USGS News

Climate Change Could Alter Range of Caribou and May Impact Hunters' Access

Summary: Due to climate change, some communities in rural Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada may face a future with fewer caribou according to new research published by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in the recent issue of PLoS ONE

Contact Information:

Yvette Gillies ( Phone: 907-786-7039 ); Dave Gustine ( Phone: 907-786-7435 ); Todd Brinkman ( Phone: 907-474-7139 );



Caribou from the Central Arctic herd along the Sagavanirktok River in northern Alaska. (High resolution image)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Due to climate change, some communities in rural Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada may face a future with fewer caribou according to new research published by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks in the recent issue of PLoS ONE. Scientists examined the future effects of fires on winter habitats of caribou herds and determined that wildfires will reduce the amount of winter habitat for caribou, thus caribou may need to shift their wintering grounds

Warming temperatures will increase the flammability of lichen-producing boreal forests, which are important winter habitat for caribou herds. Caribou serve as nutritional as well as cultural sustenance for certain communities. Caribou avoid burned areas in winter and the changes in their distribution can persist across multiple generations of hunters. Those who rely on caribou in fire-prone areas may therefore have fewer available as climate change increases the number and sizes of fires in the boreal forests.

“We project that the Porcupine caribou herd will lose 21% of winter habitat to fire by the end of this century, with the majority of this loss driven by increased flammability in spruce forests in the Yukon," said Dr. Dave Gustine, a Research Wildlife Biologist with the USGS and lead author of the study.

The study examines how increasing temperatures will influence flammability of boreal forest areas used by the Central Arctic and Porcupine caribou herds during winter. Understanding possible changes to forest flammability allows forecasting of future winter distributions of caribou that will impact subsistence harvest and land, wildlife and fire management programs.

Climate change is global in scope and scale; however, its impacts are sometimes most visible in remote locations of the planet. Like climate change itself, migratory animals such as caribou do not recognize international geo-political borders and the research needed to study the relationship between climate change and animals crosses many countries.

The potential changes in caribou distribution will affect communities that have a cultural and nutritional reliance on caribou. Arctic Village, Alaska and Old Crow Yukon Territory, are within the traditional boreal forest winter range of the Porcupine herd, while hunters from the Alaskan villages of Fort Yukon, Venetie and Chalkyitsik, travel north each year to harvest animals from this herd.

“Fires were less numerous and smaller in tundra habitats compared to spruce habitats and given the more likely climate trajectory, we projected that the Porcupine caribou herd, which winters primarily in the boreal forest, could be expected to experience a greater reduction in lichen-producing winter habitats than the Central Arctic herd that wintered primarily in the arctic tundra,” said Dr. Todd Brinkman a co-author of the study and member of the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Future work by the USGS and collaborators will examine how fire-driven changes to winter habitat and temperature-driven changes to spring and summer forages will influence the habitats of caribou across the Alaskan Arctic.

This work is part of the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative.

Simulation domain and winter ranges of the Central Arctic and Porcupine caribou herds, Alaska and Yukon. (High resolution image)

Insecticides Similar to Nicotine Widespread in Midwest

Summary: Insecticides similar to nicotine, known as neonicotinoids, were found commonly in streams throughout the Midwest, according to a new USGS study

Contact Information:

Alex Demas ( Phone: 703-648-4421 ); Kathy Kuivila ( Phone: 503-251-3257 );



Insecticides similar to nicotine, known as neonicotinoids, were found commonly in streams throughout the Midwest, according to a new USGS study. This is the first broad-scale investigation of neonicotinoid insecticides in the Midwestern United States and one of the first conducted within the United States.

Effective in killing a broad range of insect pests, use of neonicotinoid insecticides has dramatically increased over the last decade across the United States, particularly in the Midwest.  The use of clothianidin, one of the chemicals studied, on corn in Iowa alone has almost doubled between 2011 and 2013.

 “Neonicotinoid insecticides are receiving increased attention by scientists as we explore the possible links between pesticides, nutrition, infectious disease, and other stress factors in the environment possibly associated with honeybee dieoffs.” said USGS scientist Kathryn Kuivila, the research team leader.

Neonicotinoid insecticides dissolve easily in water, but do not break down quickly in the environment. This means they are likely to be transported away in runoff from the fields where they were first applied to nearby surface water and groundwater bodies.

In all, nine rivers and streams, including the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, were included in the study. The rivers studied drain most of Iowa, and parts of Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. These states have the highest use of neonicotinoid insecticides in the Nation, and the chemicals were found in all nine rivers and streams.

Of the three most often found chemicals, clothianidin was the most commonly detected, showing up in 75 percent of the sites and at the highest concentration. Thiamethoxam was found at 47 percent of the sites, and imidacloprid was found at 23 percent. Two, acetamiprid and dinotefuran, were only found once, and the sixth, thiacloprid, was never detected.

Instead of being sprayed on growing or full-grown crops, neonicotinoids can be applied to the seed before planting. The use of treated seeds in the United States has increased to the point where most corn and soybeans planted in the United States have a seed treatment (i.e., coating), many of which include neonicotinoid insecticides.

“We noticed higher levels of these insecticides after rain storms during crop planting, which is similar to the spring flushing of herbicides that has been documented in Midwestern U.S. rivers and streams,” said USGS scientist Michelle Hladick, the report’s lead author. “In fact, the insecticides also were detected prior to their first use during the growing season, which indicates that they can persist from applications in prior years.”

