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USGS Presents Science about a Changing World at AAG 2005
Released: 4/5/2005

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
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Reston, VA 20192
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Phone: 303-202-4763 or 720-320-1246 (cell)

Heather Friesen
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U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists are presenting science about our changing world at the 2005 Association of American Geographers conference, April 5-9, in Denver, Colo. Changes to the landscape of the Front Range of Colorado, changes to the way American cities look, and changes to the water, land use, and land cover of our Nation are topics USGS scientists will discuss. Featured USGS presentations at the Adam’s Mark Hotel include:

Tuesday, April 5

Home on the Front Range is Changing: The population growth of the Front Range of Colorado is faster than the Nation as a whole. The population of the Front Range Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) increased by 31 percent between 1990 and 2000, while the national population increased by 13 percent. In addition, the Colorado State Demographer’s Office projects that the Front Range population will increase an additional 63 percent by 2030. This population growth has resulted in significant transformations in the Front Range landscape—it has been changed from an agricultural landscape with islands of cities, to an increasingly urban landscape with more urban land projected for the future. The USGS session will present past, present and future urbanization in the Colorado Front Range, and cover the consequences of this urbanization. The session, Urbanization of the Colorado Front Range – Past, Present and Future, is in Director’s Row H at 2 p.m. The USGS talks include:

· Working Together for the Common Good: The USGS is working with policy makers from local and regional levels in the Colorado Front Range to define and develop environmental indicators that are relevant to the questions facing these decision makers. Workshops are being held to develop a set of regional environmental and natural resource indicators that objectively describe the state of this region. These indicators will serve as the unbiased core around which regional environmental policies are debated. The Colorado Front Range will serve as a test case for this approach, which, if successful, will be exported to other regional place and topic priorities. The talk, by USGS scientist Tom Owens, is entitled Development and Application of Human and Environmental Indicators in the Colorado Front Range.

· Learning Lessons from Our Past: The dramatic landscape change that took place along the Colorado Front Range began in 1858 when gold was discovered in Denver. A mass migration to the Colorado Territory followed. The arrival of the railroad in the late 1800s also spurred growth. During the 20th century, Denver became a regional economic hub for a large part of the western United States. The population of the Front Range continued to increase after the 1800s to a present-time total exceeding 3.5 million. As the population grew along the Front Range, the landscape transformed from grass and shrub ecosystems to a complex of urban and agricultural areas. To gain an understanding of landscape change, USGS mapped the land use and land cover from the 1930s to the late 1990s. By monitoring landscape change, USGS and its partners gain a better understanding of the ecological effects of this change and relate the new information to future land-management decisions. USGS is also modeling future landscape change to provide information for decision makers so they can make more informed decisions to help protect our environment and quality of life. The talk, by USGS scientist Michael Stier, is entitled Historic, Current, and Future Landscapes along the Colorado Front Range.

· On the Road Again: The USGS used a new national dataset for the U.S. that depicts distance to the nearest road (at 30-meter intervals) called NORM ED (National Overview Road Metrics – Euclidean Distance) in a regional analysis of the Front Range. USGS used the Front Range road-induced landscape change as an indicator for accessibility and habitat fragmentation. Four historical distance-to-road datasets in the Front Range were analyzed, and results were compared to measures of land use change and accessibility. Distance to road metrics from NORM ED provide less biased variables of land use change. The talk, by USGS scientist John McCammon, is entitled Using distance to road as an indicator of landscape change and habitat fragmentation in the Colorado Front Range.

· What’s In Our Water? During the past 100 years, land use in the Boulder Creek Watershed, Colorado, has shifted from mining and agriculture to urban, agricultural, and recreational activities. Also, population in the watershed increased by more than 1200 percent from 1900 to 2000. Water quality issues have shifted accordingly. In the early 20th century, metal mining and milling led to pollution of municipal water supplies and fish kills, and sewage was discharged untreated. In the mid 20th century, improvements were made to wastewater treatment, but the advent of mass chemical production increased the number of potential contaminants from urban and agricultural areas. Today, urbanization leads to increased surface runoff that often contains metals, organic contaminants, and bacteria. Boulder Creek is now on Colorado’s list of water-quality impaired streams because of high levels of E. coli bacteria. Wastewater today undergoes extensive treatment; however, new USGS technologies show that effluent contains pharmaceuticals and hormones, which have unknown effects on human and aquatic health. The talk, by USGS scientist Sheila Murphy, is entitled Water Quality Impacts of Landscape Change in a Colorado Front Range Watershed.

