USGS News

New Maps Reveal Seafloor off San Francisco Area

Summary: Three new sets of maps detail the offshore bathymetry, habitats, geology and submarine environment of the seafloor off the coast of San Francisco, Drakes Bay, and Tomales Point

Contact Information:

Helen Gibbons, USGS ( Phone: 831-460-7418 ); Gloria  Sandoval, OPC ( Phone: 916-651-7585 ); Ben Sherman, NOAA ( Phone: 301-713-3066 );



SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — Three new sets of maps detail the offshore bathymetry, habitats, geology and submarine environment of the seafloor off the coast of San Francisco, Drakes Bay, and Tomales Point. Critical for resource managers, the maps are part of the California Seafloor and Coastal Mapping Program, a series of maps published by the U.S. Geological Survey with support from the California Ocean Protection Council, NOAA, and 15 other state and federal partners. The maps are designed to be used by a large stakeholder community and the public to manage and understand California’s vast and valuable marine resources.

“OPC is proud to be a partner in this interagency effort,” said California’s Secretary for Natural Resources and OPC Chair John Laird. “These maps are critical to the state’s innovative approach to coastal resource management. USGS’s products form the foundation for assessing the performance of our Marine Protected Area network and preparing for climate change impacts such as sea-level rise.”

“NOAA is pleased to be partnering in this integrated ocean and coastal mapping project. By working with partners from across federal, state, academic, and private sectors, we are able to combine data resources and maximize our efficiency in applying a ‘map once, use many times’ approach that benefits all,” said Rear Admiral Gerd F. Glang, director NOAA’s office of coast survey.

The program was initiated seven years ago with the goal of comprehensively surveying and mapping all of California's state waters. The vision was tremendously ambitious – comparable mapping on this scale has not been attempted anywhere else in the world. Each of the three publications includes 10 map sheets, a pamphlet, and a digital data catalog. The maps and mapping data have a large range of applications. They provide:

  • A foundation for assessing marine protected areas and habitats.
  • Baselines for monitoring coastal change and sea-level-rise impacts.
  • Critical input data for modeling and mitigation of coastal flooding.
  • A framework for understanding coastal erosion and developing regional sediment management plans.
  • Contributions to earthquake and tsunami hazard assessments.
  • More accurate maps for safer navigation.
  • Essential information for planning, siting, or removing offshore infrastructure.

The new “Offshore of San Francisco” maps document the complex submarine environments along the inlet to San Francisco Bay formed by strong tidal currents, including spectacular sand waves, a deep scour pool beneath the Golden Gate, and the dynamic offshore San Francisco mouth bar and “Potato Patch” shoal.  Sediment distribution maps reveal only a thin sediment cover offshore of the Ocean Beach (San Francisco) erosional hotspot (a pattern extending south to San Gregorio), indicating that today's present coastal erosion will be a continuing problem, likely to be exacerbated by continuing sea-level rise. Geologic maps incorporating subsurface data document the location and geometry of the San Andreas, San Gregorio, and Point Reyes fault systems, and show how their interactions led to uplift of Point Reyes and development of a deep sediment-filled basin. The “Drakes Bay and Vicinity,” and “Offshore of Tomales Point” maps reveal the diverse and complex range of seafloor habitats typical of the California coast, ranging from the rugged granitic bedrock along the high-energy west coast of Point Reyes, to smooth sand and mud in the more protected Drakes Bay environment that includes the Point Reyes State Marine Reserve.

Sam Johnson, the USGS project lead, also notes, “There is a ‘WOW!’ factor to the new high-resolution datasets and maps. They're allowing scientists to pose new questions and are having a significant role in stimulating research.  We're also seeing a positive impact on public education and awareness.” 