One of the chemicals, imidacloprid, is known to be toxic to aquatic organisms at 10-100 nanograms per liter if the aquatic organisms are exposed to it for an extended period of time. Clothianidin and thiamethoxam behave similarly to imidacloprid, and are therefore anticipated to have similar effect levels. Maximum concentrations of clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid measured in this study were 257, 185, and 42.7 nanograms per liter, respectively.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified all detected neonicotinoids as not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

The paper, “Widespread occurrence of neonicotinoid insecticides in streams in a high corn and soybean producing region, USA” and has been published in Environmental Pollution. Learn more about the study and the long-term USGS effort to gather information on the environmental occurrence of new pesticides in different geographic, climatic, and use settings here. To learn more about USGS environmental health science, please visit the USGS Environmental Health website and sign up for our GeoHealth Newsletter.

Locations of sites in Iowa sampled for neonicotinoids in 2013. Watersheds for the Mississippi River and Missouri River sites are shown in the inset.

Media Advisory: USGS to Host Congressional Briefing: Safer Communities, Stronger Economies - in 3D

Summary: Outdated and inconsistent elevation data cost lives and hinder prosperity across our Nation. Current and accurate 3D elevation data are essential to help communities cope with natural hazards, support infrastructure, ensure agricultural success, strengthen environmental decision making and bolster national security

Contact Information:

Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 ); Kathleen  Gohn ( Phone: 703-648-4242 );



Outdated and inconsistent elevation data cost lives and hinder prosperity across our Nation. Current and accurate 3D elevation data are essential to help communities cope with natural hazards, support infrastructure, ensure agricultural success, strengthen environmental decision making and bolster national security. Flood and landslide maps are just a few of the hundreds of applications benefiting from enhanced lidar data.  A coordinated effort among Federal, State, local government and the private sector could meet our country’s needs for high-quality, 3D elevation data in just 8 years. Come learn how the USGS and its partners are working to assemble and apply better data to keep citizens safe and help America thrive.

Speakers:
  • Douglas Bausch – Region VIII Earthquake Program Manager and Senior Physical Scientist, Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • John Dorman – Assistant State Emergency Management Director for Geospatial & Technology Management, North Carolina
  • Jonathan Godt- Landslide Hazards Program Coordinator, U.S. Geological Survey

Emcee: Kevin Gallagher – Associate Director for Core Science Systems, USGS

Where: Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2325, Washington, D.C.

When: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 11:00 a.m.

Host: Refreshments provided courtesy of Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS)

High-resolution lidar image of Mount St. Helens, Washington.

Aquifer System Beneath Albuquerque Shows Impact of Groundwater Pumping

Summary:  ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico. — Groundwater pumping has produced significant changes in water levels below some parts of the Albuquerque metropolitan area, according to two new reports published by the U.S. Geological Survey. 

Contact Information:

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



 ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico. — Groundwater pumping has produced significant changes in water levels below some parts of the Albuquerque metropolitan area, according to two new reports published by the U.S. Geological Survey. 

For many decades, the water supply requirements of the Albuquerque metropolitan area in central New Mexico were met almost exclusively by groundwater withdrawal from the Santa Fe Group aquifer system.  Reliance on groundwater led to variable responses in groundwater levels across the area, with declines in some areas exceeding 120 feet below predevelopment water level conditions. 

“We observed that over time the way groundwater moved and where it was present changed significantly,” said USGS hydrologist Rachel Powell, lead author of the report Estimated 2012 groundwater potentiometric surface and drawdown from predevelopment to 2012 in the Santa Fe Group aquifer system in the Albuquerque metropolitan area, central New Mexico. “Groundwater used to flow roughly parallel to the Rio Grande valley, but now it moves away from the Rio Grande and towards clusters of water supply wells in the east, north, and west parts of the metropolitan area.” . 

The Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority began diverting surface water from the Rio Grande with the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project to reduce reliance on groundwater reserves in December 2008.  

In the new reports, USGS scientists investigated the variability and extent of groundwater level changes as well as the more recent effects of reduced groundwater use following the introduction of surface water supplies.  Measured water levels from wells across the metropolitan area, as well as simulated water levels from a groundwater model, were used to delineate changes in groundwater levels both spatially as well as over time. 

While groundwater level declines are substantial in many areas, hydrographs (graphs of water level change) show several instances where groundwater levels are increasing since the introduction of surface water supplies from the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project.  

“Albuquerque’s sole reliance on groundwater for supply was likely an unsustainable option, even with water conservation measures,” said USGS hydrologist Steve Rice, lead author of report Simulated and measured water levels and estimated water-level changes in the Albuquerque area, central New Mexico, 1950-2012. “The addition of surface water supplies should continue to mitigate the effects of decades of extensive groundwater withdrawal.”  

However, the surface water supplies are only reducing groundwater reliance for the City of Albuquerque; other parts of the metropolitan area where groundwater remains the sole source of supply continue to see groundwater level declines.  

Analysis of the magnitude and spatial distribution of water level change can help improve the understanding of how the groundwater system responds to withdrawals.  This information can support efforts to minimize future water-level declines and may assist with development of strategies for maintaining a sustainable groundwater reserve in the future. 

The USGS reports were completed with support and cooperation from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. 

A summary of the project, links to the two reports, as well as other USGS investigative reports in the Albuquerque area can be found online.