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USGS News: June Science Picks - Science that Weathers the Storm

USGS Office of Communications
Science Picks – Leads, Feeds, and Story Seeds
June 2007 Edition

It’s June, which means that this year’s hurricane season has begun — and the USGS has science that weathers the storm. In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita demonstrated the devastation that storms can inflict and the importance of hurricane hazard research and preparedness. More than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coast, and that number continues to increase. A major goal of the USGS is to reduce the vulnerability of the people and areas most at risk from natural hazards. This month’s edition of Science Picks shares the science and technology used to do just that.

Check out more USGS hurricane-related programs and get the latest on storm happenings throughout the season by visiting the USGS Hurricane Web site at http://www.usgs.gov/hazards/hurricanes/2007/default.asp.

If you would like to receive Science Picks via e-mail, would like to change the recipient, or no longer want to receive it, please e-mail dmakle@xxxxxxxx.

June Highlights:

Ready-to-Go Gages!
Storm Surge Sensors Swiftly Sent to Measure the Swelling Tides
A Hurricane in May?
Storm Response Vehicle to the Rescue!
Imagery for Rapid Response
Manatees and Hurricane Season
Streamgages are Stronger than the Storm
Decades of Data on Coastal Change
Our Research Knows No Season
Storm Proof Satellite
Societal Impacts of the Storm


Ready-to-Go Gages! The USGS’s nationwide network of more than 7,400 streamgages does not cover every stream in the country. Since this data is critical for emergency managers during storms, the USGS has developed rapidly deployable, mobile streamgages to provide short-term, water-level data in unmonitored areas where flooding is anticipated. These mobile gages also serve as emergency replacements for damaged or destroyed gages. To learn more, visit http://water.usgs.gov/osw/hurricanes/index.html, or contact Robert Mason at 703-648-5305 or rrmason@xxxxxxxx, or Jennifer LaVista at 703-648-4432 or jlavista@xxxxxxxxx

Storm Surge Sensors Swiftly Sent to Measure the Swelling Tides: Hurricanes Katrina and Rita vividly demonstrated that storm surge can be as dangerous as riverine floods. To determine the timing, extent, and magnitude of hurricane-driven surge waters and waves, the USGS has designed and developed a network of rugged, inexpensive water-level and barometric-pressure sensors, called storm-surge sensors. They can be quickly installed in anticipation of a storm. This information will be used to calibrate the storm-surge models used by forecasters along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts and will help them provide improved forecasts of what lands will be inundated and to what depth in future hurricanes. To learn more, visit http://water.usgs.gov/osw/hurricanes/index.html, or contact Robert Mason at 703-648-5305 or rrmason@xxxxxxxx, or Jennifer LaVista at 703-648-4432 or jlavista@xxxxxxxxx .

A Hurricane in May? The USGS National Wetlands Research Center, located in Lafayette, La., with field stations along the Gulf of Mexico, began hurricane preparedness with a mock hurricane drill in May that included not only possible staff evacuation, but also scientific response. Joining in the hurricane drill was USGS Water Science Center staff as well as observers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Louisiana and Texas. To learn more about the drill, contact Gregory Smith at gregory_ smith@xxxxxxxx or 337-266-8501, or Gaye Farris at gaye_farris@xxxxxxxx or 337-266-8550.

Storm Response Vehicle to the Rescue! The USGS National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, La., can scientifically respond to hurricanes using its Science Response Vehicle. This vehicle can be deployed to hurricane sites along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts to map 911 calls and critical infrastructure, such as levee breaks, bridges, and pumping stations, as well as test water-quality samples. The vehicle serves as an outside laboratory, facilitating collection and processing of field samples on site; providing critical communication via the Internet when other sources fail; receiving weather and emergency information; and providing living quarters for response personnel.  For more information, contact Scott Wilson at Scott_Wilson@xxxxxxxx or 337-266-8644.

Imagery for Rapid Response: In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake, imagery taken from satellites or airplanes provides an urgently needed view of the disaster — a literal overview that supplies detail, context, and objective reference for first responders. The Emergency Operations Project, located at the USGS Center for Earth Resources Observations and Science, provides vital support to first responders of natural disasters by making high-quality image data promptly available. The Emergency Operations Project will address the 2007 hurricane season by providing broad, electronic access to high-resolution imagery of hurricane-threatened areas in the Eastern United States. Check out how the USGS used this data during Hurricane Katrina at http://www.usgs.gov/hazards/hurricanes/kat_rit_wil/images/katrina_poster_compare_10.jpg. For more information, please contact Brenda Jones at 605-594-6503 or bkjones@xxxxxxxx, or Jan Nelson at 605-594-6173 or jsnelson@xxxxxxxx.