To date, twelve map sets and catalogs have been published. Ten additional map sets are now being formatted for publication, which will complete coverage in the Santa Barbara Channel (Oxnard to Gaviota) and from Marina northward to beyond the Russian River. The maps are created through the collection, integration, interpretation, and visualization of swath sonar data, acoustic backscatter, seafloor video, seafloor photography, high-resolution seismic-reflection profiles, and bottom-sediment sampling data.

The California Seafloor and Coastal Mapping Program is a unique collaborative effort supported by the USGS, the California Ocean Protection Council, NOAA, California State University at Monterey Bay, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, and many other academic, government, and industry partners.

“Seafloor character” map of the San Francisco Region. This is a type of habitat map that classifies the seafloor based on surface hardness and roughness. Such maps are used in various types of ecosystem assessments and seafloor zoning, such as delineation or monitoring of marine protected areas. (high resolution image 1 MB) Map of sediment thickness in state waters offshore of San Francisco. About 21,000 years ago, sea level in this area was about 125 m lower and the shelf offshore San Francisco was an emergent land surface. At that time, the Sacramento River drained through the Golden Gate and eroded a valley ("the San Francisco paleovalley”) that was filled with sediment during subsequent sea-level rise. The thickest young sediment in the region occurs in the “San Andreas graben,” a basin that formed by crustal down dropping along the offshore section of the San Andreas fault. There is very little sediment on the shelf offshore of southern Ocean Beach (a pattern that extends south to Pescadero), a factor important for understanding and forecasting coastal erosion in this area. (high resolution image 961 KB) Bathymetry bounding Tomales Point. Rugged and massive granite outcrops extend offshore from Tomales Point to water depths of as much as 60 meters. Offshore sedimentary rock outcrops (lower left part of image) form distinctive “ribs” on the seafloor and have a notably different appearance. There is minimal sediment on this part of the California shelf because the watersheds draining the west flank of Tomales Point are very small and because Tomales Point and Tomales Bay block sediment transport from the north. Rocky-shelf outcrops and rubble are excellent habitats for rockfish and lingcod, recreationally and commercially important species. Tomales Bay, approximately 20-km long and 1- to 2-km wide, formed along a submerged portion of the San Andreas Fault (very shallow water depths preclude collection of high-resolution bathymetric data at the mouth of Tomales Bay). (high resolution image 1.3 MB) Map of offshore sediment thickness in State Waters between Drakes Bay and Salt Point, north of the Russian River. The thickest sediment in the region occurs offshore of the Russian River, and in a large bar along the south flank of Point Reyes Head. There is a relative lack of offshore sediment between Bodega Head and Point Reyes, where the shelf is characterized by abundant rocky habitat and much of the coastal sediment is trapped in large onshore dune fields. (high resolution image 700 KB MB) Perspective view looking to the southeast over entrance to San Francisco Bay. Golden Gate Bridge is to left (east) of this view. The large sand-wave field lies within Golden Gate channel, and formed from sediment transported out of the Bay by strong tidal currents. Profile A–A’ shows that the larger bedforms can reach heights of over 7 m and are asymmetrical with steeper sides towards the open coast. A smaller field of sand waves to south near Baker Beach shows the opposite symmetry (steep sides toward the Bay) indicating that the strongest tidal currents in that local area are directed eastward. (high resolution image 1.1 MB)

Media Advisory: USGS Responds to Record-Breaking Rains in Oklahoma

Summary: As moderate to major flooding in southern Oklahoma continues, multiple crews of U.S. Geological Survey scientists are in the field measuring how the recent heavy rains are impacting streamflows and streamgages

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 303-202-4763 );



Reporters: Do you want to accompany a USGS field crew as they measure flooding? Please contact Jason Lewis at 405-810-4404. 

As moderate to major flooding in southern Oklahoma continues, multiple crews of U.S. Geological Survey scientists are in the field measuring how the recent heavy rains are impacting streamflows and streamgages.

