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From Craters to Carbon: USGS Science at GSA
Released: 10/8/2011 8:05:13 AM

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From Craters to Carbon: USGS Science at GSA

Thousands of geoscientists will visit Minneapolis this week to present new findings on a variety of topics at the Geological Society of America Meeting at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minn., Oct. 9 – 12.

In this U.S. Geological Survey media tipsheet, we've gone through hundreds of GSA conference abstracts and selected some of the newest, most exciting USGS science presentations for your convenience.

News media representatives are invited to visit the USGS booth in the GSA Exhibit Hall. Our exhibit highlights climate and land-use change, energy, minerals, and environmental health, water, natural hazards, and more. This is an easy place to connect with USGS staff and grab some USGS publications and information.

Sunday, Oct. 9

9 a.m – 6 p.m. poster session, Hall C, Booth 263


The Effects of Human Activity versus Natural Processes on U.S. Soil

Laurel Woodruff

The USGS is completing a low-density soil geochemical and mineralogical survey for the conterminous U.S., which is needed as baseline data for environmental investigations and to understand the large-scale processes dominating the distribution of chemical elements at the earth's surface. Current data reveal coherent, continental- to regional-scale patterns that depend on underlying soil parent materials, soil age, land type/land use, and climate. Human-induced modifications to soil geochemistry related to current and historic industrial and agricultural activities are recognized by comparing element concentrations in surface soils to deeper soils at individual sites. However, regional enrichments of some metals of environmental concern resulting from mineralization by natural geologic process can be as high (or even higher) than enrichments from anthropogenic contamination.

2:10 p.m., Room 205CD

 Mysterious Fossils from the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater and Beyond

Lucy E. Edwards

The largest known impact crater in the U.S. lies buried beneath the Virginia Coastal Plain. The late Eocene Chesapeake Bay impact event caused a wide variety of distinctive features, such as fossil algae (dinocysts) that were found in drilled cores from hundreds to thousands of feet below the surface. The study of distinctive preservational features, whether related to the crater or not, leads to more questions than answers. How was a specific feature formed? How did it come to be preserved in the fossil record?

5:15 p.m., Room M100FG

Examining the Spread of the Deadly White Nose Syndrome in Bats

Christopher Swezey and Christopher Garrity

WNS causes dramatic and unusual mortality among bat colonies, and it has recently spread across the eastern part of North America. The spread is of great concern because bats play important roles in insect population control, plant pollination, and seed dissemination. Research shows that the spread of WNS may be inhibited in caves with air temperatures above 68 degrees F, a condition that occurs near the southern border of the continental U.S. Spread may also be inhibited by conditions of low humidity, but a specific threshold has not yet been identified.

9 a.m. – 6 p.m. poster session,  Hall C, Booth 22

Historic Signs of Contamination in the Williston Basin Based on a Spatial, Chemical, and Geophysical Assessment 

Todd Preston

The Williston Basin of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota has been a domestic oil producing region for over half a century, with extensive new development associated with the Bakken Formation.  Overlapping the Williston Basin is the Prairie Pothole Region, an area of abundant wetlands that provide critical habitats for breeding and migrating waterfowl and other wildlife.  Petroleum exploration, development, and production can result in the release of saline and toxic co-produced waters also known as oil field brine.  Hydraulic fracturing methods have resulted in rapid development of the extensive energy resources in the Bakken Formation and potential contamination impacts from this practice are a concern to land owners and managers.  The migration of co-produced waters may pose a serious risk to prairie wetland and stream-dependent wildlife, agricultural lands, and groundwater resources. USGS scientists determined that groundwater and wetlands contaminated more than 20 years ago still contain large concentrations of brine. Additionally, the team characterized and mapped the subsurface migration of saline waters from historic oil and gas development for over 1.6 km (1 mile) from the likely sources.

Monday, Oct. 10

9 a.m., Room L100FG

Steep Slopes Provide Cues to Debris-Flows

Jason Kean

Debris flows in sparsely vegetated steeplands like those in central Colorado are often initiated by processes related to surface-water runoff after intense rainfall. However, the transformation of surface-water runoff into debris flow are not well understood. USGS scientists have begun monitoring debris-flow initiation in a small, steep catchment near Buena Vista, Colo., that produces between one to five debris flows every year. The results from this monitoring effort are being used to help constrain models of debris-flow initiation. 


10:35 a.m., Room L100FG

 Imagery Provides Clues to 2005 Alaskan Landslide

Bruce F. Molnia

New imagery provides evidence that meltwater played a significant role in producing the Sept. 14, 2005 massive landslide that originated from just below the summit of the 10,616 feet high Mount Steller, Alaska. The slide was one of the largest, non-earthquake generated Alaskan landslides ever observed. The imagery confirms the existence of a channel system within nearby glaciers and shows liquid water continuing to discharge from the sheared margin of the slide more than a month after the event.

1:45 p.m., Room M100BC

 Eating Out of the Garbage Can: The U.S. Cement Industry's Consumption of Waste

Hendrik G. van Oss

The cement industry is the world's largest "industrial" source of carbon dioxide emissions, at about 0.9 ton of carbon dioxide released per ton of cement produced. Current U.S. cement production is about 70 million metric tons per year, and global output is about 3.3 billion metric tons per year. In recent decades, many cement plants have sought to reduce production costs and carbon emissions by burning a proportion of alternative raw materials and fuels, including many that are waste products of other industries, agriculture, and municipalities.