· Elements Affecting Nitrogen:While nitrogen emissions are not commonly linked to land use change, the production of fixed nitrogen is strongly related to activities associated with urbanization, such as construction, production of energy, and development and use of transportation corridors. The Colorado Front Range region experienced rapid population growth from 1980 (1.9 million) to 2000 (2.9 million). Emissions from power plants, industry, and highway and off road vehicles were responsible for most of the increase in nitrogen emissions since 1980. Agriculture was another source of nitrogen emissions. Higher nitrogen deposition has been observed at alpine sites near the headwaters of the South Platte River, which correspond with the rise in emissions. The ecosystem responses of alpine systems to nitrogen deposition are likely to be the result, albeit an indirect one, of land use change. The talk, by USGS scientist Jill Baron, is entitled Nitrogen Emissions Along the Colorado Front Range: Response to Population Growth, Land and Water Use Change and Agriculture.

Wednesday, April 6

Everglades Photo Album: The USGS is creating a digital archive of historic aerial photography of South Florida and the Everglades. Historical aerial photographs of this area are a source of valuable information of pre-drainage land cover and land use patterns. The digital archive features maps from 1927 – 1935 and imagery from 1940. The 1940 photoset includes about 920 high-quality images of south Florida. The imagery constitutes a record of the Everglades landscape going back six decades. It will form the basis for detecting changes in land use and land cover using geographic information systems and spatial analysis methods. For more information, see: http://sofia.usgs.gov/projects/digarchive_aerial/. To find out more, attend the poster session, Conservation, in Tower Exhibit Area at 10 a.m. The talk, by USGS scientist Alisa Coffin, is entitled Creation of geospatially rectified digital archive for South Florida and the Everglades: The 1940 Aerial Photography Photoset.

The Face of the Sierra Nevada is Changing: Between 1970 and 2000, local population in the Sierra Nevada region has grown significantly as has the demand for raw materials, resulting in landscape change throughout the region. The most prevalent changes during the study period were forest disturbance from forestry operations and urbanization, both of which are driven by demographic and economic forces. Ecologic drivers account for the regrowth of vegetation communities previously impacted by human activity. These land cover changes can have far-reaching consequences, including degradation to water quality, increased biotic vulnerability due to loss of habitat, and amplified potential for high-severity fires. This study is part of the USGS Land Cover Trends project, which is documenting land cover/land use change in the conterminous United States between 1973-2000. For more, attend the poster session, Conservation, in Tower Exhibit Area at 10 a.m. The talk, by USGS scientist Christopher Soulard, is entitled Land cover Trends in the Sierra Nevada Ecoregion.

If a Tree Falls in the Forest...The USGS is documenting how much forest remained forest (unchanged, relatively intact forest cover) during 1973-2000 in five study areas in the southeastern U.S. The Mississippi Valley Loess Plains led the study regions with the highest percentage of unaltered forest cover (83.3%), followed by the Piedmont (80.5%), Southeastern Plains (68.1%), Middle Atlantic Coastal Plain (63.4%), and the Southern Coastal Plains (51.8%). This is not to say that these percentages are "old growth" or possibly much older than thirty years, but only that they did not change during the 27 year study period. The age of forests can be a critical variable affecting regional biodiversity. Drivers that affected forest cover stability and change in these study regions include commercial timber production, urbanization, and farmland being converted to pine plantations or other forestry operations. This study is part of the USGS Land Cover Trends project, which is documenting land cover/land use change in the conterminous United States between 1973-2000. For more information, attend the poster session, Conservation, in Tower Exhibit Area at 10 a.m. The talk, by USGS scientist Roger Auch, is entitled Old(er) Trees in the U.S. Southeast: Forest Land Cover Stability and Change in Five Southeast Ecoregions, 1973-2000.

