USGS March science picks


Leads, feeds, story Seeds

We're 125 years old this month, and still going strong. And just to prove it, we're sending along top science story ideas to help ease the transition from winter to spring. This monthly collection can help you cover ongoing earth and natural science research and investigations at USGS--photos and web links are provided to enhance your story. If you are not receiving this and would like to, would like to change the recipient, or no longer want to receive it, please email [email protected].

Included this month:

  • Kissing the Blarney Stone
  • USGS Celebrates 125 years of Science for America
  • Stop using the Richter Scale!
  • How the Irish Named Civilization


Would you kiss a 300-million-year-old limestone? Bending over backwards to kiss the Blarney Stone will either give you the gift of gab or the taste of a 300-million-year-old Carboniferous limestone, depending on whether you listen to the Irish legend or USGS geologists. The stone is part of Blarney Castle, located in the southern part of Ireland, about five miles northwest of the town of Cork. Legend says that kissing the Blarney Stone bestows the gift of blarney, or sweet flattering talk. USGS geologists will tell you that if you've ever kissed the Blarney Stone, then you've kissed a piece of limestone formed about 300 million years ago during the Carboniferous age, the same period that produced the thick coal beds of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The castle is built out of limestone blocks and the Blarney Stone is indistinguishable from its fellow stones in size, shape, and general appearance. It is assumed that laborers toted the limestone blocks, including the Blarney Stone, from any of several nearby quarries that are known sources of Carboniferous limestone. To learn more about limestone, coal (USGS National Coal Assessment), and energy, go to: If you want to learn more about're on your own. For more, call Gail Wendt at 703-648-5604 or email at [email protected].

Happy 125th Birthday to USGS! (You don't look a day over 80): On March 3, 1879, the USGS was created by the Organic Act of the 45th Congress as a logical extension of the territorial surveys that were led by King, Hayden, Wheeler, and Powell. In 1879, the Federal Government held title to more than 1.2 billion acres of land, nearly all of it west of the Mississippi River, and only 200 million acres of this land had been surveyed. Well, we've accomplished a lot since that beginning. USGS now has mapped every corner of the nation and produced 55,000 topographic maps to prove it. Data about the flow of rivers and streams is now collected every 15 minutes from more than 7,000 streamgages nationwide. Each year, USGS locates more than 30,000 earthquakes worldwide. And over the past 100 years, our scientists have banded more than 57 million birds to monitor their status, trends and migratory patterns. For your one-stop shopping choice for science news and information see We are marking 125 years of science for America and have created a special Web site,, to commemorate our anniversary. Stop by frequently during 2004 as the USGS continues to celebrate the challenges of scientific exploration and discovery - yesterday, today, and tomorrow. (Carolyn Bell, 703-648-4463)

Stop Using "Richter Scale"! Bet you might not have known that USGS, for the most part, abandoned the "Richter Scale" as the official measurement of large earthquakes years ago. Actually, the Richter Scale is just one of the many ways, though not the best, we use to measure earthquake intensity. In 1935, Charles Richter developed his now-famous scale for moderate-size earthquakes in southern California. That local magnitude scale is often called the "Richter scale" by the press and the public. There are actually many different ways to measure magnitude, all of which yield results consistent with the Richter scale, and many based on Richter's work. But scientists no longer use the original Richter methodology because it does not give reliable results when applied to very large earthquakes and it was not designed to use data from earthquakes recorded outside Southern California. USGS, which is responsible for providing information about earthquakes to other government agencies and to the public, uses the Moment Magnitude scale and we call it plain old "Magnitude". So, in most cases we use a different scale for computing the intensity of an earthquake -- similar to Richter's but without the drawbacks -- hence the more accurate name. Now you know! For more information, call Butch Kinerney at 703-648-4732 or email at [email protected].


Against all odds: Hawaiian honeycreeper Thriving Despite Disease: Sometimes the resilience of living things takes awhile to reveal itself. Not unlike many aboriginal people, some wildlife species have succumbed to diseases introduced by early Western settlers. Populations of many native Hawaiian forest birds were decimated after the accidental introduction of mosquito-transmitted avian malaria and pox to Hawaii last century. Native birds essentially "disappeared" from lowland forests, where climate is favorable for mosquitoes and disease transmission. Now a team of USGS scientists at the Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center in Hawaii have discovered that Hawaii amakihi, a small, yellow-green honeycreeper, is thriving in low elevation forests once again. These birds are resident and breeding in low-elevation forests on Hawaii Island in densities approximately 2-3 times those found at disease-free high elevations, despite high rates of malarial infection (60-90%). Moreover, data show an increase in range and abundance of amakihi at low elevations over the past decade. The once largely ignored lowlands may now hold newfound significance for the Hawaiian conservation community. These results are especially exciting because they suggest that this system is still evolving, and will teach us about the ecological and evolutionary processes at work on introduced mosquito-transmitted diseases such as West Nile Virus. For information, call Bethany Woodworth at 808-967-7396 ext. 237 or email: [email protected].

