4

Evolving to Meet National Needs

To help the USGS think about its future science directions and information management function, this chapter considers how the USGS might evolve to meet national needs. After discussing the role of the USGS, attention turns to the agency's customers and programmatic activities. The international role of the USGS is treated in a separate section to highlight the increasing importance of activities in this arena in the new century. The succeeding section provides examples of research opportunities the USGS can embrace to solve relevant natural science problems. The concluding section presents the committee's recommended transition of the USGS toward a natural science and information agency.

ROLE OF THE USGS

The USGS in the twenty-first century will be expected to exercise strong national leadership in its areas of primary responsibility. Its principal duties are to serve as the DOI's primary source of science expertise and information and as the principal federal agency for science information and research related to conservation and management of natural resources and to natural hazard mitigation. The USGS also has obligations to conduct international activities as part of its mission.

A major responsibility of the USGS is to serve as the science agency for the DOI. The DOI's mission is to “restore and maintain the health of federally managed lands, waters, and renewable resources,” to “encourage the preservation of diverse plant and animal species and protect habitat critical to their survival,” to “reduce the impacts of hazards caused by natural processes and human actions,” and to “contribute to sound resource decision-making ” (DOI, 1997). This



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY 4 Evolving to Meet National Needs To help the USGS think about its future science directions and information management function, this chapter considers how the USGS might evolve to meet national needs. After discussing the role of the USGS, attention turns to the agency's customers and programmatic activities. The international role of the USGS is treated in a separate section to highlight the increasing importance of activities in this arena in the new century. The succeeding section provides examples of research opportunities the USGS can embrace to solve relevant natural science problems. The concluding section presents the committee's recommended transition of the USGS toward a natural science and information agency. ROLE OF THE USGS The USGS in the twenty-first century will be expected to exercise strong national leadership in its areas of primary responsibility. Its principal duties are to serve as the DOI's primary source of science expertise and information and as the principal federal agency for science information and research related to conservation and management of natural resources and to natural hazard mitigation. The USGS also has obligations to conduct international activities as part of its mission. A major responsibility of the USGS is to serve as the science agency for the DOI. The DOI's mission is to “restore and maintain the health of federally managed lands, waters, and renewable resources,” to “encourage the preservation of diverse plant and animal species and protect habitat critical to their survival,” to “reduce the impacts of hazards caused by natural processes and human actions,” and to “contribute to sound resource decision-making ” (DOI, 1997). This

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY mission can be accomplished only with the continual input of relevant scientific information from the USGS. To meet this obligation, in coming years, the USGS should ensure that science information is provided in an efficient and effective way and that its personnel and resources are utilized on important DOI issues. The USGS has the responsibility to provide other federal agencies, states and local governments, tribes, and private and nonprofit organizations with the scientific understanding needed to support the sound management and conservation of the nation's natural resources. It is also charged to furnish accurate and timely geospatial data and information in a form related to geology, hydrology, biology, and topography. To accomplish this role, the USGS: conducts and sponsors research on relevant national issues; assesses resources, including oil and gas (domestic and foreign), minerals, water, and biological resources; monitors, reports, and where possible, provides forecasts of phenomena such as seismicity, volcanic activity, and streamflow; establishes formats and data standards (e.g., geospatial data) and maintains science databases and infrastructures (e.g., National Spatial Data Infrastructure [NSDI], National Biological Information Infrastructure [NBII]); promotes utilization of data and information through a variety of communication channels ranging from published studies to Web sites; provides scientific and technical assistance in the effective use of techniques, products, and information; develops new technologies for the collection, coordination, and interpretation of data; coordinates topographic, geologic, and land use mapping, digital cartography, and water data activities in support of national needs and priorities; provides scientific support and technical advice for legislative, regulatory, and management decisions; and maintains liaison and coordination with scientists and users of relevant natural science information at federal, state, and local levels; with nongovernmental organizations; and with academia and industry. These activities of the USGS are aimed at providing accessible, credible, independent science information that is used to “minimize loss

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY of life and property ... manage ... resources, enhance and protect the quality of life, and contribute to wise economic and physical development” (USGS, 1996a). The data, information, and knowledge supplied by the USGS are essential to the federal government. As population and consumption pressures grow and environmental concerns increase in the twenty-first century, the technical advice provided by the USGS should become more valuable to the federal government. To enhance the USGS's role in the twenty-first century, the committee recommends that high priority be placed on efforts to: investigate mission-relevant complex science problems of regional, national, and international importance (e.g., global change, ecosystem protection and management, environmental restoration, coastal erosion); strengthen liaison and coordination mechanisms with related federal agencies and ties with universities and other partners to identify a research agenda that results in an increase in collaborative, multidisciplinary research on critical natural science problems; maintain and improve relations with state and regional government organizations that are users of natural science information; and facilitate the use of science information by the general public and by stakeholders. The USGS engages in international activities that augment and benefit domestic programs and that promote, support, and implement U.S. foreign and domestic policy. These activities include conducting collaborative research and providing technical assistance and training. Because many science issues today are global and international in nature, the USGS in the twenty-first century should place high priority on the following: performing a more vigorous role in pursuing foreign area and global studies that develop critical science information on mission-relevant areas in support of U.S. interests; providing increased technical assistance to foreign countries that are developing relevant natural science programs, through financial support from appropriate sources; and becoming more active internationally to benefit the domestic programs and the international reputation of the agency;

