USGS presents a world of science at GSA in Philadelphia

Geology and human health, disasters, science and public policy, climate change, and future energy and water resources are among the topics that scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will discuss with other leading scientists, educators, and policy-makers from around the globe at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, Oct. 22-25. About 6000 people are expected to attend. The site of this year's meeting, Philadelphia, and its theme, The Pursuit of Science: Building on a Foundation of Discovery, celebrate the 300th birthday of Benjamin Franklin, one of our nation's earliest and most notable leaders in science and public policy. Unless otherwise indicated, all talks are at the Pennsylvania Convention Center (PCC).

Sunday, Oct. 22

The Emerging Role of Earth and Natural Sciences in Human Health: What does earth science have to do with human health? Plenty. Recent events and research clearly show the need for earth and human-health sciences to work together and to incorporate non-traditional specialties to bridge the gap. With specialists in earth and biological sciences, the USGS has formed a human-health interest group that coordinates research internally and with partners along six issues related to human health. Related website: P. Patrick Leahy, PCC Auditorium Lecture Hall, 8:10-8:40 am

The Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater: What happens when a piece of rock two miles wide comes crashing down to earth at hypersonic speed? That happened about 35 million years ago in what is now the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. USGS scientists and partners in the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) will present some of the details of an event that fractured the Earth's basement rocks to a depth of more than seven miles, scattered debris up and down the east coast, and still affects daily life in modern coastal Virginia.
J. Wright Horton Jr., PCC 112A, 10:30-10:45 am (Hydrothermal rock alteration)
Gregory Gohn, PCC 112A, 1:50-2:10 pm (Deep drilling program)
David S. Powars, PCC 112A, 2:30-2:45 pm (Crater structure)
Lucy E. Edwards, PCC 112B, 9:45-10:00 am (MONDAY) (Impact-damaged fossils)
Wylie Poag, PCC Exhibit Hall C, 1:30-5:30 pm (MONDAY, POSTER) (Tektite source rocks)

To Scientists, It's Good to be a Packrat: Packrats living over the past 50,000 years in dry caves and rock shelters in the American West are helping scientists discover what kinds of plants were growing in the region in the past and how climate has changed. But how they've helped is a little unusual. Ancient packrats like their modern relatives habitually gathered pieces of plant material, bone, and other items from their environment and stashed them in their waste piles of fecal material and urine called middens. The packrat's viscous urine cemented the material together into a solid mass to create a midden of preserved plant fossils. The USGS/NOAA North American Packrat Midden Database offers the most comprehensive, high-quality archive of midden data available for North America, online at Laura Strickland, PCC 109 AB, 11:15-11:30 am

Assessing the Aftermath of Disasters: Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, fires, landslides, hurricanes, industrial spills, and terrorist attacks can produce large volumes of solid, gaseous, or liquid materials of potential environmental and public health concern. Examples include contaminated or pathogen-containing waters, dusts, soils, or sediments; gases; smoke; ash; and debris. Many environmental processes influence the fate of these materials and their effects on health and the environment. A wide variety of earth science methods can help emergency response experts assess and plan for the environmental and health effects of materials generated by disasters. The author will discuss examples of USGS responses to the World Trade Center collapse and Hurricane Katrina to help illustrate the earth science role, examine lessons learned, and underscore future opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration in disaster response and planning. Geoff Plumlee, PCC Auditorium Lecture Hall, 11:20-11:40 am

Intersex and Lesions Are Pharmaceuticals and Other Emerging Contaminants the Cause? During a study to find the cause of fish kills and lesions in the South Branch of the Potomac River in 2003, scientists noted a high prevalence of intersex in small-mouth bass. Subsequent sampling revealed about 80 percent of male small-mouth bass had intersex. This anomaly has been observed at elevated rates elsewhere in the U.S and in other parts of the world. A national study found many waterways contain human and agricultural pharmaceuticals that are not completely removed by conventional water treatment. USGS is studying the transport, fate, and effects of organic wastewater compounds and pharmaceuticals at urban sites including the Philadelphia and south New Jersey areas, the Chesapeake Bay, and sites in the Midwest to determine constituent effects on urban stream water quality. These issues are relevant to many urban areas of the U.S. This USGS-hosted session examines where emerging contaminants have been found, their effects, and possible methods of dealing with them. Session 36, PCC 103C, 1:30-5:30 pm

Potential Sources of Organic Contaminants to Lake Mead: Lake Mead is the major source of drinking water for about 1.6 million residents of Las Vegas Valley and millions of annual tourists, and it supplies downstream users of the Colorado River. Each day, about 170 million gallons of tertiary treated wastewater and urban runoff enter Lake Mead at Las Vegas Bay from the Las Vegas metropolitan area. USGS scientists have found elevated concentrations of synthetic organic compounds, including PCBs and manufactured fragrances, primarily in the lower part of the lake's water column. Research on how these compounds behave in the depths of Lake Mead is important for management of the lake's ecology and as a water source. Michael Rosen, PCC Exhibit Hall C, 1:30-5:30 pm

