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Beached boats and bare trees in Hurricane Hole Biologist Starting Over After Hurricane Irma Damages Home, Office, Research Site

October 25—For Caroline Rogers, an internationally known expert on coral reefs and the only USGS employee stationed in the Virgin Islands, Hurricane Irma swiftly wiped away normalcy at home, at work, and in the field. On September 6 Hurricane Irma was at the peak of its strength when it struck the island of St. John, where Rogers has lived and worked as a marine biologist since 1984. Rogers rode out the hurricane with friends in a concrete home. By day’s end, Rogers’ wooden house still had its roof, although two windows were smashed, and nearby homes had become piles of broken wood. Her office in a National Park Service building at Virgin Islands National Park was roofless. Its walls had exploded, and her books, papers and most of her equipment were ruined. “I have been through many hurricanes, but this one was off the charts,” said Rogers. “Still, so many people I know lost everything that when people ask me, ‘How did you do?’ I just say, ‘I did okay.’” More:

Two women stand at plywood table taking samples from three long plastic tubes full of seafloor sediment U.S. and Canadian Scientists Explore Major Undersea Earthquake Fault

October 19—An international team of scientists just finished probing the depths of the Pacific Ocean offshore of Alaska and British Columbia, to better understand the Queen Charlotte-Fairweather Fault. During the past century, the 700-mile-long fault has generated at least half a dozen major earthquakes, and future shocks threaten coastal communities in both the United States and Canada. Scientists from the USGS, joined by colleagues from Natural Resources Canada, the University of Calgary, and the Sitka Sound Science Center in Alaska, spent 20 days at sea aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship John P. Tully. They were looking for clues to the future of a fault often compared to a more famous one in California. “We can think of this fault system as the San Andreas of the north,” said Danny Brothers, a USGS research geophysicist. More:

USGS' Owen Brenner wading with GPS backpack USGS Tracks Evolution of a Fire Island Hurricane-Made Breach

October 10—A new USGS study of a Hurricane Sandy-created opening between the ocean and Great South Bay at Fire Island National Seashore is one of the most detailed scientific examinations ever conducted of the early stages in the life of a barrier island breach. Computer modeling based on the study’s data finds that the breach has not significantly increased the projected level of storm-tide flooding in Great South Bay. The study highlights the dynamic relationship between storms and coastal barrier islands, pinpointing seasonal changes in the breach’s channels and shoals and the likelihood that future storms will change the opening again. “Storm strikes are the force that drives the geomorphology—the geologic shape and evolution—of barrier islands along the Northeast coast,” said USGS research oceanographer Cheryl Hapke. “But until this event, no one ever had the opportunity to watch a breach open and evolve, and to study that process in depth.” More:

Storm-tide sensor deployed by USGS hurricane response crews on the northern Gulf of Mexico coast USGS Installs Storm-Tide Sensors Along Gulf Coast for Hurricane Nate

October 7—Almost 60 storm-tide sensors have been deployed by USGS hurricane response crews along the Gulf coast, from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle, in preparation for Hurricane Nate. Under a mission assignment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 28 storm-tide sensors were installed in Louisiana, 10 in Florida, and about 20 are being installed in Alabama today, with the work expected to be complete this afternoon. Information provided through the sensor networks provides critical data for more accurate modeling and prediction capabilities and allows for improved structure designs and response for public safety. More:

Southern sea otter swimming in California waters Annual Southern Sea Otter Survey: Despite Small Population Dip, Species Moves a Step Closer to Recovery

September 29—According to data released Friday by the USGS and partners, the three-year average of the total counts of southern sea otters was down from last year’s high, although it still exceeded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s delisting threshold for a second straight year. This year’s overall count of 3,186 exceeded the 3,090 threshold set by the FWS. The otters’ numbers must surpass the threshold of 3,090 for another year before the FWS would consider delisting the subspecies, which is currently designated as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The count is down by 3 percent from 3,272 in 2016’s survey. “The lower mainland count this year could be due to poorer counting conditions and very sparse kelp canopies, which likely influenced sea otter distribution,” says Tim Tinker, a research ecologist who leads the USGS California sea otter research program. More:

Pair of whooping cranes landing in a marsh New Study Looks at Ecological “Tipping Points” for Coastal Species to Help Manage for Change

