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Media Advisory: USGS Science at AGU
Released: 11/30/2012 7:08:35 PM

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communications and Publishing
12201 Sunrise Valley Dr, MS 119
Reston, VA 20192
Paul Laustsen 1-click interview
Phone: 650-329-4046

Leslie Gordon 1-click interview
Phone: 650-329-4006

USGS Science at AGU

SAN FRANCISCO — From over well over 500 abstracts by USGS presenters at this year’s American Geophysical Union conference, we’ve selected some of the newest, most exciting topics that USGS scientists will explore at AGU. Tips are presented in topic areas, chronologically with room numbers, session numbers and a summary. The AGU conference is held Dec. 3-7 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.

News media representatives are invited to visit the USGS booth in the AGU Exhibit Hall. This is an easy place to connect with USGS and the staff working at the booth will have data, publications, and information.


News Conferences - Moscone West, Room 3000

Improving forecasts of “Pineapple Expresses”

Monday, 12/3 at 1:30 p.m. – USGS’s Michael Dettinger and NOAA


Superstorm Sandy, Black Swan cyclones and the economic toll to come

Monday, 12/3 at 4 p.m. – USGS’s Hilary Stockdon


Natural or man-made? Triggers and limits to induced earthquakes

Wednesday, 12/5 at 1:30 p.m. USGS’s Art McGarr


How much carbon gets stored in western U.S. ecosystems?

Wednesday, 12/5 at 2:30 p.m. – USGS Director Marcia McNutt and Ben Sleeter


SF Bay Area landslides

Wednesday, 12/5, 4:45 p.m., MS 304

Landslide triggering: Monitoring and modeling conditions for regional shallow landslide initiation in the San Francisco Bay Area

USGS scientist: Brian Collins

NH34A-04/Oral presentation

Pre-storm precipitation thresholds are not always sufficient to predict when and under what conditions landslides may occur. We installed subsurface monitoring stations at four landslide-prone San Francisco Bay area locations, measured soil moisture and positive pore water pressure directly, and are integrating these measurements into predictive analyses.



SF Bay-Delta

Tuesday, 12/4, 1:40 p.m., MS Poster Hall

Effect of microclimates on evapotranspiration rates, energy balance and water use estimation in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

USGS scientist: Frank Anderson


This research focuses on the unique summer microclimate of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region, which is often cool and moist compared to the surrounding area. As a result, our findings indicate that evapotranspiration rates in the Delta are lower than for similar crops grown outside the region. Our intention is to update resource models to reflect these reduced ET rates and generate more accurate water-use maps for this region of statewide hydrologic importance.


Monday, 12/3, 8 a.m., MS Poster Hall

Tidal marsh accretion processes in the San Francisco Bay-Delta – are our models underestimating the historic and future importance of plant-mediated organic accretion?

USGS scientist: Lisamarie Windham-Myers


Peat-accreting coastal wetlands can potentially keep pace with sea-level rise, mitigating expected rises in atmospheric greenhouse gases. Profiles of plant biomass and fossil remnants in active and past brackish-to-fresh peat deposits of the Bay-Delta suggest that potential rates of organic, as opposed to mineral, accretion may be underestimated, and that plant physiology is a significant factor in development of coastal peatlands. As suspended sediment concentrations are now decreasing in the area, organic accretion may be enhanced or sufficient for sustaining marsh elevations.


Hosgri-shoreline faults

Thursday, 12/6, 1:40 p.m., MS Poster Hall

Influence of fault trend, fault bends, and fault convergence on shallow structure, geomorphology, and hazards in the Hosgri strike-slip fault, offshore central California

USGS scientist: Samuel Johnson


USGS mapped a portion of the right-lateral Hosgri Fault Zone from Point Sal to Piedras Blancas, creating perhaps the most comprehensive survey of the shallow structure of an active strike-slip fault. USGS estimates a lateral slip rate of 2-4 mm/yr and conclude that earthquake hazard assessments should incorporate a minimum rupture length of 110 km in this central California fault zone.


Tropical storms

Press conference: Monday, 12/3 at 4 pm.

Tuesday, 12/4, 4:33 p.m., MW 2022-2024

A nationally consistent method for assessing coastal vulnerability to hurricane-induced erosion

USGS scientist: Hilary Stockdon

OS24C-04/Oral presentation

USGS combined beach morphology data with hydrodynamic models to predict likely response of beaches along the U.S Gulf of Mexico and Southeast coasts to direct landfall of tropical storms. USGS found that even the lowest category hurricane was very likely to inundate the Gulf, while Southeast beaches were higher in elevation and a bit less vulnerable. Changes to barrier islands will affect beaches’ vulnerability to future storms. 