Earthquake in New York? Geologic records from the past 1.6 million years of large prehistoric earthquakes in the Central and Eastern United States show that there is a seismic hazard in this part of the country, with 71 faults, folds and other earthquake–related geologic features. Most of these features are within Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). Several features are in the high-hazard parts of the Central and Eastern United States, such as the New Madrid Seismic Zone, central Mississippi Valley and coastal South Carolina. In other areas with moderate hazard, there are numerous features in and near the largest MSAs. For example, 13 features are in the Boston-Washington, D.C. urban corridor, and six features are in the New York City-northern New Jersey-Long Island MSA. To see a break-down of features by state, see: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2000/ofr-00-0260/. Also see http://qfaults.cr.usgs.gov/. For more information, attend the poster session, Geomorphology and Agriculture, in Tower Exhibit Area at 3 p.m. The talk, by USGS scientist Russell Wheeler, is entitled Earthquake geology and urban areas east of the U.S. Rocky Mountains.

Thursday, April 7

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: The USGS Land Cover Trends project is studying the rates, causes, and consequences of contemporary (1973–2000) change in land use and land cover in the United States by region. Four regions studied include the Eastern United States, Mojave Basin and Range, Alaska, and Texas. In the eastern United States, the period of greatest overall change was during 1992-2000. The highest overall rates of change are found in the coastal and southeastern portions of the United States, which are largely related to forestry practices. In the Mojave Basin and Range region, the total rate of total land cover change between 1973 and 2000 was 2.82 percent, and 50 percent of the region mapped showed no change. Since the early 1970s, the Beaufort Coastal Plain, Alaska, has seen a number of changes, most notably due to commercial production in the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. In south-central Texas, in particular San Antonio and Austin, the rapid increase in the population is creating concerns about the availability of ground-water resources to support agricultural and commercial users. In addition to studying trends on land use in these regions, USGS is developing a model for projecting future land use and land cover change through 2020. For more information, attend the session, Contemporary Land Cover Change in the U.S. (USGS Land Cover Trends Project), in Plaza Ballroom E at 1 p.m. Talks by USGS scientists include: Contemporary Land Cover Change in Eastern United States (USGS scientist Kristi Sayler), Rates of Contemporary land cover change in the Mojave Basin and Range ecoregion (USGS scientist Benjamin Sleeter), U.S. Land Cover Trends in the Beaufort Coastal Plain, Alaska (USGS scientist Emily Binnian), Edwards Plateau: Analysis of Land Cover Trends (USGS scientist Beverly Friesen), and Projecting Land Use Change Through 2020 using theoretical, statistical and deterministic modeling techniques (USGS scientist Terry Sohl).

Don’t Mess With Texas: During the 20th century, rural populations transitioned to urban, and metropolitan areas became the catalyst for landscape change driven by population and economic growth. USGS is examining population and gross metropolitan product (GMP) growth as parameters driving the process of urban landscape change within the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). USGS is studying trends from 1983 to 2000 for a portion of the Austin-Round Rock MSA to support future land use and urban growth simulations. Landscape change trends, with demographic and socioeconomic data, represent key parameters for predictive forecasts. Landscape and socioeconomic trends take on an added significance given the region’s increasing dependency on the Edwards-Trinity aquifer for municipal groundwater supply. A USGS trends analysis illustrates that the region’s urbanization lies along the San Antonio-Austin corridor while other counties, particularly those in the northwest Edwards-Trinity region, have yet to transition to a predominantly urban population. For more information, attend the poster session, Urban and Transportation Geography, in Tower Exhibit Area at 1 p.m. Talks by USGS scientists include: Monitoring of Urban Landscape Change in the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area (USGS scientist Kathleen Casey), Landscape Change and Socioeconomic Trends in the Austin, Texas Region (USGS scientist Paul Martin), and Twentieth Century Population Trends in the San Antonio-Austin, Texas Region (The Rural-to-Urban Transition) (USGS scientist Maria McCormick).

Friday, April 8

Stop and Ask for Directions to the Nearest Road: A new, national dataset gives the distance to the nearest road (at 30-meter intervals) for the entire United States. The dataset is named NORM ED (National Overview Road Metrics – Euclidean Distance), and can be accessed through the USGS web viewer for The National Map at http://nationalmap.usgs.gov. NORM ED directly identifies areas far from roads, which usually have significant wilderness value and few environmental disturbances caused by roads and traffic. NORM ED values can provide regional to national scale pictures of landscape accessibility, which determines and reflects land use change. Due to this association, distance to the nearest road statistics have great value in monitoring and modeling of land use. For more information, attend the session, Urban Constructions, in Tower Court D at 12 p.m. The talk, by USGS scientist Raymond Watts, is entitled Distance from Nearest Road as an Indicator of Human Activity.

