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Science Features - John Wesley Powell Award

The John Wesley Powell Award recognizes an individual or group, not employed by the USGS, whose contributions to the agency’s objectives and mission are noteworthy. John Wesley Powell, the second director of the USGS, was a distinguished scientist responsible for setting the high standards that govern the USGS today.

Dr. Mary Skopec of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Category: State and Local Government

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Iowa Water Science Center recognizes Dr. Mary Skopec of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) for her research and development in estimating streamflow and water-quality values for any point on a stream entitled, STREAMEST. Dr. Skopec, in collaboration with USGS and other researchers, led the development of STREAMEST using a variety of research methods from statistical analysis to physical modeling that can be used to provide an estimate of flow and a water-quality value.

The program is based upon data generated from the USGS real-time streamflow network of gaging stations and Iowa’s water-quality monitoring cooperative network. STREAMEST will be able to provide near real-time estimates of flow and water-quality characteristics with known error of the estimate values for both public awareness and scientific research. The public can use the information for recreational and information purposes while the scientific value is in the new approach of hydrologic analysis. The program provides a completely new scientific approach for developing flow and water-quality statistics at stream sites that have little or no existing streamflow or water-quality data. STREAMEST can provide virtual streamflow records for ungaged sites that can then be used by USGS scientists for developing flow statistics, flood frequencies, low-flow durations, and hydraulic analysis. The program can be used to estimate flow both in the past and in the future with the option of changing climate and land surface conditions to understand the impacts on water resources. Dr. Skopec was able to transform the vision of STREAMEST into a funded program from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Dr. Skopec’s leadership and vision of developing STREAMEST has led to a revolutionary change in how the USGS can now analyze flow and water-quality characteristics of streamflow anywhere along a stream. Rather than being restricted to only selected points on streams where data was previously collected and extrapolating analysis of gaged to ungaged locations, the USGS hydrologist can now perform statistical analysis on virtual record of flow at sites without a streamgage and of water-quality information at sites that have not been monitored. The STEAMEST program developed by Dr. Mary Skopec truly adds value to USGS science by helping to manage water resources responsibly, helping to mitigate current or future hazards and has the potential to help emerging climate change issues.

Dr. James L. Smith of The Nature Conservancy
Category: Private Citizen

Dr. James L. Smith of The Nature Conservancy, is a major contributor to The Landscape Fire and Resources Management Planning Tools Project, or LANDFIRE. Sponsored by the Wildland Fire Leadership Council, the LANDFIRE project develops national-scale geospatial data products that help communities reduce their hazards from wildfire and promote ecological conservation and sustainable landscapes. Principal LANDFIRE partners include the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and The Nature Conservancy. These organizations share the common goal of seeking to understand the causes and consequences of wildfire hazards, and of restoring and preserving ecosystems in the U.S.

LANDFIRE data products characterize current and potential vegetation, surface and canopy wildland fuel, fire regime condition class (FRCC), and historical fire regimes across all 50 States. Dr. Smith led the development of vegetation mapping units, mapping approaches, and vegetation dynamics models using USGS Landsat imagery and field referenced information, thus achieving wide acceptance of the LANDFIRE data products across the scientific and management community. Through Dr. Smith’s efforts, USGS Landsat remotely sensed data were shown to be effective in producing geospatial data describing ecological status, including integrated potential and existing vegetation types, FRCC, and wildland fuels. Additionally, Dr. Smith has developed a vegetation framework for LANDFIRE that ensures that LANDFIRE data will be adaptable to different applications and can evolve as national vegetation classification standards change.

Taking his work one step further, Dr. Smith worked collaboratively with USGS scientists, partners and stakeholders to organize LANDFIRE ecosystem workshops in several regions of the country. These workshops aided partners in better understanding how LANDFIRE products could help protect their communities. Additionally, he used his vast professional knowledge, leadership, and communication skills to assist partners in effectively applying the LANDFIRE data products to resolve their varied and complex planning and management problems in eleven regional application areas (Fire Learning Network application areas) across the U.S. These strengths have made him an indispensable member and contributor to the LANDFIRE project, as well as a valued mentor to less experienced staff across all LANDFIRE partner organizations. Not only have Dr. Smith’s efforts significantly furthered the mission of the USGS by helping to increase the utility of remotely sensed data to partners and customers to help them better understand the causes and consequences of ecological change due to wildfire, they have gone a long way towards protecting lives and property against wildfire.

Dr. Smith has demonstrated over the past several years how government and non-government researchers can work together to conduct effective science-based natural resource management. Through his leadership within LANDFIRE, communities throughout the country are better able to predict, and mitigate the consequences of, the hazards of wildfire. As a scientist, leader, and innovator, Dr. Smith inspires the best in all his colleagues, and continues to make fundamental contributions to the success of LANDFIRE as a major national mapping, hazard reduction, and resource conservation program—reflecting both the spirit of John Wesley Powell and the finest traditions of the U.S. Geological Survey.



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