September 27—A new paper published by a team of scientists from the USGS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service synthesizes existing information on ecological thresholds related to environmental changes—including sea-level rise and coastal storms—for 45 species of coastal fish, wildlife and plants selected because of their ecological, economic and cultural importance. Coastal systems like salt marshes, mangrove forests, and barrier beaches are home to a diversity of wildlife species, such as whooping crane, Eastern oyster and American black duck. These species are important parts of functional ecosystems that contribute a host of economic, recreational, and cultural benefits to people and communities. For example, the Eastern oyster is a cornerstone of a lucrative shellfish industry, filters water as it feeds, and helps stabilize the shoreline by creating reefs. Healthy coastal marshes are the nursery areas for fish species that support critical recreational and commercial coastal fisheries. More:

A screenshot of the USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal showing erosion, overwash and inundation potentials along the east coast from Hurricane Maria Hurricane Maria expected to alter North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland Beaches

September 26—About two-thirds of beaches from North Carolina to Maryland have a high probability of eroding as Hurricane Maria moves up the coast, according to the latest USGS coastal change forecast. While the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico is not currently forecast to make landfall on the east coast, high winds and large waves generated by the storm have the potential to affect the coast. “As the storm moves north, those large waves are expected to erode and in some cases overwash sandy beaches and dunes that serve as protection for coastal communities,” said Joseph Long, USGS research oceanographer and one of the lead developers of a series of coastal change forecasting tools. More:

Graphic depicting impounded salt marsh with restricted tidal flow Restoring tides to reduce methane emissions. A new and potent Blue Carbon climate change intervention

September 25—New USGS research shows that degraded salt marshes can be a strong source of methane with climate impact equivalent to millions of automobiles. A recently published article shows that many tidal wetlands in the U.S. and elsewhere are altered and degraded by tidal restrictions, leading to impoundment or drainage and a reversal from sink to potent source of greenhouse gases. Ecosystem restoration in these tidally-restricted wetlands, by restoring natural water flows and salinity, provides an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote future carbon sequestration, while regaining wildlife habitat. In some cases, ecosystem restoration through opening of tidal restrictions can be consistent with coastal resilience planning, since exposure to tidal flow will tend to promote resumption of natural accretion of wetland elevation in response to sea level rise, resulting in enhanced protection of the landscape and infrastructure landward of the wetland. More:

Still image from animation of a tsunami Animations of tsunami generated by September 8 magnitude 8.1 earthquake off Mexico

September 23—USGS has posted animations of a tsunami generated by the magnitude 8.1 earthquake that struck offshore of the Mexican state of Chiapas at 4:49 a.m. UTC on September 8 (11:49 p.m. September 7 local time). USGS geophysicist Eric Geist created the animations using data about the earthquake rupture. The highest wave measured 1.76 meters (5.8 feet) at Puerto Chiapas. In part because the earthquake was relatively deep, not much vertical movement was transferred up to the seafloor and from there to the overlying water. Hence the tsunami was mild, a lucky thing for coastal communities already coping with deadly shaking. A second large earthquake on September 19 occurred 123 kilometers (76 miles) southeast of Mexico City, where shaking caused severe damage and many deaths. The second earthquake occurred on land and did not produce a tsunami. More:

USGS researcher in the field, responding to recent storms USGS Continues Response to Four Hurricanes

September 22—As thousands of people remain displaced by or are recovering from one of the four hurricanes that have affected the United States the past month, the USGS is in the field providing science that will help with recovery from these historic hurricanes and with preparing for the next storm. When a major storm is on the horizon, the USGS uses its water monitoring, coastal change, mapping, and modeling expertise to help emergency managers, coastal planners and communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from hurricanes and tropical storms. Since Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Rockport, Texas, August 25, the USGS has deployed hundreds of staff into the field responding to these back-to-back storms. More:

Researcher monitors one of the U.S. Geological Survey tide gauges installed throughout Hampton Roads and along the Eastern Shore of Virginia USGS Tidal Network Monitoring Elevated Water Levels Off Hampton Roads

September 22—A network of 23 U.S. Geological Survey tide gauges installed throughout Hampton Roads and along the Eastern Shore of Virginia is monitoring elevated water levels caused by Post-Tropical Cyclone Jose. As Jose churned in the Atlantic it pushed water from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay into the heavily populated Hampton Roads harbor, raising water up to two feet in some places, causing some minor flooding around the Hauge inlet in Norfolk, Virginia. “City officials can use this data to make emergency decisions during a storm, such as when to close roads and issue evacuation orders,” said Russ Lotspeich, USGS hydrologist. More:

