapidly across Asia from east to west. By March 2006, outbreaks were taking place among wild birds in Europe. While many speculated that wild birds alone were carrying the virus into new areas, the timing and direction of H5N1's spread across Asia did not correspond with any known wild bird migratory behavior. Evidence is beginning to suggest that a combination of factors have all contributed to the persistence and spread of HPAI H5N1: movements by infected wild birds, transportation of infected domestic birds, and uncontrolled interactions between wild and domestic birds. To minimize the adverse effects of HPAI, it is critical to detect its presence in a potential host population - whether wild bird or domestic poultry - early enough to mount an appropriate and effective response.  Understanding the role of migratory birds in the spread of avian influenza viruses, the epidemiology of the avian influenza virus and its subtypes, and the exposure rates of various wild species are essential to future management of this disease. Dr. Susan D. Haseltine, U.S. Geological Survey. In session "Pandemic Influenza: Understanding the Threat and Organizing the Response." Friday, Feb. 16, 2007, 1:45-4:45 p.m., Hotel: Hilton San Francisco, Ballroom Level, Continental Ballroom 6.

Arctic Feedbacks to the Carbon-Climate System. The Arctic is a key part of the global climate system because the net positive energy input to the tropics must ultimately be resolved through substantial energy losses in high-latitude regions. The Arctic influences the global climate system through both positive and negative feedbacks that involve physical, ecological and human systems of the Arctic. The balance of evidence suggests that positive feedbacks to global warming will likely dominate in the Arctic during the next 50 to 100 years, which would mean an increase in atmospheric water vapor and higher temperatures, reduced snow and ice cover, an expansion of evergreen conifer forests and shrub tundra cover, more frequent fires, more carbon and methane release, and thawing of permafrost. However, the negative feedbacks associated with changing the freshwater balance of the Arctic Ocean through increased river discharge and thawing of sea ice and glaciers might abruptly launch the planet into another glacial period on longer timescales. Researchers, though, do not know how and on what timescale the oceanic changes in the North Atlantic will influence climate, even with such important examples of the thawing of permafrost and associated hydrologic and ecosystem changes. In light of uncertainties and the vulnerabilities of the climate system to responses in the Arctic, it is important that we improve understanding of how integrated regional changes in the Arctic will likely influence the evolution of the global climate system. Dr. David McGuire, U.S. Geological Survey. In session "Is a Warmer Arctic Adding Carbon Dioxide to the Atmosphere?" Saturday, Feb 17, 2007, 2 - 3:30 p.m., Hotel: Renaissance Parc 55, Fourth Floor, Parc Ballroom 3.

The Advance of Springtime: Early Signs of Global Warming? During the last few decades, there has been a widespread shift toward earlier springs. Over much of western North America, that shows up in some key hydrological and ecological measures. This shift is associated with warmer winters and springs since the mid-1970's, an increase of approximately 1-3 degrees C over the previous three decades. Responses to this warming have included a trend for more precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow, an advance in the timing of snowmelt and snowmelt-driven streamflow, less spring snowpack, and earlier spring plant development. Largest changes in mountain snow-fed watersheds have occurred in lower, transition-zone elevations where average temperatures are close to freezing, and near the altitude separating rain from snow. A large proportion of the snowmelt-dominated watersheds in Alaska, western Canada and the western conterminous United States have shifted toward earlier spring flows, while many of the rainfall-dominated streams along the West Coast have tended to shift toward later flows. Although some of this spring and winter warming of recent decades can be caused by natural climatic variations such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, it is not enough to fully explain the full suite of temperature and associated hydrological and phenological changes. The regional warming and its attendant snowmelt shift are consistent with the response of the western hydrology to human-caused climate warming. To manage and protect water and ecological resources in the western mountains, researchers must be able to separate natural climatic fluctuations from human-caused climate warming by more completely monitoring the western mountain hydroclimate. Dr. Daniel R. Cayan, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, U.S. Geological Survey. In session "Achieving Sustainable Water Supplies in the Drought-Plagued West." Friday, Feb 16, 2007, 8:30 - 11:30 a.m. Hotel: Renaissance Parc 55, Fourth Floor, Parc Ballroom 2