Don't Miss a Drop ... of Water that is! In much of the world, and particularly in the U.S., irrigation is one of the most important uses of water. Find out just how much water our nation uses for irrigation as well as other interesting and useful facts in the soon-to-be released report Estimated Use of Water in the U.S. in 2000. It contains everything you need to know about how much water is used in each state, which state uses the most, how much is used to produce power, and whether livestock operations require more water than our domestic uses at home. Learn interesting trends like what impact population increases over the past 50 years have had on water use. The report is set for release March 11 in Washington, DC. For more information, call Karen Wood at 703-648-4447 or email at [email protected].

More than just heirlooms passed from generation to generation: USGS researcher and Native American Margaret Hiza, working in the Navajo Nation, is trying to revive the Native viewpoint in scientific investigations by incorporating Native wisdom and traditional knowledge that provide information on the changes of the arid ecosystem in which Navajo people have lived for at least 600 to 1,000 years. Traditional people on the Navajo Nation live a subsistence lifestyle that is closely tied to and dependent upon landscape conditions. Native traditional knowledge, an integral part of this lifestyle, is a compilation of information based on teachings and experiences of living within a specific ecosystem that is passed on from generation to generation. This knowledge of the environment includes seasonal changes in weather, the relations of different parts of the ecosystem, and the resources they offer. Traditional knowledge can provide scientists and resource managers a long-term perspective that is lacking in the use of temporally limited direct observations. Ongoing USGS research is aimed at establishing the relations of historical and prehistoric impacts of land use and climate change on landscape conditions in the Tsezhin Bii' region of the Navajo Nation; to discriminate between the impacts of climate change and land-use; and to determine the relation and extent to which uranium and arsenic, associated with shallow groundwater resources and springs, have affected human health and land-use sustainability. For more, call Catherine Puckett at 707-442-1329 or email at [email protected].


Landsat 5 - it takes a lickin and keeps on tickin: In an era of 'overnight success' and disposable products, try to find a better example of dependability, economy, and achievement than the Landsat 5 earth observing satellite. Landsat 5 was launched on March 1, 1984. Because of the sophisticated equipment on board, engineers anticipated a life of a mere two years, with a goal of three years of collecting data over the landmass of the planet. Instead, Landsat 5 has become the longest continuously serving observation system in the U.S. civilian fleet. Once slated for de-commissioning, Landsat 5 continues to acquire a new scene every 23 seconds, collecting over 29 million images during its 110,000 orbits. Landsat 5 observed the disaster at Chernobyl, the re-growth of the Mt St Helens region, and countless, floods, fires, droughts and other major changes to the surface of the earth. And there's continues to operate and the global science community has reason to rely on the 'workhorse' satellite. Newer satellites have developed malfunctions, but lowly Landsat 5 keeps providing the vital earth information needed by scientists and managers. For more, call Ron Beck at 303-202-4763 or email him at [email protected].

How the Irish Named Civilization (or at least Americay): On the eve of St. Patrick's Day, it's easy to see the influence of the Irish on American place names. And it's apparent. According to the USGS Geographic Names Information System ( the Irish were busy naming American places over the past 400 or so years. For example, there are four places in America named Blarney including Blarney Creek in Alaska and Blarney Castle Spring in South Dakota. Patrick shows up in 229 American places including Patrick Lake, Ga., and Patricksburg, Ind. There are 166 Shamrocks in America including Shamrock Mesa, Colo., and the town of Shamrock, La. Dublin, Ohio is perhaps the most famous Dublin on this side of the pond, but it's not the only one. There are 151 other Dublins here. Finally, there are 287 variations of Irish in American places including Irishman Ditch in Alabama and Irish Hill, Maine. Consult the database for more fascinating American place names. It's also a fantastic resource for genealogists researching family names and places. For more information, call Butch Kinerney (yep, it's Irish) at 703-648-4732 or email at [email protected].

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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