As of Wednesday morning, areas with the most significant flooding are the tributaries and main stem of the Red River. Rainfall totals from Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning were 2-6 inches in southern Oklahoma, falling on already saturated soils and high rivers. Other river basins with very high water levels include the lower Washita and the Little River basins.

Oklahoma has already exceeded the historic record total for precipitation in May for parts of the state. Many of the streamgages located in southern Oklahoma in the Red River drainage basin recorded flows at or near the highest measurements in the last 10 to 15 years.

USGS scientists are collecting critical streamflow data that are vital for protection of life, property and the environment. These data are used by the National Weather Service to develop flood forecasts; the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to manage flood control; and local and state emergency management in their flood response activities. More information is available on the USGS Oklahoma Water Science Center website.

There are 188 USGS-operated streamgages in Oklahoma that measure water levels, streamflow and rainfall. Current streamflow conditions are available online.

More detailed information on flooding in Oklahoma is available on the WaterWatch flood page.

For more than 125 years, the USGS has monitored flow in selected streams and rivers across the U.S. The information is routinely used for water supply and management, monitoring floods and droughts, bridge and road design, determination of flood risk and for many recreational activities.

Access current flood and high flow conditions across the country by visiting the USGS WaterWatch website. Receive instant, customized updates about water conditions in your area via text message or email by signing up for USGS WaterAlert

Long-term Prognosis for Florida Manatees Improves

Summary: The risk of extinction for the endangered Florida manatee appears to be lower, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey led study 2012 analysis shows reduced estimates of long-term risk, but mortality events since then raise questions

Contact Information:

Michael  Runge ( Phone: 301-497-5748 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



The risk of extinction for the endangered Florida manatee appears to be lower, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey led study.

Based on the data available in 2012, the long-term probability of the species surviving has increased compared to a 2007 analysis, as a result of higher aerial survey estimates of population size, improved methods of tracking survival rates, and better estimates of the availability of warm-water refuges.

USGS scientists, working with colleagues from several other agencies and universities, used the manatee Core Biological Model to analyze the long-term viability of the manatee population in Florida, and to evaluate the threats it faces.  A similar analysis completed in 2007 was used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of its 5-year Review of the status of manatees. 

“Our analysis using data from 2007 estimated that there was nearly a nine percent chance of Florida manatee numbers falling below 250 adults over the next 100 years on either the Atlantic or Gulf Coast,” said Michael Runge, a USGS research ecologist and lead author of the study.  “The current analysis, using data available in 2012, has the estimate dropping to a fraction of one percent, but we need to be cautious in our conclusion, because the analysis did not include several mortality events that have occurred since then.

The mortality events Runge was referencing were cold winters, loss of seagrass in prime habitat, and a red tide event, all of which affected the population.

“Although the estimated status in 2012 was better than in 2007, questions still remain about the population effects of the more recent cold-related mortality events in the winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11,” Runge said. “The 2012 analysis also does not account for the extensive loss of seagrass habitat in Indian River Lagoon in 2011 and 2012 nor the severe red tide event in the Southwest region of Florida in 2013.”

The potential effects of these events will be analyzed in the next update of the Core Biological Model, which is underway in collaboration with Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and Mote Marine Laboratory, and is expected to be complete within the next year.

The major threats to long-term survival of Florida manatees remain boat-related deaths and loss of warm-water winter habitat.  In the Southwest region, an increasing frequency of red-tide deaths also warrants concern.

Manatees are large, gentle, herbivorous, slow-moving mammals. They are entirely aquatic, and their range is limited by temperature. Manatees cannot survive for extended periods in water colder than about 17°C (63°F), and prefer temperatures warmer than 22°C (72°F). Manatees live in shallow fresh, brackish, and marine aquatic habitats, traveling readily among them. In Florida, they travel considerable distances during the winter to access warm water refuges, such as artesian springs and the heated discharges of power generating plants. Some individuals also travel long distances during the warm season.