Volcano monitoring & forecasting

Wednesday, 12/5, 1:40 p.m., MS Poster Hall

Technology and geologic mapping at Newberry Volcano, Ore.

USGS scientist: Julie Donnelly-Nolan


Technological advances have provided powerful new tools for geologic mapping, including hand-held GPS receivers, digital map compilation, lidar land surface imagery and tablet computers. However, the technology cannot replace direct observations by the field geologist or critical data from argon chronology, paleomagnetism, petrology, geochemistry, and geophysics.


Volcanology, geochemistry and petrology

Tuesday, 12/4, 2:10 p.m., MS 310

The application of unmanned aerial systems in geophysical investigations of geothermal systems

USGS scientist: Jonathan Glen

V23F-03/Oral presentation

USGS and NASA researchers are developing unmanned aerial systems to collect magnetic data to map subsurface structures controlling geothermal fluids beneath northern California’s Surprise Valley. Onboard computers analyze sensor data and autonomously optimize flight paths to investigate regions of interest, allowing researchers to obtain uniform, high-resolution targeted data. 


Tuesday, 12/4, 8 a.m., MS 310

Sorting out the magmatic from the hydrothermal: An example from Yellowstone

USGS scientist: Jacob Lowenstern

V21D-01/Oral presentation

Magmatic heat and volatiles spur growth of hydrothermal systems and incorporate crustal and meteoric components as they evolve. At Yellowstone, some sites yield magmatic volatiles nearly unaffected by crust. At others, we see radiogenic helium released primarily from billion-year-old crust. The 2-million-year old Yellowstone magma-hydrothermal system is actively purging helium from crustal rocks that had accumulated radiogenic gas for much of Earth’s history.


Tuesday, 12/4, 8 a.m., MS Poster Hall

A survey of Alaskan volcanoes using satellite and airborne thermal infrared

USGS scientist: Rick Wessels


ASTER acquires several images per year at every volcano on Earth to describe baseline thermal behavior and detect future volcanic unrest or eruption precursors. ASTER data has retrospectively revealed subtle variations in thermal activity at several Alaskan volcanoes. Temperatures slowly increased at Pavlof Volcano before the August 2007 eruption. ASTER data from the Redoubt Volcano summit area reveals a gradual increase in both the area and temperature of small gaps in the ice nearly 16 months before the 2009 eruption.


Water quality

Wednesday, 12/5, 8 a.m., MS Poster Hall

Global change and water availability and quality: Challenges ahead

USGS scientist: Matthew Larsen


America’s population growth rate in its most water-scarce states, its expansion of irrigated agriculture and its dispersal of record-high volumes of pharmaceutical and personal care products into surface and groundwater through treatment facilities not designed to treat them: All these constitute a continental-scale, multi-year water-resources experiment in which society has not defined testable hypotheses or set the duration and scope of the experiment. What are we doing? How can we change? 


Extreme geophysical events, global disasters

Wednesday, 12/5, 11:20 a.m., MS 300

Credible occurrence probabilities for extreme geophysical events

USGS scientist: Jeffrey Love

NG32A-01/Oral presentation

Very few very large earthquakes, explosive volcanic eruptions, magnetic storms, and other extreme events have occurred in recorded history. How well can we predict their occurrence in the future based upon their rare occurrence in the past? We provide a means for confidently estimating the 10-year occurrence probabilities of extreme events in the future.



Natural hazards

Monday, 12/3, 5:45p.m., MS 104

Quantifying the impacts of global disasters 

USGS scientist: Lucy Jones

NH14A-08/Oral presentation

Like the earlier ShakeOut and ARkStorm disaster scenarios, the Next Wave Tsunami Scenario applies science to quantify the impacts of a distant tsunami on the coast and ports of California so decision makers may reduce the potential for loss.


Tuesday, 12/4, 9:45 a.m., MW 3011

New imaging of submarine landslides near Whittier, Alaska, from the 1964 earthquake and a comparison to other 1964 failures in Alaskan fjords

USGS Scientist: Peter J. Haeussler

OS21G-08/Oral Presentation

The largest cause of deaths in the M9.2 1964 Alaska earthquake was from local tsunamis caused by submarine landslides. We collected multibeam bathymetry and sparker seismic data in Passage Canal, near Whittier, to document what happened in 1964. We find evidence the neoglacial period likely brought abundant sediment to the fjords, causing this earthquake to produce especially large and numerous submarine landslides.