Seawater Intrusion of Los Angeles Basin Groundwater: In the Los Angeles Basin, the main regional water quality issue is seawater intrusion from San Pedro and Santa Monica Bays. USGS scientists will present a model that can simulate the impacts of using ground-water as a backup supply if surface water delivery was disrupted in the event of a natural disaster such as a major earthquake. Simulations indicate that short-term pumpage during water emergencies could result in long-term increases in seawater intrusion. Eric Reichard, PCC 104 A, 2:15-2:35 pm

Afghan Energy: As Afghanistan rebuilds, energy needs are growing rapidly and new fuels for transportation, power generation, and heating are in great demand. Although the country has significant, marketable coal in commercial quantities, years of conflict, difficult terrain, and lack of infrastructure have made it difficult to produce and transport this resource. USGS is working with the Afghan government and international organizations to build a clean and sustainable system of energy development. John SanFilipo, PCC 110AB, 4:15-4:30 pm

Venezuelan Disaster: In December 1999, one of the worst natural disasters in the recorded history of the Americas hit the Venezuelan state of Vargas, near the capital, Caracas. A series of severe storms triggered flash floods and debris flows that stripped some hillsides entirely, eroding 15-20 million cubic yards of soil and rock. About 30 miles of the coast were inundated, and 15,000 people were killed. What made these landslides so severe and what does it tell us about how to prevent future debris-flow disasters? Matthew Larsen, PCC 113B, 4:45-5:00 pm

Mapping Geologic and Mineral Resources of Afghanistan: The USGS created a 1:500,000-scale geologic and mineral resource map of Afghanistan as part of an effort to help reconstruct the country's natural resources sector. The geologic and mineral resource data used to create the map are the foundation for ongoing mineral, oil and gas, coal, water, and earthquake hazard assessments being conducted by the USGS in Afghanistan. The data also act as base information for road construction and environmental restoration. Jeff Doebrich, PCC Exhibit Hall, 6:008:00 pm

Monday, Oct. 23

Arsenic Toxicity Worldwide: An estimated 47-53 million people worldwide are exposed to unhealthy concentrations of arsenic from drinking and irrigation water. Conditions that influence the bioavailability of arsenic and its potential toxicity are geologic, hydrologic, and biologic. The author will present the current interdisciplinary research developed by the USGS to help understand and mitigate this toxicity issue. A synopsis of the response from a similar presentation at the IV World Water Forum, held earlier this year, will be included. Michalann Harthill, PCC 204B, 8:30-8:45 am

Dating Jane--By the Way, She's a Dinosaur: The USGS is using pollen to "date" or determine the age of Jane--the juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex discovered in 2002 by an expedition from the Burpee Museum of Natural History. The discovery site in southeastern Montana is an isolated outcrop of the Hell Creek Formation, uncertain in stratigraphic position. Claystone balls that buried the tyrannosaurid skeleton contained a group of pollen, spores, and algal cysts characteristic an interval from the upper Maastrichtian epoch, 65-70 million years ago. The interval is informally subdivided, based on the stratigraphic ranges of ten pollen species. Applying this model to the pollen group recovered from the Jane site indicate her age to be approximately 65.9-66 million years old. Better not tell her that! Douglas J. Nichols, PCC 112B, 9:15-9:30 am

Geoscience in the Eye of the Societal Storm: Often, when scientists communicate with the media, the topic is of critical importance and emotionally charged. Generally, life, property, and policy decisions hang in the balance. Science must have a seat at the policy table, and communication with the public through the media is critical in getting it there. The author will examine the view from the science side. Get a unique perspective from one of the nation's top geoscientists following his tenure as USGS Acting Director. P. Patrick Leahy, PCC Auditorium Lecture Hall, 4:50-5:10 pm

Tuesday, Oct. 24

Central and Eastern North America Earthquake Hazards: The origin of earthquakes within stable continental regions has been the subject of debate over the past 30 years. In the East, it is often not possible to assign an earthquake to a specific active fault, so scientists look to historic earthquakes to identify "seismic zones" that suggest areas of increased hazard. The author will present evidence indicating that seismic hazards are more widespread in central and eastern North America than indicated by the limited known historical distribution of earthquakes. Walter Mooney, PCC Exhibit Hall C, 8:00 am - noon

Our Most Vulnerable Shorelines: The erosion rate along parts of Alaska's north coast has doubled during the past 20 years, perhaps in response to earlier seasonal melting of pack ice and longer periods of wave action from open water. In southern Alaska, intense storms, seismic activity, tsunamis, and glacial change make it one of the most active coastlines on Earth. And along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, recent hurricanes have eroded barrier islands and mainland. All of these sites are relevant to public policy and science. PCC 109AB
John Mars, 8:35-8:50 am (Alaska's north)
Asbury Sallenger, 9:20-9:35 am (Gulf of Mexico)
Bruce F. Molnia 10:35-10:50 am (southern Alaska)