The publication “Status and threats analysis for the Florida Manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris), 2012,” USGS Open-File Report 2015-1083, by M. C. Runge, C. A. Langtimm, J. Martin, and C. J. Fonnesbeck is available online.

Louisiana Quads Add Trails and Survey Data

Summary: Several of the 812 new US Topo quadrangles for Louisiana now display public trails along with improved data layers Newly released US Topo maps for Louisiana feature select trails and other updates.

Contact Information:

Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 ); Larry Moore ( Phone: 303-202-4019 );



Several of the 812 new US Topo quadrangles for Louisiana now display public trails along with improved data layers. Other significant additions include public land survey system information (PLSS), redesign of map symbols, enhanced railroad information and new road source data.

Some of the data for the trails is provided to the USGS through a nationwide crowdsourcing project managed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA).

“I am very excited about the 2015 US Topo maps for Louisiana!” said R. Hampton Peele, GIS Coordinator for the Louisiana Geological Survey. “These maps will provide a great reference for our Cartographic Section as we compile our annual geologic map deliverables for the USGS.”

For Louisiana recreationalists and visitors who want to explore the diverse Gulf coast landscape on a bicycle, hiking, horseback or other means, the new trail features on the US Topo maps will come in handy. During the past two years the IMBA, in a partnership with the MTB Project, has been building a detailed national database of trails. This activity allows local IMBA chapters, IMBA members, and the public to provide trail data and descriptions through their website. The MTB Project and IMBA then verify the quality of the trail data provided, ensure accuracy and confirm the trail is legal. This unique crowdsourcing venture has increased the availability of trail data available through The National Map mobile and web apps, and the revised US Topo maps.

Additionally, a widely anticipated addition to the new Louisiana US Topo maps is the inclusion of Public Land Survey System data. PLSS is a way of subdividing and describing land in the US. All lands in the public domain (lands owned by the federal government) are subject to subdivision by this rectangular system of surveys, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“The US Topo maps provide an excellent instructional tool in our GIS Certification Program,” said Brent Yantis, Director of the University of Louisiana Lafayette Regional Application Center. “They orient students to their environment and provide a fundamental foundation in the development of geospatial concepts. We look forward to this new release.”

These new maps replace the first edition US Topo maps for the Pelican State and are available for free download from The National Map, the USGS Map Locator & Downloader website , or several other USGS applications.

To compare change over time, scans of legacy USGS topo maps, some dating back to the late 1800s, can be downloaded from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection.

For more information on US Topo maps: http://nationalmap.gov/ustopo/

Updated 2015 version of Saint Landry quadrangle with orthoimage turned on. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1.3 MB) Updated 2015 version of the Saint Landry quadrangle with the orthoimage turned off to better see the contour intervals. (1:24,000 scale) (high resolution image 1.1 MB) Scan of the 1935 USGS quadrangle of the Turkey Creek area (which covers the Saint Landry map) from the USGS Historic Topographic Map Collection. (1:62, 500 scale) (high resolution image 1.6 MB)

Muskingum and Ohio River Flood Maps Can Help Prepare for Floods

Summary: New flood inundation maps and an updated flood warning system can help Marietta, Ohio, and other communities along the Lower Muskingum River and Ohio River prepare and plan for floods

Contact Information:

Dave Straub, USGS ( Phone: 614-430-7744 ); John Sikora, NWS ( Phone: 304-746-0180 x238 ); Marisa Lubeck, USGS ( Phone: 303-526-6694 );



New flood inundation maps and an updated flood warning system can help Marietta, Ohio, and other communities along the Lower Muskingum River and Ohio River prepare and plan for floods. 

The U.S. Geological Survey and National Weather Service recently created digital flood inundation maps for lower parts of the Muskingum River from Marietta to McConnelsville, and a reach of the Ohio River in southeast Ohio. These state-of-the-art maps show water inundation areas and water-depth information in high resolution, and will allow emergency officials, planners, homeowners and businesses to see which roadways and properties will be impacted by predicted flood levels. 