Low-level unrest at Bogoslof volcano continues; no significant volcanic activity was observed Unrest at Bogoslof volcano continues

September 14—Bogoslof volcano remained at a heightened state of unrest and in an unpredictable condition throughout early September. Slightly elevated surface temperatures were observed in several satellite images. No activity was detected in seismic or infrasound data from neighboring islands. Activity can escalate quickly with explosions producing high-altitude (>15,000 feet) volcanic clouds with little to no detectable precursory activity. Some previous explosions have been preceded by an increase in earthquake activity that allowed for short-term forecasts of imminent significant explosive activity. More:

Aerial photograph of Higgs Beach, Florida Keys, after Hurricane Irma Before, During, and After the Storm, USGS is There

September 13—Whenever a major hurricane is forecast to hit the nation’s Atlantic or Gulf Coast, USGS scientists are ready to go well before the red-and-black hurricane warning flags unfurl. Starting about three days before a major storm’s predicted landfall, the USGS begins collecting data that can improve forecasting, guide relief work, and hasten recovery from the powerful storm effects. Storm tides, coastal erosion, and inland flooding are among the most dangerous natural hazards unleashed by hurricanes, with the capacity to destroy homes and businesses, wipe out roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, and profoundly alter landscapes. More:

A USGS hydrologic technician deploying instrumentation before a storm USGS Measures the Impacts of Hurricane Irma

September 13—Hurricane Irma’s heavy rains and storm surge caused severe flooding in parts of the southeastern U.S. Some rivers and streams have yet to crest as water moves through tributaries into larger rivers. Hurricane response crews from the USGS are in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina repairing and checking stream gauges, making high-flow measurements and retrieving storm-tide sensors now that Hurricane Irma has passed. The USGS studies the impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms to better understand potential impacts on coastal areas. Information provided through the sensor networks provides critical data for more accurate modeling and prediction capabilities and allows for improved structure designs and response for public safety. More:

Screen shot of the USGS Coastal Change Hazads Portal - Hurricane Irma (USGS) Hurricane Irma to Significantly Affect Beaches from Florida to South Carolina

September 8—Large and powerful Hurricane Irma is likely to cause significant erosion along U.S. east coast beaches from Florida through South Carolina, according to a new projection from the USGS. Strong waves and storm surge are likely to erode all sandy beaches in the three states, overtop sand dunes over three-quarters of the coast, and, in some areas, inundate areas behind the dunes. These coastal impacts are based on the National Hurricane Center's September 8 storm track forecast. Actual impacts may be very different if the track moves to the west and affects the Gulf coast. “Our models are showing that the entire coastline of Florida is likely to experience extensive dune erosion,” said USGS research oceanographer Hilary Stockdon, the lead developer of the group’s coastal change forecasting tools. More:

USGS scientist records high water marks from storm surge following Harvey near Corpus Christi, Texas River Levels Set Records in Texas

September 8—Rivers and streams reached record levels as a result of Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall, with about 40 USGS streamgages measuring record peaks. “During the peak period of flooding, about 81 streamgages in east and southeast Texas recorded water levels at National Weather Service flood stage,” said Jeff East with the USGS Texas Water Science Center. “All Texas rivers have already crested and have reached their highest levels.” Immediately after the worst of the storm had passed, USGS hydrologists in Texas and from other parts of the country were deployed to measure high flood flows. The crews are also calibrating and repairing streamgages damaged by the storm to ensure they continue to transmit information in real time to users working to protect lives and property. More:

Photograph of dam removal site New Report Synthesizes U.S. Dam-Removal Studies

September 5—The rate of dam removal in the U.S. has increased over past decades, motivating a working group at the USGS John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis to review available dam-removal studies. The synthesis of their findings, “Dam removal: Listening in,” appeared July 31 in the American Geophysical Union (AGU) journal Water Resources Research. Contributors include ecologists, geologists, hydrologists, biologists, engineers, and geomorphologists from various federal agencies, universities, and a nonprofit organization. Among the findings is that physical responses, like sediment release, are typically rapid, whereas ecosystem responses vary with location along the river. On August 25, a reporter from Water Deeply interviewed first author Melissa Foley (former USGS research ecologist now with Auckland Council in New Zealand), coauthor and USGS research geologist Amy East, and two colleagues from the U.S. Forest Service. More:

Screenshot of the USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal, showing current coastal impact projections for Hurricane Harvey Many Texas Beaches Likely to Erode, Be Overwashed, or Inundated by Hurricane Harvey

