Published Articles

A Climate Change Canary in the Coal Mine – The Endangered Hawiian Honeycreepers

USGS National Press Release

Native Hawaiians have a deep kinship with Hawaiian forest birds and revere, honor, and deify them as family, ancestors, guardians, spirits, and gods. The connections among Hawaiians, their forests, and birds span centuries and continue today.

Through ‘ike ku‘una (traditional or inherited knowledge), the Kumulipo (cosmological and genealogical chants), hula (the indigenous dance of Hawai‘i), and Ka‘ao (traditional stories) Native Hawaiians are intimately tied to forest birds, their immediate habitat, and their broader island and archipelagic environment. 

 This kinship increases the urgency to save four endangered species of Hawaiian honeycreepers from imminent extinction caused by climate change and other human caused factors. Once, there were more than 50 species of honeycreepers spread across Hawai‘i – today, only 17 species remain, with a few species having less than 200 individuals remaining. Rapid population declines have now pushed the ‘akikiki, ‘akeke‘e, kiwikiu and ‘ākohekohe to the brink of extinction. 

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Groundbreaking Study Finds Widespread Lead Poisoning in Bald and Golden Eagles

USGS National Press Release

A first-of-its-kind, eight-year study has found widespread and frequent lead poisoning in North American bald and golden eagles impacting both species’ populations. 

“Studies have shown lethal effects to individual birds, but this new study is the first to show population-level consequences from lead poisoning to these majestic species at such a wide scale,” said Anne Kinsinger, U.S. Geological Survey Associate Director for Ecosystems. 

These findings are the first to look at bald and golden eagle populations across North America, using samples from 1,210 eagles over 38 U.S. states including Alaska. Poisoning at the levels found in the study is causing population growth rates to slow for bald eagles by 3.8 percent and golden eagles by 0.8 percent annually. Previously, evaluations of lead exposure and its impact on eagle populations were only performed in local and regional studies. This groundbreaking study documents how lead poisoning inhibits both species’ population growth across North America.  

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New USGS Analysis of Wind Turbine Upgrades Shows No Impact on Wildlife Mortality

USGS National Press Release

Reduction in wildlife mortality rates is sometimes cited as a potential benefit to the replacement of older, smaller turbines by larger, next generation turbines. In contrast, others have expressed concern that newer, larger turbines may actually increase bird and bat deaths.

A new U.S. Geological Survey led study suggests that the relative amount of energy produced by turbines in a given location, rather than simply their size, determines the rate of wildlife deaths. The study was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology on March 31.

Repowering is the replacement of smaller and tightly spaced turbines that each have a lower power capacity with fewer, larger, higher power-capacity turbines installed farther apart to generate similar or greater electrical energy output within the same area.

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Understanding your Community’s Volcano Hazard Risk

USGS Featured Blog Story

Disasters and emergencies can happen at any time, often without warning. Natural hazards threaten thousands of lives and cause billions of dollars in damage every year throughout the nation. 

Each September, National Preparedness Month marks a time to think about individual and community disaster and emergency planning. This year’s theme is “Disasters Don’t Wait. Make Your Plan Today.” For the U.S. Geological Survey, it is a perfect time to talk about the National Volcano Early Warning System improvements to the volcano monitoring program, and the steps you can take to prepare for a potential eruption. 

We have witnessed many kinds of destructive phenomena at U.S. volcanoes: hot, fluid lava flows that overrun communities; powerful explosions that devastated huge tracts of forest; choking debris avalanches and mudflows that destroy bridges and homes; noxious gas emissions that impact human health; airborne ash clouds that damage aircraft; and ash falls that cause agricultural losses and disrupt the lives and businesses of hundreds of thousands of people. 

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New Study Finds the Restoration of Forests with Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death Infections May Be Possible

USGS National Press Release

For the first time, researchers have shown that native ʻōhiʻa seedlings can survive for at least a year in areas that have active mortality from Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, or ROD, a fungal disease that is devastating to this dominant and culturally important tree in Hawaiian forests. This information can be useful to land managers and homeowners as they prioritize conservation actions.