As part of this study, the USGS also installed two new streamgages on the Ohio River above Sardis and Muskingum River at Beverly; collected river depth and bridge geometric data; and developed flood inundation boundaries depicting the areal extent of flooding expected to occur for selected stages at some USGS streamgages. 

Marietta has long been affected by flooding from the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers. Since 1913, seven Ohio River floods have met or exceeded flood levels of 40 feet and have severely impacted Marietta. The most recent of these floods were in September 2004 and January 2005.

 

“The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District is very pleased to work with the City of Marietta and USGS in making this flood warning system a reality,” said Boris Slogar, Chief Engineer for the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. “When coupled with the nearly $750 million in work underway by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Muskingum Flood Control System dams upstream of Marietta, MWCD is committed to protecting people and property throughout the Muskingum Watershed.” 

This warning system also utilizes flow data from a new acoustic Doppler radar river gage on the Ohio River at Sardis, Ohio, that is the first of its kind on the Ohio River. 

“I am optimistic that this project will be a major step forward for southeastern Ohio towards flood mitigation,” said Joe Tucker, the City Engineer for Marietta. “This system will improve communications of imminent flood conditions and reduce damages due to flooding from both the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers. I am very proud to have worked with all of these agencies to play a minor role in introducing the most advanced early flood warning system in Ohio.”   

The flood warning system was a collaboration among the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District; City of Marietta, Ohio; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Huntington District, West Virginia; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District; U.S. Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Silver Jackets Program, Ohio; USGS West Virginia Water Science Center; USGS Pennsylvania Water Science Center; and the National Weather Service

The maps are available at http://water.weather.gov/ahps/inundation.php and http://wim.usgs.gov/FIMI/. Using the map interface, users can zoom into Marietta, Ohio, and select their location of interest. 

More information on flood inundation mapping for the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers can be found in a recent USGS report

Reporters: A press conference and presentation for the Lower Muskingum River and City of Marietta Flood Warning System will be held on Wednesday, May 27, from 1-2 p.m. at McDonough Auditorium on the Marietta College Campus at 215 Fifth Street in Marietta, Ohio (map).

Media Advisory: USGS Measuring High Flows Around Denver

Summary: Crews from the U.S. Geological Survey are monitoring high streamflows due to sustained rain in various locations around Denver today

Contact Information:

Heidi  Koontz ( Phone: 720-320-1246 );



Crews from the U.S. Geological Survey are monitoring high streamflows due to sustained rain in various locations around Denver today. 

Media are invited to film/interview USGS crews today between 2 and 2:30 p.m. MST as they take measurements at: 

South Platte River -  64th Ave. and York Street near Metro Wastewater.

USGS scientists are collecting critical streamflow data that are vital for protection of life, property and the environment. These data are used by the National Weather Service to develop flood forecasts; the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to manage flood control; and local and state emergency management in their flood response activities. More information is available on the USGS Colorado Water Science Center website.

There are 300 USGS-operated streamgages in Colorado that measure water levels, streamflow and rainfall. Current streamflow conditions are available online.

More detailed information on flooding in Colorado is available on the WaterWatch flood page.

For more than 125 years, the USGS has monitored flow in selected streams and rivers across the U.S. The information is routinely used for water supply and management, monitoring floods and droughts, bridge and road design, determination of flood risk and for many recreational activities.

Access current flood and high flow conditions across the country by visiting the USGS WaterWatch website. Receive instant, customized updates about water conditions in your area via text message or email by signing up for USGS WaterAlert

State and Regional 3DEP Stakeholder Workshops Underway

Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey National Geospatial Program is developing the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) to respond to growing needs for high-quality topographic data and for a wide range of other three-dimensional (3D) representations of the Nation's natural and constructed features

Contact Information:

Diane Eldridge ( Phone: 703-648-4521 ); Mark Newell ( Phone: 573-308-3850 );



The U.S. Geological Survey National Geospatial Program is developing the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) to respond to growing needs for high-quality topographic data and for a wide range of other three-dimensional (3D) representations of the Nation's natural and constructed features.