New Web Site is Messenger for Mercury: The USGS and the National Institute of Environmental Health Science have chosen mercury as a test contaminant to develop a web-based system for geospatial analysis. The Web site http://emmma.usgs.gov) provides easy access to environmental mercury datasets and integrates USGS maps, imagery, and other geospatial tools. Datasets accessible through the site include mercury concentrations in fish tissue, soils, stream sediments, and coal; atmospheric mercury emissions; atmospheric mercury monitoring sites; and locations of mercury mines and other ore deposits. For more information, attend the session, Human Health and the Environment, in Director’s Row F at 2 p.m. The talk, by USGS scientist Paul Hearn, is entitled A Web-based System for Environmental Mercury Mapping, Modeling, and Analysis.

Health Issues Know No Borders: The USGS has created a bi-national database (http://borderhealth.cr.usgs.gov/) for the U.S./Mexico Border region (Lower Rio Grande Valley) that integrates mapping data, demographics, water and biological contaminant data, public health and geologic surveys. This region is becoming increasingly vulnerable to land use changes due to rapid population growth and economic development. Water shortages and environmental degradation are threatening the quality of life in the region and are raising concerns about the interactions between environmental quality and human health. The USGS database can be used to analyze possible causal links between the environment and public health issues. In partnership with the Texas Department of Health, USGS applied spatial analysis methods to analyze health issues and to explore possible linkages between disease and the environment. For more, attend the session, Human Health and the Environment, in Director’s Row F at 2 p.m. The talk, by USGS scientist Jean Parcher, is entitled Uses of Environmental Data for Public Health Applications along the US/Mexico Border.

Come Fly With Me, West Nile Virus, Let’s Fly Away: In 1999, the first year that West Nile virus (WNV) was detected in the United States, the contagion affected 28 counties in four states. By 2004, WNV had spread to all parts of the 48 conterminous United States plus Puerto Rico. An analysis of the WNV surveillance data from 1999 through 2004 shows that this spread was not a uniform process. Rather it was an unconnected, multi-focal event. The USGS began research in 2001 to understand the geography and transmission pathways of WNV in North America. In 2004 the USGS completed field investigations along the Atlantic coast and Mississippi river, two of the four major migration corridors for birds in North America. More than 13,000 songbirds were captured and tested for WNV. Results indicate that the WNV occurrence that began in eastern North America about five years ago is still intensifying in that geographic region and that migratory birds are a principal agent involved in the spread of WNV in North America. To learn more, attend the session, Human Health and the Environment, in Director’s Row F at 2 p.m. The talk, by USGS scientist Steve Guptill, is entitled The Spread of West Nile Virus in the United States: Geographic Structure and Mechanisms.

Where’s the Next Case of West Nile Virus Going to Be? The USGS, in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is creating web-based maps that show the presence of West Nile Virus (WNV) for U.S. counties. USGS is developing techniques that forecast future outbreaks based on weather and animal disease reports. Because reports of deaths of birds from WNV typically appear before human cases, it is possible to use these data to determine where the ’relative risk’ of future human cases is greater. By basing the risk on forecasting techniques, counties can be designated as more or less likely to have human cases of the disease. For more information, attend the session, Human Health and the Environment, in Director’s Row F at 2 p.m. The talk, by USGS scientist Lee DeCola, is entitled Using Bayesian Techniques to Forecast West Nile Virus.

Rapidly Following the Trail of West Nile Virus: The USGS, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been mapping the spread of West Nile Virus (WNV) in the conterminous United States for the past four years. The maps are provided via the Internet at http://westnilemaps.usgs.gov, and show the spread of WNV in birds, humans, mosquitoes, sentinels, and veterinary animals. The site is updated during the WNV season, typically April-October. Now with new technology, the Web site can be updated rapidly—the entire site can be updated in less than three hours. This new automated production process can also be adapted to track other types of diseases. For more information, attend the session, Visualization IV: Visualizing Trends, in Vail at 2 p.m. The talk, by USGS scientist Susan Price, is entitled Rapid Delivery of Surveillance Maps for the USGS West Nile Virus Web site.