August 25—New projections from the USGS indicate Hurricane Harvey is likely to cause significant beach erosion along the Texas coastline, with water overtopping dunes and in some cases inundating areas. As of Friday morning, the USGS Coastal Change Forecast model is predicting that 94 percent of Texas’s 367 miles of coastline will undergo some level of beach erosion from the storm surge and large waves Hurricane Harvey will produce. “Significant coastal erosion along the coastline of Texas is expected due to the rapid strengthening of Hurricane Harvey,” said Joseph Long, USGS Research Oceanographer. “While the forecasts are subject to change as Harvey approaches land, we are making these forecasts to help inform emergency managers and communities on the potential coastal erosion hazards to be prepared for during the storm.” More:

Chart of vegetation change in the bird's foot delta Invasive Pest May Not Be Only Cause of Recent Louisiana Marsh Die-off

August 23—A non-native insect infestation may not be the only factor involved in the ongoing die-back of a marsh grass in the Mississippi River’s “bird foot delta,” the ecologically and economically important part of coastal Louisiana where the river meets the Gulf of Mexico. A new USGS report shows much of the affected marsh began declining in 2015, more than a year before the latest die-off and insect infestation were discovered. “If phragmites stands fail to recover from the dieback, tens of thousands of acres of loosely-consolidated soils in the delta would become vulnerable to loss during coastal storms,” said Rebecca Howard, a research ecologist at the USGS’ Wetland and Aquatic Research Center in Lafayette, Louisiana. “This could undermine the current Mississippi River shipping channels, pose a threat to navigation, and affect two wildlife refuges.” More:

A screenshot of the State Geologic Map Compilation, Stitching Together the New Digital Geologic Quilt of the United States

August 21—A carbonatite here, a glacial moraine there, a zig-zagging fault or two, even a behemoth of a batholith. The geology of the 50 States is an enormous patchwork of varied forms, beautiful in their variance but challenging to present as a single map. Fortunately, in an effort with needlepoint detail, the USGS has stitched together geologic maps of the Lower 48 States, providing a seamless quilt of 48 State geologic maps that range from 1:50,000 to 1:1,000,000 scale. The shale oil boom: how much oil is really there? Critical minerals: does the United States have what it needs for your smartphone, air conditioner and car, let alone our military? Earthquakes and volcanoes: which hazards do we face? All these questions are addressed with geologic maps! More:

Researchers use handheld computers and backpack-mounted GPS equipment to record beach topography along the beach near the mouth of the Elwha River Newly Released Datasets Show How Dam Removal Changed the Coast Around the Mouth of Washington State’s Elwha River

August 17—USGS has published data documenting coastal changes caused by the removal of two large dams from the Elwha River in northern Washington. The largest dam removal in U.S. history, begun in 2011 and completed in 2014, released massive amounts of sediment from the former reservoirs. USGS scientists regularly survey the beach and seafloor near the river mouth to document the effects of this sediment as it reaches the coast. The published datasets cover surveys conducted in 2010 and twice yearly thereafter through July 2016; new surveys will be added as data are processed. During the most recent survey, in July 2017, the scientists saw an explosion of vegetation colonizing newly created land. This work is part of multiagency studies to support restoration of the Elwha River system. More:

Lake Michigan Could Best Support Lake Trout and Steelhead Lake Michigan Could Best Support Lake Trout and Steelhead

August 16—Invasive mussels and less nutrients from tributaries have altered the Lake Michigan ecosystem making it more conducive to the stocking of lake trout and steelhead than Chinook salmon, according to a recent USGS and Michigan State University study. Reduced stocking of Chinook salmon, however, would still support a substantial population of this highly desirable recreational salmon species, which is a large contributor to the Great Lakes multi-billion-dollar recreational fishery. “Our model showed that stocking Chinook salmon can still help maintain their populations in Lake Michigan,” said Mark Rogers, a USGS Tennessee Cooperative Fishery Research Unit scientist and co-author on the study. “When stocking was completely eliminated in the model, the long-term amount of salmon was predicted to decrease considerably. The key is to determine how much stocking is most effective. It’s a balancing act.” More:

Still from the closing credits of 'Peeking into Permafrost' USGS Video Selected for Goldschmidt Film Festival in Paris