To expand awareness of 3DEP status and plans, as well as provide an open forum for 3DEP stakeholders to communicate and coordinate potential Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) proposals, the USGS is offering numerous state and regional coordination workshops. The meetings will be held throughout the US between early May and June 30th. Locations, dates, times and registration information can be found at: http://1.usa.gov/1IMab1H. The workshops will include in-person and/or virtual participation options.

The primary goal of 3DEP is to systematically collect 3D elevation data in the form of light detection and ranging (lidar) data over the conterminous United States, Hawaii, and the U.S. territories, with data acquired over an 8-year period. Interferometric synthetic aperture radar (ifsar) data will be acquired for Alaska, where cloud cover and remote locations preclude the use of lidar in much of the State. The 3DEP initiative is based on the results of the National Enhanced Elevation Assessment that documented more than 600 business uses across 34 Federal agencies, all 50 States, selected local government and Tribal offices, and private and nonprofit organizations. A fully funded and implemented 3DEP would provide more than $690 million annually in new benefits to government entities, the private sector, and citizens.

3DEP is a "Call for Action" because no one entity can accomplish it independently. 3DEP presents a unique opportunity for collaboration between all levels of government, to leverage the services and expertise of private sector mapping firms that acquire the data, and to create jobs now and in the future. When partners work together, they can achieve efficiencies and lower costs so that 3DEP can become a reality. When 3D elevation data are available to everyone, new innovations will occur in forest resource management, alternative energy, agriculture, and other industries for years to come.

The annual Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) is a competitive solicitation issued to facilitate the collection of lidar and derived elevation data for 3DEP. Federal agencies, state and local governments, tribes, academic institutions and the private sector are eligible to submit proposals. The 3DEP public meetings will introduce this opportunity to the broadest stakeholder community possible and provide a forum for interested parties to discuss elevation data collection needs of mutual interest that could be addressed by a coordinated investment.

Map depicts the proposed body of work for 3DEP in Fiscal Year 2015. The BAA awards will add more than 95,000 square miles of 3DEP quality lidar data to the national database. (high resolution image 98 MB)

USGS Streamgages Measure Major Flooding in South Dakota

Summary: Reporters: Do you want to accompany a USGS field crew as they measure flooding? Please contact Joyce Williamson at 605-394-3219.

Contact Information:

Joyce Williamson ( Phone: 605-394-3219 ); Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-526-6694 );



Reporters: Do you want to accompany a USGS field crew as they measure flooding? Please contact Joyce Williamson at 605-394-3219.

U.S. Geological Survey streamflow gages are recording major flooding on the White River and Cheyenne River as the result of recent snow and rain.  Field crews are measuring streamflow on the White River and the Cheyenne River and minor flooding at various sites throughout western South Dakota.

Road Overflow at White River Near Oglala.(High resolution image)

Much of southwestern South Dakota received several inches of heavy wet snow on May 10. Since then, rainstorms throughout the area have resulted in higher than normal streamflows. Some streamgages are currently reporting water levels above flood stage, and more rainfall is predicted for Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

Currently, three USGS gaging stations in the White River Basin are reporting above flood water levels, and one USGS gaging station was recently above flood water levels: 

  • The White River at the Nebraska/South Dakota state line has a new peak of record streamflow at more than 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). The previous peak of record of 3,820 cfs at this site was set in May 1991.
  • The White River near Oglala streamgage  and the gage on the White River near Kadoka also are above flood stage. The USGS currently has four crews measuring high flows on the White River with two additional crews in the Cheyenne and Bad River Basins.
  • The streamgage for Cheyenne River at Wasta near the I-90 bridge recorded a high flow of approximately 32,000 cfs on May 16. A flow of similar magnitude has not occurred at this site since 1950. The recent high flow of the Cheyenne River flooded the Wasta I-90 Rest Area resulting in its temporary closure on May 16.