Arsenic and Boron in Southeastern Pennsylvania: USGS and EPA tests of private ground water wells in southeastern Pennsylvania found that concentrations of arsenic and boron exceeded federal drinking water standards in 20 percent of wells in some areas. The author will discuss these naturally-occurring health hazards in the Newark Basin. Lisa Senior, PCC 204B, 8:55-9:10 am

U.S. Energy Resources Options, Scenarios, and Policy: Unconventional sources of energy likely will play a larger role in satisfying America's need for energy in the future. Natural gas hydrates, for example, exist beneath the sea floor and Arctic permafrost areas and contain an estimated volume of carbon that is twice that of all other fossil fuels on earth combined. But extracting gas from gas hydrates is challenging because hydrates are unstable at surface temperatures and pressures. Gas hydrates, coal-bed gas, hydrogen, geothermal, nuclear, oil and gas, energy mix, and climate will be discussed among energy and energy-policy experts in this USGS-hosted session. Leslie Ruppert and Brenda Pierce presiding, PCC 113A, 1:30-5:30 pm

Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico: The widespread use of commercial fertilizer during the past century has delivered nutrients to Louisiana's continental shelf. During the same time, oxygen levels have dropped, threatening sea life and commercial fishing. The author will present recent evidence that the Gulf's so called "dead zone" also has a natural cause. Lisa Osterman, PCC 108A, 3:45-4:00 pm

Wednesday, Oct. 25

Water-Quality Issues in Sole-Source and Principal Aquifers: In recent years, concerns have emerged about water quality in many of the 62 principal aquifers in the U.S. In some of these systems, sole-source aquifer designations have been used to protect drinking water supplies especially where few or alternative sources of water exist. This session will highlight research on anthropogenic and natural factors that control water quality in sole-source and principal aquifers in the U.S. Authors will present results from the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program and other studies on issues such as arsenic and deicing chemicals in glacial deposit aquifers; radon and uranium in the northeast and upper Midwest; salinity in the Basin and Range and California coastal basin; agricultural chemicals in Florida and the northern Atlantic coastal plain; and the effects of pumping, irrigation and artificial recharge in the High Plains, Hawaii, Basin and Range, and California. Brian Katz and Michael Focazio presiding, PCC 104 B, 8:00 am noon

Alaskan Landscape Change in Pictures: The author will compare photo pairs of sites in southern Alaska showing spectacular scenes, and spectacular change, with imagery dating as far back as 1880. The pairs show that glacial retreat rapidly transforms the landscape. Bruce F. Molnia, PCC Auditorium Lecture Hall, 10:20-11:05 am

West Trenton, New Jersey Site as a Laboratory for Controlling Contamination: The industrial heyday in the northeastern U.S. left contamination in the fractured bedrock aquifers throughout the region. In the Newark Basin alone, some 800 sites are known to have contaminated groundwater. The Naval Air Warfare Center in West Trenton, New Jersey is one such site. The base has served as an ideal research site where the efforts and partnership between USGS, the U.S. military, and private industry have halted the migration of trichloroethylene into the Delaware River and downstream into Philadelphia. Keeping the plume contained on base has allowed research on natural substances that are showing the potential to clean up this type of spill -- to break the chemicals down while avoiding years of pumping. Allen Shapiro and Francis Chappelle presiding, PCC105AB, 1:30-5:30 pm

Throughout the Meeting

USGS Exhibit Booths 1204-1211 are another great place to get USGS information and talk to scientists in Philadelphia about energy, minerals, water availability, hazards, coastal geology, earth imagery/geologic mapping, and international activities.

Hot Topics Still not enough? Check out these "spirited lunchtime discussions" related to USGS science. Daily at 12:15-1:15 pm PCC 108 A

  • Sunday: Avian Influenza Early Detection with Rick Kearney, USGS Wildlife Program Coordinator. It's not in North America. But should the virulent strain of avian influenza that has cost nearly 150 human lives and millions of dollars in economic loss overseas reach the United States through migratory birds, what then? USGS is on the front line, leading a joint state-federal program for the early detection of this threat to human and animal health.

  • Monday: Afghanistan Reconstruction: USGS Activities in Afghanistan with P. Patrick Leahy, USGS Associate Director for Geology and International Programs. More than 25 years of conflict have largely destroyed Afghanistan's natural resources organizations. USGS is working with the Afghanistan government, international organizations and other U.S. government agencies to rebuild the country's geoscience capabilities in oil and gas, minerals, coal, and water resources as well as earthquake hazards, geospatial infrastructure, and airborne geophysics.

  • Tuesday: Global Warming and CO2 with Don Easterbrook, Western Washington University and Bruce F. Molnia, USGS. Are We Headed for Global Catastrophe in the Coming Century? Join this discussion.

  • Wednesday: The Future of Land Remote Sensing with Gene Thorley, USGS Land Remote Sensing Program. Landsat 5 and 7 both have had significant operational problems. Yet something's on the horizon for remote sensing.


Reporters: For interviews during the conference, please call the GSA Newsroom in Philadelphia on 215-418-2039.

USGS provides science for a changing world. For more information visit

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