Special lecture: Tuesday, 12/4, 11:30 a.m., MS 103 

“Defeating Earthquakes,” the Gilbert F. White Distinguished Award Lecture

(a non-technical presentation with a weak/strong building demonstration)

USGS scientist: Ross Stein

NH22B-02/Oral presentation

Close to a million people died in earthquakes during the past decade, but no one will take actions to construct strong buildings and strengthen weak ones unless they are convinced they are at risk. The Global Earthquake Model is a public-private partnership formed to address that need: It will produce the world’s first seismic risk model in 2014 so that everyone will understand their risk.


Wednesday, 12/5, 1:40 p.m., MS Poster Hall

The 2001-present triggered seismicity sequence in the Raton Basin of southern Colorado/northern New Mexico

USGS scientist: Justin Rubinstein


Examining the location, depth and regional tectonic regime of the Aug. 23, 2011 earthquake swarm in the Raton Basin of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, we conclude that most if not all the seismicity since then has been triggered by the deep injection of wastewater related to the production of natural gas from the nearby coal-bed methane field.


Wednesday, 12/5, 1:40 p.m., MS Poster Hall

USGS SAFRR Tsunami Scenario: Potential impacts to the U.S. West Coast from a plausible M9 earthquake near the Alaska Peninsula 

USGS scientist: Stephanie Ross

NH33A-1639/Oral presentation

Geologic similarities support the argument that an event similar to 2011’s Tohoku event is plausible in Alaska. The USGS Science Application for Risk Reduction (SAFRR) project, in collaboration with the California Geological Survey, the California Emergency Management Agency, NOAA and others is developing the Next Wave Tsunami Scenario to depict a hypothetical but plausible large tsunami originating from a M9 earthquake in the eastern Aleutians and its many impacts to the California coast.


Wednesday, 12/5, 3:10 p.m., MS 306 

The 8 February 1843 Lesser Antilles earthquake: A “missing” great earthquake

USGS scientist: Susan Hough

T33H-07/Oral presentation

The study sheds new light on the seismic potential of the Lesser Antilles subduction zone, suggesting it is capable of producing larger earthquakes than those experienced during the ~500-year historical period.  The study further reveals how conventional analysis can significantly underestimate the size of great earthquakes prior to the start of the instrumental era in seismology (roughly 1900).  


Thursday, 12/6, 8 a.m., MS Poster Hall

Geologic evidence for a tsunami source along the trench northeast of Puerto Rico

USGS scientist: Brian Atwater


From comparison with the traces of storms and tsunamis of the past 200-350 years, we conclude that the curious reef corals now scattered on an island east-northeast of Puerto Rico were not deposited by a storm surge, or by the famous 1755 Lisbon tsunami, but instead by a tsunami of nearby origin that probably took place in the last centuries before Columbus.


Thursday, 12/6, 12:05 p.m., MS 304

Stakeholder-driven geospatial modeling for assessing tsunami vertical-evacuation strategies in the U.S. Pacific Northwest

USGS scientist: Nathan Wood

NH42A-08/Oral presentation

Vertical-evacuation options are berms or structures that aid evacuations during natural disasters. Looking at communities along the southwest coast of Washington state that are threatened by tsunami hazards generated by Cascadia subduction-zone earthquakes, we developed geospatial tools to automate parts of the pedestrian-evacuation models and indicate where VE options might be placed.



Tuesday, 12/4, 1:40 p.m., MW 2003 

Toward a unified understanding of mercury and methylated mercury from the world’s oceans

USGS scientists: USGS Director Marcia McNutt, David Krabbenhoft

B23K-01/Oral presentation

Marine fish and shellfish are the main sources of toxic methylmercury exposure for humans, although understanding its distribution across ocean basins has remained elusive. Seawater profiles (surface to 1000 m) from the Pacific, Indian and Antarctic oceans provide insights into the processes controlling the production and distribution of methylmercury. This information is used to develop a marine methylmercury production model, which reveals relative differences in methylmercury concentrations across the world’s oceans.