USGS scientists are collecting critical streamflow data that are vital for protection of life, property and the environment. These data are used by the National Weather Service to develop flood forecasts; the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to manage flood control; and local and state emergency management in their flood response activities. More information is available on the USGS South Dakota Water Science Center website.

There are 144 USGS-operated streamgages in South Dakota that measure water levels, streamflow and rainfall. Current streamflow conditions are available online.

More detailed information on flooding in South Dakota is available on the WaterWatch flood page.

For more than 125 years, the USGS has monitored flow in selected streams and rivers across the U.S. The information is routinely used for water supply and management, monitoring floods and droughts, bridge and road design, determination of flood risk and for many recreational activities.

Access current flood and high flow conditions across the country by visiting the USGS WaterWatch website. Receive instant, customized updates about water conditions in your area via text message or email by signing up for USGS WaterAlert

Atmospheric Release of BPA May Reach Nearby Waterways

Summary: Water contamination by hormone-disrupting pollutants is a concern for water quality around the world Chemicals released in the air by industrial sites and wastewater treatment sites could adversely affect wildlife and humans

Contact Information:

Jennifer LaVista, USGS ( Phone: 303-202-4764 ); Jeff Sossamon, University of Missouri ( Phone: 573-882-3346 );



Water contamination by hormone-disrupting pollutants is a concern for water quality around the world. Existing research has determined that elevated concentrations of Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical used in consumer products such as plastic food storage and beverage containers, have been deposited directly into rivers and streams by municipal or industrial wastewater. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri and the U.S. Geological Survey have assessed Missouri water quality near industrial sites permitted to release BPA into the air. As a result, scientists now believe that atmospheric releases may create a concern for contamination of local surface water leading to human and wildlife exposure.

“There is growing concern that hormone disruptors such as BPA not only threaten wildlife, but also humans,” said Chris Kassotis, a doctoral candidate in the Division of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science at MU. “Recent studies have documented widespread atmospheric releases of BPA from industrial sources across the United States. The results from our study provide evidence that these atmospheric discharges can dramatically elevate BPA in nearby environments.”

Water sampling sites were selected based on their proximity to the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) or locations with reported atmospheric discharges of BPA as identified by the Environmental Protection Agency. Current or historical municipal wastewater treatment sites, which have been shown in the past to contribute hormonally active chemicals to surface water from urban or industrial sources, were also tested. Finally, relatively clean sites were chosen to serve as the control group.

The water then was analyzed for concentrations of BPA, Ethinyl estradiol (EE2), an estrogen commonly used in oral contraceptive pills, and several wastewater compounds. Scientists also measured the total estrogen and receptor activities of the water. This approach is used to measure all chemicals present in the water that are able to bind to and activate (or inhibit) the estrogen or androgen receptors in wildlife and humans. Levels of chemicals were highest in samples with known wastewater treatment plant discharges.

“In addition, we were surprised to find that BPA concentrations were up to 10 times higher in the water near known atmospheric release sites,” said Don Tillitt, adjunct professor of biological sciences at MU, and biochemistry and physiology branch chief with the USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center. “This finding suggests that atmospheric BPA releases may contaminate local surface water, leading to greater exposure of humans or wildlife.”

Concentrations of BPA measured in surface water near these sites were well above levels shown to cause adverse health effects in aquatic species, Kassotis said.

The study, “Characterization of Missouri surface waters near point sources of pollution reveals potential novel atmospheric route of exposure for bisphenol A and wastewater hormonal activity pattern,” was published in the journal, Science of the Total Environment, with funding from MU, the USGS Contaminants Biology Program (Environmental Health Mission Area), and STAR Fellowship Assistance Agreement awarded by the U.S. EPA. 