August 15—The USGS video “Peeking into Permafrost” has been selected for this year’s Goldschmidt Wild Orbit Cinema week in Paris, August 12–18. Produced by USGS contractor Amy West, the film is one of 15 chosen from nearly 100 entries. It follows a USGS team led by geologist Bruce Richmond as they investigate bluff erosion on Barter Island on Alaska’s Arctic coast. The video conveys the challenging conditions under which the scientists collect samples of permafrost and a range of data—from repeat photographs of the shore, to radon content in groundwater, to the composition and structure of the bluffs—to examine what’s controlling erosion of Arctic coasts. Such erosion threatens villages and infrastructure in many parts of northern Alaska. The annual film festival is a “week long celebration of the very best in science communication” held in conjunction with the prestigious Goldschmidt geochemistry conference. More:

Instrument package mounted to the seaward slope of a coral reef off southwestern Puerto Rico Deep Deployment of Instruments to Study Coral Reef Structure and Health Off Puerto Rico

August 10—An instrument package developed by the USGS was placed on the seaward slope of a coral reef off southwestern Puerto Rico on July 27. Collaborators from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez deployed the instrument package at a depth of 177 feet — the deepest deployment yet of instruments to measure currents and suspended sediment in a coral reef environment. The researchers want to measure how much volcanic sediment (derived from land) and carbonate sediment (derived from the reef) are moving off the reef. They are also exploring how deep currents move cool, nutrient-rich water up the slope. This water can offset stress caused by global warming of surface waters and provide food for stressed corals. USGS scientist Cordell Johnson designed and built the instrument mount for delicate emplacement by technical divers. More:

Screenshots of tsunami approaching the shore from video produced by Physics World.
Physics World Videos Feature USGS Tsunami and Earthquake Scientists

August 10—USGS geophysicists are featured in two videos published by Physics World, magazine of the Institute of Physics. In the first video, Eric Geist explains his studies of the mechanics of tsunamis, particularly those triggered by earthquakes occurring at subduction zones on the seafloor, where oceanic plates slide underneath continental plates. A second, companion video covers the work of Brian Kilgore, who triggers mini-earthquakes in a USGS lab to study their characteristics, and David Lockner, who works in a rock deformation and friction lab to recreate conditions in the Earth under which earthquakes occur. Journalist James Dacey filmed the interviews a year and a half ago at the USGS center in Menlo Park, California. The videos and accompanying article were published in July 2017 on More:

Image shows a major flood on the St. John River on the border of Maine, United States and New Brunswick, Canada, April 29, 2008 Study Links Major Floods in North America and Europe to Multi-Decade Ocean Patterns

August 10—The number of major floods in natural rivers across Europe and North America has not increased overall during the past 80 years, a recent study has concluded. Instead researchers found that the occurrence of major flooding in North America and Europe often varies with North Atlantic Ocean temperature patterns. This new study is by far the largest scale analysis of major flood trends for watersheds that are minimally disturbed by human activities. It provides vital information to help understand the most common and widespread of all natural hazards on Earth—a hazard that causes substantial losses of life and property. “This study is unique in that it examined trends in major floods only—those with 25-year or longer return periods—that typically cause the most damage to infrastructure,” said USGS research hydrologist Glenn Hodgkins, who led an international team of scientists in the study. More:


Federal Ocean Partnership Launches DEEP SEARCH Study of Coral, Canyons, and Seeps Off the Mid- and South Atlantic Coast. September 13.

USGS Science Leads the Way for National Preparedness, September 6.

SPMSC Scientist Travels To Pacific Panama To Study The Impacts Of Climatic And Oceanographic Variability On Coral Reefs, August 30.

New York Times quotes USGS geologist in article about California's coastal-erosion problems, August 28.

Magnitude-4.1 earthquake east of the Island of HawaiʻI, August 18.

USGS Corals and Paleoclimate Group Tours New Florida Aquarium Facility, August 9

USGS Met with the National Hurricane Center to Discuss the USGS Storm-Tide Monitoring and Coastal Change Hazards Programs, August 3

For all USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program news, see:

For all USGS news, see:

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in this issue:

Cover Story
Video Cameras Help Forecast Coastal Change

News Briefs
News Briefs

Field Work
USGS Monitors Huge Landslides on California’s Big Sur Coast

Recent Fieldwork

Before and After: Coastal Change Caused by Hurricane Irma

USGS Oceanographer Invited as Keynote Speaker for XBeachX Conference

USGS Researcher Awarded 2018 Rudi Lemberg Travelling Fellowship

Staff amd Center News
Pete Dal Ferro and Melissa Foley Take Jobs in New Zealand

New Report Synthesizes U.S. Dam-Removal Studies

Aug. - Oct. Publications

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