Follow the Water: Hydrologic History of Mars. Mars is the other planet in the solar system that appears to have once had a habitable climate most similar to that of Earth, and is therefore the prime exploration target for astrobiology. Recent missions reveal Mars to be a richly fascinating world that challenges people to understand the history of its habitability, search for evidence of life, and prepare for future human exploration. Early in Martian history, an active hydrological cycle included surface precipitation, streams and lakes. Later, liquid water was sustained at least locally by interactions among volcanism, surface impacts, groundwater, and ice. The Mars Exploration Rovers and a fleet of Mars orbiters have found that liquid water has chemically weathered the crust. Liquid water participated in certain rock weathering reactions, such as iron and sulfide oxidation, that created potential sources of energy for life. Methane recently discovered in the Martian atmosphere apparently requires a robust source(s) that probably resides in the subsurface, consistent with liquid water at depth. Conditions on Mars therefore could have supported life sometime in the past, and perhaps might even do so today.  This symposium will present the interdisciplinary scientific exploration that is needed to explore the evolution of Mars and ultimately to determine whether it is now or ever was inhabited. Dr. Michael H. Carr, USGS. In session "The New Mars: Habitability of a Neighbor World." Friday, Feb. 16, 8:30-11:30 a.m. Hotel: Hilton San Francisco, Ballroom Level, Franciscan C.

Geologic Features on Titan's Surface: The Atmosphere-Surface Connection.

Titan's massive atmosphere is far colder than Earth's, but the two have some important traits in common. In Earth's atmosphere, water can exist as solid, liquid and vapor because of certain critical atmospheric temperature and pressure conditions that work together to form lakes and rivers, rain and snow. Titan's atmosphere has similar conditions for methane, allowing some similar phenomena -- at least in principle. As on Earth, Titan's atmosphere and surface interact strongly, creating a rough equivalent of Earth's hydrologic cycle operating on methane to create a landscape shaped by flowing liquids. Data from the Huygens lander on the Cassini mission are providing support for some pre-mission theories but are also posing some new puzzles. Where is the liquid methane today that modified the landscape not so long ago? What processes were or are involved with methane replenishment? As the methane atmosphere's abundance changes over time, what kinds of climate changes does Titan experience? Speakers in this session will report on discoveries and their implications for the understanding of Titan's atmosphere, and how this may affect the understanding of Earth. Dr. Larry Soderblom, USGS. In session "Not Unlike Earth: Titan's Surface and Atmosphere from Cassini-Huygens." Sunday, Feb. 18, 2007, 8:30-10:00 a.m. Hotel: Hilton San Francisco, Ballroom Level, Franciscan C.

Dollars and Sense:  What Are the Economic Costs and Benefits of Sedimentation in Federal Reservoirs? Investments in large reservoirs of the Great Plains during the 1950s and 1960s for the storage of irrigation water, flood control and other uses now may be threatened by reduced streamflow and accelerated erosion and sedimentation caused by climate change and possibly severe droughts.  Resulting issues, therefore, are whether sedimentation and reduced water storage are economic concerns, the magnitude of the problem, and whether a main concern is the storage of sediment or the storage of water.  Is the value of water as an economic commodity or as a biophysical resource representing a service?  To address these issues, water and sediment processes of four reservoirs in Kansas are reviewed.  Sediment surveys and analysis of water value show that only one has had significant deposition, and that the economic consequences were minor.  With a warmer, drier climate, the principal cost will not be caused by sedimentation, but the loss of service value of water that could overwhelm the commodity value.  The economics of reservoirs should be viewed in terms of the water stored and released, not in terms of sedimentation rates.  Dr. W.R. Osterkamp, USGS. In session "From Dust Bowl to Mud Bowl: Sedimentation in Federal Reservoirs." Sunday, Feb 18, 2007, 1:45-3:15 p.m. Hotel: Renaissance Parc 55, Fourth Floor, Parc Ballroom 3.

Analysis: Using Science to Understand Regional Risk. The USGS Geographic Analysis and Monitoring Program develops, tests and implements tools to help managers, policymakers and the general public use science more easily and effectively. These tools help decision-makers frame issues, test scenarios, or estimate the consequences of decisions. Science Application studies integrate physical or biological science with information from the decision, social or economic sciences to generate new products, theories and methods. Science Application projects involve understanding how social science and demography integrate with natural and physical science to address natural resource, environmental and hazard management decision; developing new tools such as decision support systems; and using existing products, tools or processes in decision-making. This symposium will illustrate and discuss the development of natural hazards decision support tools, beginning with the issues driving the process, the science needed to address these issues, and selected case studies. Dr. Richard Bernknopf, USGS. In session "Melding Earth Science and Socioeconomics To Make Better Hazards Mitigation Decisions." Sunday, Feb 18, 2007, 10:30-12:00 p.m. Hotel: Renaissance Parc 55, Fourth Floor, Parc Ballroom 2.


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