Genetics Provide New Hope for Endangered Freshwater Mussels

Summary: A piece of the restoration puzzle to save populations of endangered freshwater mussels may have been found, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey led study

Contact Information:

Heather Galbraith ( Phone: 570-724-3322 x230 ); Hannah Hamilton ( Phone: 703-648-4356 );



WELLSBORO, Pa. — A piece of the restoration puzzle to save populations of endangered freshwater mussels may have been found, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey led study. Local population losses in a river may not result in irreversible loss of mussel species; other mussels from within the same river could be used as sources to restore declining populations. 

Though they serve a critical role in rivers and streams, freshwater mussels are threatened by habitat degradation such as dams, alteration to river channels, pollution and invasive species. Mussels filter the water and provide habitat and food for algae, macroinvertebrates, and even fish, which are necessary components of aquatic food webs.

“Few people realize the important role that mussels play in the ecosystem," said USGS research biologist Heather Galbraith, lead author of the study.  "Streams and rivers with healthy mussel populations tend to have relatively good water quality which is good for the fish and insects that also inhabit those systems."  

Mussels in general are poorly understood and difficult to study. Because of this lack of knowledge, population genetics has become a useful tool for understanding their ecology and guiding their restoration.

More than 200 of the nearly 300 North American freshwater mussel species are imperiled, with rapidly dwindling populations.  Researchers are providing information to resource managers, who are working to reverse this trend.  USGS led research suggests that re-introducing mussels within the same river could reverse population declines without affecting the current genetic makeup of the population. 

The research shows that patterns in the genetic makeup of a population occurs within individual rivers for freshwater mussels; and that in the study area, mussels from the same river could be used for restoration.

“That genetic structuring is occurring within individual rivers is good news, because it may be a means of protecting rare, threatened and endangered species from impending extinction,” said Galbraith.  “Knowing the genetic structure of a freshwater mussel population is necessary for restoring declining populations to prevent factors such as inbreeding, high mutation rates and low survivorship.” 

Knowing that mussels in the same river are similar genetically opens up opportunities for augmenting declining populations or re-introducing mussels into locations where they were historically found. The genetics also highlight the importance of not mixing populations among rivers without additional studies to verify the genetic compatibility of mussels within those rivers.

The international team of researchers from Canada and the United States working to understand mussel genetics found similar genetic patterns among common and endangered mussel species.  This is important information for mussel biologists because studying endangered species can be difficult, and researchers may be able to study the genetic structure of common mussels and generalize the patterns to endangered mussels. 

Although understanding the genetic structure of mussel populations is important for restoration, genetic tools do have limitations.  Researchers found that despite drastic reductions in freshwater mussel populations, there was little evidence of this population decline at the genetic level. This may be due to the extremely long lifespan of mussels, some of which can live to be more than 100 years old. 

“Genetics, it turns out, is not a good indicator of population decline; by the time we observe a genetic change, it may be too late for the population,” said Galbraith.

By way of comparison, in fruit flies, which have short lifespans, genetic changes show up quickly within a few generations.  Mussels, on the other hand, are long lived animals; therefore it may take decades to see changes in their genetic structure within a population.

The study examined six species of freshwater mussels in four Great Lakes Tributaries in southwestern Ontario.  The species are distributed across the eastern half of North America and range in status from presumed extinct to secure. The six mussels were the snuffbox, Epioblasma triquetra; kidneyshell, Ptychobranchus fasciolaris; mapleleaf, Quadrula quadrula; wavy-rayed lampmussel, Lampsilis fasciola; Flutedshell Lasmigona costata; and the threeridge mussel Amblema plicata.

The study, “Comparative analysis of riverscape genetic structure in rare, threatened and common freshwater mussels” is available online in the journal Conservation Genetics.

For more information on freshwater mussels please visit Stranger than Fiction: The Secret Lives of Freshwater Mussels.