Tuesday, 12/4, 2:40 p.m., MW 2003 

Watershed responses to changes in mercury loading: Results from the terrestrial aspects of the METAALICUS project

USGS scientist: David Krabbenhoft

B23K-05/Oral presentation 

The Mercury Experiment to Assess Atmospheric Loadings in Canada and the US (METAALICUS) project addresses concerns that ubiquitous mercury contamination may render emission regulations ineffective by deliberately adding enriched mercury isotopes to an entire watershed at the Experimental Lakes Area in northwest Ontario, Canada, from 2001 to 2006. Two years after loading ceased, isotope levels in canopy and emission fluxes were negligible and about half the total isotope load was found in soils, where it remains steady. Isotope levels in runoff gradually increased during the loading phase and continued to do so for 1-2 years after loading ceased, suggesting significant translocation from compartments above the forest floor.


Tuesday, 12/4, 9:40 a.m., MW 2006

Implications for ecosystem services of watershed processes that affect the transport and transformations of mercury in an Adirondack stream basin

USGS scientist: Douglas Burns

B21H-07/Oral presentation 

Five years of data collection of stream water, groundwater, invertebrates and fish in the upper Hudson River basin indicate that factors such as watershed geomorphology, seasonal variations in discharge and air temperature, and the location and connection of riparian wetlands to streams are the strongest factors that affect stream MeHg concentrations and therefore, the potential ecosystem services provided by fish and other wildlife in the Adirondack region.


Thursday, 12/6, 10:35 a.m., MW 2018

Relative influence of aquatic and terrestrial processes on methylmercury transport in river basins

USGS scientist: Douglas Burns

H42D-02/Oral presentation 

Most MeHg in small river basins originates at the interface of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem in zones with anaerobic conditions and abundant organic matter. Its transport into food webs is influenced by subsurface hydraulic conductivity and water-table depth, while open-water bodies are sources for MeHg loss. Burns will discuss how these factors affect aquatic MeHg concentrations in river basins in New York’s Adirondack Mountains and the coastal plain of South Carolina, and model seasonally varying buildup of MeHg in riparian soils.


Human interest/Diversity in the workforce

It’s the 21st century. Are women’s issues still relevant in the workplace?


Monday, 12/3, 1:40 p.m., MS Poster Hall

Recipe for an eclectic life as research scientist and mom

USGS scientist: Jennifer Harden


A soils scientist and veteran USGS researcher gives tips for success in grad school, locating mentors, career decisions, the work-family balance and other whole-life choices. Hint: Choose profs and mentors “whose lifestyles seem like good examples.” See also Oral portion of the session ED11D


Monday, 12/3, 6:15 p.m., MW 2002

Exploring solutions for diverse science workforce

USGS scientists: USGS Director Marcia McNutt, Jennifer Harden

TH15A/Oral presentation

We discuss potential solutions and gather input from AGU members on how organizations can nurture excellence and personal success for women in all stages of their science careers.


Post-dam river restoration (with or without removing the dam) 

Monday, 12/3, 1:40 p.m., MS Poster Hall

Evolution of a dammed river: Trajectories of geomorphic change on the Trinity River, Calif.

USGS scientist: Jennifer Curtis


Beginning in 2001, the Trinity River Restoration Program implemented a combination of flow releases, gravel augmentation, bank rehabilitation and watershed restoration to promote dynamic channel processes. To inform the restoration work, we digitized a series of geomorphic maps and quantified the nature, extent and rates of geomorphic change during five post-dam time periods. The systemwide perspective reveals three distinct phases of evolving geomorphic features, channel changes and reactivation of alluvial units initiated by natural flow events and restoration actions.


Friday, 12/7, 8:45 a.m., MW 2008

Hydraulics of embankment-dam breaching

USGS scientist: Joseph Walder

EP51D-04/Oral presentation

To better understand hazards from overtopping failure of earthen dams, we are conducting experiments at the USGS debris-flow flume with dams built from beach sand, with the hydraulics and breach evolution characterized by sensor arrays within the dams and cameras both overhead and submerged. Results challenge assumptions made in mathematical models that are commonly used for hazards assessment.


Elwha: Rebirth of a river

The removal in 2011 of the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams represented one of the largest such projects in North America. USGS and partners characterized baseline conditions before the dams’ removal and will continue to study the watershed during its ongoing restoration.