The study, published recently in Restoration Ecology, was authored by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and Hawaiʻi Cooperative Studies Unit at University of Hawaiʻi Hilo.

“ʻŌhiʻa is a keystone species in Hawaiian forests, and ROD has the potential to cause major ecosystem disturbances that will negatively impact water supply, cultural traditions, natural resources and quality of life,” said USGS Director Jim Reilly. “This innovative research provides a glimmer of hope for native ʻōhiʻa tree restoration in Hawaiʻi by indicating that successful planting of ʻōhiʻa could be possible in ROD-affected forests if the native species’ seedlings are protected.”

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Mount St. Helen’s 1980 Eruption Changed the Future of Volcanology

USGS Featured Blog Story

If scientists armed with today’s monitoring tools and knowledge could step back in time to the two months before May 18, 1980, they would have been able to better forecast the forthcoming devastating eruption.

Forty years ago, after two months of earthquakes and small explosions, Mount St. Helens cataclysmically erupted. A high-speed blast leveled millions of trees and ripped soil from bedrock. The eruption fed a towering plume of ash for more than nine hours, and winds carried the ash hundreds of miles away. Lahars (volcanic mudflows) carried large boulders and logs, which destroyed forests, bridges, roads and buildings. These catastrophic events led to 57 deaths, including that of David Johnston, a dedicated USGS scientist, and caused the worst volcanic disaster in the recorded history of the conterminous United States. 

Had we known then what we know today about volcanoes, could the loss of life and economic damage caused by the Mount St. Helens eruption have been prevented or mitigated?

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History of Innovation Leads to Cutting-Edge Technique for Sampling Water Deep Within Kilauea’s Volcanic Crater

USGS Featured Blog Story

This month marks the second anniversary of the largest rift zone eruption and summit collapse at Kīlauea Volcano in 200 years. In 2018, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaii Volcano Observatory monitored more than 60 collapse events at the summit that caused the floor of Halema‘uma‘u crater to drop about 1600 feet, or more than five times the height of the Statue of Liberty.

In July 2019, yet another change occurred at the summit—water was seen at the bottom of the crater. Kilauea Crater, in which Halema`uma`u is located, is a sacred place in Hawaiian culture. Inquiries into oral histories of the volcano, however, found no mention of past water bodies forming for long periods in the crater.

The pond, now more properly called a lake, has been present for 9 months, with the water level slowly rising about 3 feet per week. Today, it is larger than five football fields combined, and the total depth is about 100 feet. It has a yellowish color that is not uniform over the surface. Some patches near the edges are a clear green, presumed to be places where fresher groundwater flows into the lake. Other patches are variable shades of rusty brownish-orange, likely due to the presence of iron sulfate minerals in the water. Another common feature is steam rising off the water’s surface, a testament to the fact the lake is scalding hot, roughly 160 degrees Fahrenheit, as measured by a thermal camera.

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A Kilauea Volcano First Water Pond Found in the Summit Crater

USGS Featured Blog Story

On July 25, 2019, a helicopter pilot flying a U.S.Geological Survey mission over Kīlauea noticed an unusual green patch at the bottom of Halema‘uma‘u, the crater at the summit of the volcano.

Passengers on the helicopter reported to the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory that the smooth green patch looked like water. But with no reflection from its surface, its origin was questioned: was it water, or was it a flat surface made by ash or rockfall dust tinted green by sulfur minerals or algae? 

USGS volcanologists generally agreed that if the patch was water, it would be unusual. Water had never been seen in Halema‘uma‘u since written observations of Kīlauea began nearly 200 years ago. The possibility of water in the crater also renewed hazard concerns that arose during the 2018 volcanic events, namely that explosive eruptions can result from the mixing of magma and surface water.

HVO scientists set about seeking answers. In an overflight of Halema‘uma‘u on Aug. 1, they saw reflections from the pond, confirming that the green patch was indeed water. With that question answered, another important one arose: where is the water coming from?

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