Manatees and Hurricane Season: Past USGS manatee research after strong hurricanes and winter storms indicates that such storms affect the adult survival rates of the endangered Florida manatee. With the aid of new satellite technology to track manatees during storms and new statistical techniques to determine survival and emigration rates, researchers are working to understand how hurricanes impact manatees by studying ones caught in the path of the destructive hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. For additional information, visit the USGS Manatee Sirenia Project Web site at http://cars.er.usgs.gov/Manatees/manatees.html. For more information, contact Catherine Langtimm at clangtimm@xxxxxxxx or 352-264-3489.


Streamgages are Stronger than the Storm: In 2005, many USGS streamgages along and inland of the Gulf of Mexico were damaged or destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The damage resulted in interruptions of streamflow and water-level data needed during the storm by forecasters, emergency managers, and dam and levee operators. The USGS is currently strengthening, or “hardening,”120 gages along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas. Find a map of these locations at http://water.usgs.gov/osw/hurricanes/index.html. Additionally, 8 to 10 open-water tidal/water-quality gages are being hardened in Mississippi and Louisiana. To learn more, visit http://water.usgs.gov/osw/hurricanes/index.html, or contact Robert Mason at 703-648-5305 or rrmason@xxxxxxxx, or Jennifer LaVista at 703-648-4432 or jlavista@xxxxxxxxx .

Decades of Data on Coastal Change: The USGS National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, La., is developing a special Web site and databases to collect data along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts from Federal and State sources that can be accessed immediately for scientific response. Among these databases are NWRC’s own large spatial databases, including more than 70 years of wetland change data. After the hurricanes of 2005, NWRC analysis showed an immediate loss of 217 square miles of coastal land (http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov/hurricane/hurricane_land_change.htm). These findings are being updated each fall (after the spring and summer growing season of wetland plants) to determine the recovery of vegetation that was either completely or partially removed by the hurricanes’ surges and to determine how the entire vegetation community may be changing in response to those surges. For more information, contact John Barras at john_barras@xxxxxxxx or 225-578-7486.

Our Research Knows No Season: When it comes to hurricane research, the USGS is busy all year long. Some of the ongoing research includes (1) radar-tracking of migratory birds during the fall migration period to assess possible effects of hurricanes on migration patterns; (2) studying global climate change and effects of sea-level rise on coastal wetlands and forests; (3) predicting the persistence of coastal wetlands to global climate change effects, including effects of altered temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide; (4) The natural increase of surface elevation or height through the accumulation of wetland plant roots that build up the ground surface in coastal wetlands and the implications for this elevation change relative to sea-level rise; (5) tracking and visualization of coastal restoration projects; and (6) hurricane modeling, including models of the spread of invasive species via hurricane-force winds. Hurricane information can be found at www.nwrc.usgs.gov, www.lacoast.gov and http://www.nbii.gov/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=1020&mode=2&in_hi_userid=2&cached=true. For more about any of these studies, contact Gaye Farris at gaye_farris@xxxxxxxx or 337-266-8550.

Story Seeds:

Storm-Proof Satellite: Currently, USGS water data are relayed almost hourly from streamgages to a single command and data acquisition station at Wallops Island, Va. Since this station is located near the coast, it is vulnerable to hurricanes and other storms. Therefore, to ensure the continuity of critical, real-time data, the USGS, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other partners are establishing an emergency satellite data acquisition and dissemination capability at the USGS Earth Resources Observations and Science Data Center, located in Sioux Falls, S.D. This unit is expected to be operational by the end of 2007. To learn more, visit http://water.usgs.gov/osw/hurricanes/index.html, or contact Robert Mason at 703-648-5305 or rrmason@xxxxxxxx, or Jennifer LaVista at 703-648-4432 or jlavista@xxxxxxxxx

Societal Impacts of the Storm: USGS scientists are combining hazard and community vulnerability data to study how Gulf Coast societies as a whole could be impacted during a storm. Researchers, in collaboration with city and county officials, will conduct the first case study in Sarasota County, Fla., to assess the exposure, sensitivity and resilience of the community during a potential storm surge. The project is designed to demonstrate the usefulness of societal vulnerability information for risk managers to identify and visualize at-risk community elements before hurricane landfall. For more information, contact Nathan Wood at 360-993-8951 or nwood@xxxxxxxx.

Jennifer LaVista
Public Affairs Specialist
U.S. Geological Survey, Office of Communications
Email: jlavista@xxxxxxxx

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