Monday, 12/3, 1:40 p.m., MS Poster Hall

Sedimentary deposits and processes in the lower Elwha River, Wash., USA, during dam removal

USGS scientist: Amy Draut


This session discusses new fine sediment and organic matter between gravel and cobble grains that could have substantial ecosystem effects. New sediment deposits were evident throughout the lower river in spring 2012 of a much finer grain size than before dam removal began.


Monday, 12/3, 1:40 p.m., MS Poster Hall

The turbid coastal plume of the Elwha River during dam removal      

USGS scientist: Jonathan Warrick


Hydrology: We characterize the river, estuarine and coastal turbidity caused by this unprecedented project using remote sensing imagery, time-lapse photography, moored instrumentation and sampling directly within the plume that extends into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.


Friday, 12/7, 4:45 p.m., MW 2003

Initial coastal morphologic response to dam removal on the Elwha River, Wash.

USGS scientist: Guy Gelfenbaum

EP54C-04/Oral Presentation

Geomorphology: We investigate the initial morphologic response of the submarine delta to increased sediment delivery using a combination of field measurements of morphological change in combination with numerical modeling.


Monday, 12/3, 1:40 p.m., MS Poster Hall

Suspended-sediment load in the lower Elwha River, Wash., during early stages of dam decommissioning

USGS scientist: Christopher Magirl


Sedimentation: More than 500,000 metric tons of sediment flowed down the Elwha in the first nine months of the dams’ decommissioning. We characterize the suspended-sediment load and compare it to expected levels.


Friday, 12/7, 4:30 p.m., MW 2003

First-year dam removal activities in the Elwha River – dam removal, sediment dispersal, and fish relocations   

USGS scientist: Jeffrey Duda

EP54C-03/Oral Presentation

Fisheries: Our data show that Pacific steelhead and salmon are already beginning to recolonize the Elwha watershed, historically a rich habitat for native anadromous species.


Monday, 12/3, 1:40 p.m., MS Poster Hall

Elwha River riparian vegetation response to dams and dam removal


USGS scientist: Patrick Shafroth

Geomorphology and vegetation: We characterize the pioneer plant communities taking root on newly exposed reaches downstream from the dam sites.



Wednesday, 12/5, 8 a.m., MS Poster Hall

Refurbished extensometer sites improve the quality and frequency of aquifer-system compaction and groundwater-level measurements, San Joaquin Valley

USGS scientist: Michelle Sneed


Importing groundwater into the San Joaquin Valley since the 1960s has helped to mitigate extensive land subsidence and aquifer compaction. But surface-water availability has been reduced, leading to more groundwater pumping, lowered water levels, renewed compaction and subsidence and reduced capacity of important canals. The USGS science team refurbished four 1960s extensometers along the Delta-Mendota Canal and California Aqueduct to identify subsidence, improve compaction measurements and ultimately help calculate aquifer storage properties. Since future stresses on the system are likely, continued monitoring will assist managers of water conveyance systems and water-banking strategies.


Climate change

Friday, 12/7, 2:25 p.m., MW 2006

Monitoring global food security with new remote sensing products and tools

USGS scientist: Michael E Budde


In recent years, it has become apparent that FEWS NET requires the ability to apply monitoring and modeling frameworks at a global scale to assess potential impacts of foreign production and markets on food security at regional, national, and local levels. We present early warning monitoring tools, and show advancements in existing ones, namely, the Early Warning eXplorer and interactive rainfall and NDVI time series viewers.


Tuesday, 12/4, 11:20 a.m., MW 3008

Sharing the rivers: Balancing the needs of people and fish against the backdrop of heavy sediment loads downstream from Mount Rainier, Wash.

USGS scientist: Christopher Magirl

GC22C-05/Oral presentation

Pronounced glacier retreat on Mount Rainier coupled with large floods have produced dynamic, sediment-laden rivers that impact people. Some data indicate floods and sedimentation may be increasing in magnitude, although other data sets indicate that Pacific Ocean sea-surface temperature more strongly influences Mount Rainier hydrology in decadal time scales than does global climate change.


Monday, 12/3, 8:00 a.m., MS Poster Hall

Timing is everything: Using near-surface and remote sensing to monitor vegetation phenology in sagebrush steppe

USGS scientist: Geneva Chong


Near-surface, fine-scale measurements of vegetation greenness are used to monitor plant phenology as an indicator of sagebrush vegetation condition and the effectiveness of management actions including cheatgrass herbicide treatments and sagebrush disturbance and restoration.

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