USGS Goes With the Flow: The USGS and several other government agencies have created a digital mapping dataset containing all of the lakes and streams in the U.S. This computer map of the Nation’s surface water, called the National Hydrography Dataset http://nhd.usgs.gov/), can be used to study the quality of the Nation’s surface water, determine the range of invasive aquatic species, record the habitat of native species, analyze the impact of threats, and model water flow under varying climatic conditions. Scientists can also use the dataset to better establish a cause and effect relationship. For example, low fish populations might be the result of impaired streams, and impaired streams might be the result of toxic discharges. With this computer map, scientists can record the location of streams that are considered impaired, plot the location of certain fish species, and find the location of sewage treatment plants or discharge from factories. To find out more, attend the session, Water Supplies and Hydrology, in Grand Ballroom 2 at 4 p.m. The talk, by USGS scientist Jeffrey Simley, is entitled Surface Water Hydrology for the Nation.

Saturday, April 9

What Will the Weather Forecast for Shenandoah National Park? The USGS is using its long-term archive of satellite data to characterize vegetation and its relationship with global change. As part of that research, the USGS is working with the National Park Service to develop and stage weather monitoring stations in Shenandoah National Park, Va. These measurements will be used to augment the satellite observations to better understand the effects of weather and land use on vegetation and its relationship with global change. For more information, attend session, Vegetation and Climate, in Plaza Ballroom F at 8 a.m. The talk, by USGS scientist Doug Muchoney, is entitled Linking In Situ and Satellite Data for Monitoring Vegetation Phenology.

Look at this Picture...What Do You See? The USGS is using remote sensing techniques to map invasive species with distinctive characteristics. Leafy spurge, an invasive, is displacing cattle feed and causing major impacts on the grazing industry in the west. Since leafy spurge grows in stands that dominate entire landscapes, and have a distinctive look when in bloom, leafy spurge is a good candidate for detection using remote sensing technologies. The Theodore Roosevelt National Park, N.D., battles with leafy spurge and could use a distribution map of leafy spurge based on remote sensing imagery, allowing resource managers to better treat the current level and location of the leafy spurge infestation. These remote sensing methods may prove useful for other conspicuous invasive species. Invasive species contribute to the extinction and alteration of native species habitat, and cause an economic loss estimated at $133 billion per year in the United States. For more information, attend the session, Identification of Forest Fragmentation, Forests, and Invasive Species Using Remote Sensing, in Governor’s Square 15 at 2 p.m. The talk, by USGS scientist Susan Stitt, is entitled The Use of Earth Observing 1- Advanced Land Imager (EO1-ALI) Data for Mapping Invasive Leafy Spurge in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

American Cities...They Are A-Changing: Over the past 225 years, the Nation’s urban areas have developed and expanded dramatically. Social, cultural, economic, and political issues have influenced urban development. USGS and its partners have conducted research on the dynamics of change in several urban areas, including Denver, Colo.; Anchorage, Alaska; and Albuquerque, N.M. The Northern Colorado Front Range is becoming more urban as it becomes the center of growth in the Rocky Mountain West. Forty percent of the future urban growth in the U.S. is expected in the eight Rocky Mountain West states. In Alaska, the largest increase in urban development occurred between the late 1970s and early 1980s, largely due to a boom period as a result of construction of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. Urbanization has steadily increased since the early 2000s. In New Mexico, the primary land use trend from 1935 to 1991 was expansion of the built environment and natural landscape being replaced by urban lands. Albuquerque’s future landscape in 2050 was modeled and shows that the region is becoming more compact through infill development and existing urban centers growing together. To find out more, attend the session, The Dynamics of Change in Urban Landscapes, in Tower Court D at 4 p.m. Talks by USGS scientists include: The Historical Development of the Nation’s Urban Areas (USGS scientist William Acevedo); Northern Colorado Front Range Regional Landscape Change (USGS scientist Carol Mladinich); and Analyzing Albuquerque’s Landscape Evolution in the 20th and 21st Centuries (USGS scientist David Hester).


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