2:05 p.m., Room 101A-C

Critical Minerals for the 21st Century

USGS Director Marcia McNutt

Currently there is significant concern over supply risk for rare earth elements. Deposits of critical minerals occur throughout the Nation, including on Federal land. The USGS is responsible for providing objective information to guide policy makers on wise and sustainable use of critical mineral resources. The definition of "a critical mineral or material” is extremely time dependent, as advances in materials science yield new products and the adoption of new technologies result in shifts in both supply and demand. Furthermore, the relative provision of our resources from domestic versus international sources is broadly shaped by economic and political, as well as geologic, factors. USGS provides mineral resource assessments, earth and life science data for developing environmentally acceptable plans for extraction, and supply and demand information needed to understand future materials use.

2:30 p.m., Room M100BC

Carbon Sequestration and Enhanced Oil Recovery 

Peter D. Warwick

Acquisition of oil and gas resources in the U.S. can be increased by implementing geologic carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration coupled with enhanced oil recovery. This is done by injecting anthropogenic CO2 into existing hydrocarbon reservoirs, which will help prevent
CO2 release to the atmosphere. However, there are many challenges that must be overcome before there is large-scale implementation, including limited anthropogenic CO2 capture facilities, pipeline infrastructure, and unfavorable economic conditions.

Tuesday, Oct. 11

9 a.m. – 6 p.m. poster session, Hall C

Expansion of Contaminated Crude Oil Plumes in Groundwater

Jared Trost

Regulatory agencies commonly rely on natural attenuation processes to control the extent of contamination at petroleum hydrocarbon spill sites. Recent research in Wisconsin indicated that dissolved BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene) plumes at some sites continued to expand after being closed. The BTEX plume in groundwater at a 1979 crude oil spill site near Bemidji, Minn., is still expanding after 32 years due to continued BTEX supply from the crude oil remaining below ground and the depletion of reactive constituents of the aquifer (such as iron oxides) that are needed by microorganisms that degrade these compounds. A better understanding of the processes controlling BTEX plume behavior is needed to inform closure criteria standards. 

9 a.m. – 6 p.m. poster session, Hall C, Booth 273

Potential Ecological Impacts of Glacial Groundwater Withdrawals

Howard Reeves

This poster describes the science framework developed with colleagues from the State of Michigan, University of Michigan, and Michigan State University that was used for Michigan's implementation of the Great Lakes Compact. The poster focuses the parts of the framework and discusses how glacial deposits were considered in the approach to estimate potential streamflow depletion by groundwater wells.

Wednesday, Oct. 12

9 a.m. – 6 p.m. poster session, Hall C, Booth 330

Linking Groundwater-Flow and Land-Use Change Research for Decision-Making 

Howard Reeves

This poster describes research conducted by the USGS and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) to link the USGS groundwater-flow model, MODFLOW, with models of land-use change that are developed and applied at UIC. The research at UIC examines the effects of public policy on individual and collective decision-making about land use and water use and the impacts of these decisions on water-resource sustainability. The integration of land-use models with MODFLOW allows hydrologists to study the potential effects of feedback between the natural and human systems, and it provides an opportunity for scientists to become more integrated into the decision-making process.

10:50 a.m., Room M100HI 

Contaminants in the Glacial Aquifer Drinking Water System

Kelly Warner

Approximately one-sixth of the U.S. population, or 41 million people, relied on the glacial aquifer system for drinking water in 2005. However, untreated water from one in five drinking water wells in this aquifer, sampled as part of the USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program, exceeded a human-health benchmark for at least one contaminant. Contaminants derived from natural sources are more common and more frequently exceed human-health benchmarks than contaminants derived from the land surface. The types of contaminants and the likelihood of encountering them in untreated drinking water from the glacial aquifer system involves trade-offs that depend on a complex interplay of sources of water to wells from various parts of the hydrologic system.

1:35 p.m., Room M101AB

The Increasing Water Quality Impacts of Road Salt 

Steven R. Corsi

A new perspective on the aquatic toxicity impact of road salt was gained by a focused seasonal analysis. Dramatic impacts were observed on local, regional, and national scales. Locally, more than half of the streams sampled during road salt runoff periods were toxic to aquatic organisms in laboratory tests. Analysis of chloride data from the Milwaukee River from 1973 to 2005 indicate substantial increasing trends over time with the highest concentrations during winter low-flow periods, but even during warm-weather months and during high-flow periods, notable increasing trends were present. Regionally, in 11 eastern and southern Wisconsin watersheds, monitoring indicated elevated chloride levels from road salt influence. Nationally, 55% of 168 northern streams examined had chloride concentrations exceeding EPA water quality criteria indicating that water is potentially toxic to aquatic organisms.

1:35 p.m., Room 101A-C

Groundwater Depletion: Constraints on Sustainable Development

Leonard Konikow

Cumulative global groundwater depletion from 1900-2008 totaled almost the volume of Lake Michigan, according to a new comprehensive analysis. Development of groundwater resources for agricultural, industrial, and municipal purposes greatly expanded since 1950; but depletion has had many negative consequences, including land subsidence, reduced well yields, diminished streamflows and sea-level rise.   

3:45 p.m., Room M100DE

Viruses Found in Urban and Rural Streams, Milwaukee River Watershed

Steven R. Corsi 

Viruses are the cause of many waterborne diseases contracted from fecal-contaminated waters. In an 18-month study of waterborne viruses in the Milwaukee River Watershed, human viruses were present in 63% of precipitation and snowmelt runoff samples and 20% of low-flow samples. Bovine viruses were present in 46% of precipitation and snowmelt runoff samples and 14% of low-flow samples. Occurrence at the three individual monitoring locations varied from 40 to 61% for human and 35 to 50% for bovine viruses. The potential for infection was confirmed in 24% of the samples that tested positive for human adenovirus and enterovirus. A specialized automatic sampling system was developed and implemented at each of the three monitoring sites for this research that allowed a more intensive and hydrologically relevant assessment of virus presence in surface waters than previously possible.

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