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY The USGS of the twenty-first century will be called upon to play critical roles in solving complex science problems. Many of these problems, as indicated in Chapter 3, are long-term national and international issues (e.g., access to adequate water resources). Solutions to these problems will necessitate innovative scientific approaches, including the application of integrative science that will require the collaboration of scientists from many disciplines both within and outside the agency. It is unlikely that complex, multidisciplinary problems related to natural hazards, environment, and natural resources can be solved with current levels of investment. As the agency's responsibilities continue to increase, its budget should be increased to a level commensurate with the tasks. With an appropriate level of funding for practical research related to national needs, the USGS will be better able to fulfill its role as a provider of, and coordinator for, information resources related to critical issues in the natural sciences. SERVING CUSTOMERS In the twenty-first century, the activities of the USGS will continue to be shaped to an important extent by a broad-ranging group of users that include: other agencies within the DOI, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), Minerals Management Service (MMS), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS); other federal agencies, such as National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Science Foundation (NSF), DOE, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Department of Defence (DOD), and U.S. Forest Service (USFS); Congress; local and state government agencies, particularly state geological surveys water resource agencies, fish and game agencies, and geographic agencies.

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY tribal organizations; the education community, including faculty and students at universities, colleges, and K-12 schools; professional societies, such as the Association of American Geographers, American Geophysical Union, Ecological Society of America, Geological Society of America, and American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing; the private sector; nonprofit organizations, such as the World Resources Institute, Resources for the Future, and the Nature Conservancy; foreign governments and international organizations; and the general public. As the science agency of the DOI, the USGS must serve the science requirements of other DOI bureaus while also serving as DOI's instrument for providing science information and advice to the nation. The balance between service to other bureaus within the DOI and service to other clients and customers on behalf of the DOI undoubtedly is and will continue to be a challenge to strategic planning in the USGS and DOI. The committee urges the USGS and DOI to place the highest priority on the identification and assessment of the needs of USGS clients and customers both inside and outside the DOI, in order to ensure that the appropriate balance of service is maintained to all clients and customers. Recently, the USGS has been responding to this challenge by increasing communication with its customers. For example, in the spring of 2000, the USGS convened a series of “listening sessions” at which customers and partners spoke with members of the agency's Executive Leadership Team about their interactions with the USGS and what they need from the USGS. The information will be used by the USGS in planning its future science directions. Another challenge for the USGS is to expand its cooperative research efforts with outside experts. Indeed, the success of USGS programs in the future will depend in part on how effectively the USGS cooperates with other agencies, state and local governments, universities, and organizations that are conducting similar work. Cultivating, maintaining, and strengthening links with all USGS clients and customers place heavy demands on the staff of the agency, but the effort will be justified by the resulting expansion of the utility of USGS products and services.

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY The USGS can point to a number of successes in interacting with customers and partners, including the following: provision of information to DOI's NPS resource managers to improve the effectiveness of park management, including the protection and restoration of biological communities, management of water resources, and enhancement of the visitor experience; assistance to establish the scientific basis for water management, environmental remediation, and water quality regulation for the EPA; cooperation with the Department of Agriculture to research the fate and transport of agricultural chemicals in midwestern water supplies; science policy outreach activities, as exemplified by rapid-response analyses for Congress; provision of hydrologic data and interpretation to state, county, municipal, and tribal customers of the Federal-State Cooperative Water Program; cooperation with state and university partners to collect, process, analyze, translate, and disseminate science information through digital geologic maps under the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program (NCGMP); assistance to state and local governments through the provision of geospatial data for land management, resource monitoring and management, scientific analysis, and information support; collaboration with the private sector, primarily through the use of contract agreements and cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs), as exemplified by contracts for the acquisition and production of geospatial data, data management and dissemination, support services, equipment and supplies, and technology and maintenance; an e-mail list for notification of new publications; and publication of reports on CD-ROM, which incorporate and augment an activity formerly dominated by open-file reports and speed up the publication and distribution process. Opportunities exist for the USGS to improve interactions. To enhance the USGS's role in the twenty-first century, the committee endorses efforts that:

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY strengthen liaison and coordination with related federal agencies (e.g., NASA, NOAA, the National Weather Service [NWS], EPA, DOE, and NSF); maintain and improve relations with state and regional government organizations and with nongovernmental organizations that are users of natural science information; facilitate the use of natural science information by the general public and by stakeholders for critical issues; increase interactions with the private sector, foreign customers, and partners; encourage USGS scientists to publish their research results promptly in journals, present papers at conferences, and convene workshops and seminars; and nurture student interest in the natural sciences at a time of a looming national shortage of technical personnel. In addition, the committee urges the USGS to assess on a regular basis its services to customers at regional, state, and local levels. Currently, the USGS focuses much attention on state surveys and WRD cooperators. Efforts should be made to diversify the agency's customer base at regional, state, and local levels. The committee is also concerned that, in some instances, the USGS acts as a consultant to local governments. As stated in the NRC report Preparing for the Twenty-first Century: A Report to the USGS Water Resources Division (NRC, 1991), “this situation should be avoided unless some broader purpose is served. ” Exceptions to this recommendation are cooperative programs such as the NCGMP, National Earthquake Hazard and Reduction Program (NEHRP), and National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA); regional groundwater assessment activities, and the national stream gauging program that have national interest implications. “Other exceptions occur at sites where cutting edge science is being applied or where the results of the activity may be expected to contribute to a more generalized understanding” of science problems (NRC, 1991). Examples of local work that has national impact are USGS contributions to aquatic ecosystem studies of San Francisco Bay and Chesapeake Bay (Sidebar 4.1). Although cooperative programs at local levels will continue to be important to the mission of the USGS, the agency should “continually evaluate the merits of its local ... activities to ensure that its limited personnel are engaged in projects with

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY SIDEBAR 4.1 Chesapeake Bay and San Francisco Bay: Examples of Ecosystem Conservation and Restoration In 1983, the Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed, beginning the regional partnership aimed at directing and conducting the restoration of the nation's largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Program's (CBP's) highest priorities include: restoration of living resources—finfish, shellfish, bay grass, and other aquatic species and wildlife, improvements that include the fisheries and habitats, nutrient and toxic reduction, and advances in estuarine sciences. The USGS is one of several partners in this effort to restore the bay. The USGS contributes by conducting studies, serving on committees, and work groups, and providing data. Specifically, the USGS has implemented a River Input Monitoring Program that quantifies loads and long-term trends in concentrations of sediments entering the Chesapeake Bay. Other scientific contributions include construction of mapping information that is used for watershed delineation and surface-water modeling; conducting health assessments to monitor outbreaks of Pfiesteria; and several joint projects to increase understanding of nutrient reduction, delivery, and movement into the bay. USGS employees serve on several CBP committees some of which include the Federal Agencies Committee, the Water Quality Technical Workgroup, and the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. These committees provided information to resource managers, scientists in the Chesapeake Bay Program, Congress, DOI, and the media by publishing reports, fact sheets, press releases, and congressional briefings. The USGS is also a major participant in the Chesapeake Information Management System, which is a library of information and tools specifically developed to increase public access to Chesapeake Bay information (CBP, 2000). Similar to the Chesapeake Bay Program, the CalFed Bay-Delta Program 's mission is to develop a long-term plan that will restore ecological health and improve water management for beneficial uses of another major U.S. estuary the San Francisco Bay, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It represents one aspect of CalFed, an association of

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY state and federal agencies that manage and regulate the estuary (CalFed Bay-Delta Program, 1999). The USGS established its Ecosystem Program to provide managers with adequate information to address current problems or prevent future problems in ecosystem sites. The USGS, which is a participating agency in the CalFed Policy group, is helping to clean, protect, and improve the bay-delta ecosystem. As with the CBP, the USGS has made numerous scientific contributions to the bay-delta program. Recently, the USGS studied long-term trends of metals in the bay and their effects on aquatic life, and it is measuring sedimentation in the delta to describe the transport of sediment needed for habitat restoration. a ... national purpose” (NRC, 1991). Moreover, in its current move toward regionalization, the USGS should be careful not to usurp the role of regional organizations and state and local governments by engaging in activities that are their responsibilities. FUTURE PROGRAM EMPHASIS Programmatic activities of the USGS comprise the following overlapping categories: surveys, monitoring, data analysis, research, information dissemination, and product generation.1 The USGS should continue to conduct all of these activities. However, in the first decades of the twenty-first century, the USGS should give more attention than it has in the past to integrative data analysis, problem solving, and information dissemination. A shift in balance does not mean that the USGS should reduce data gathering and monitoring activities. Rather, it means that in addition to these activities, the USGS should do more to interpret what the data mean and to make the data useful and accessible. The USGS should determine which high-quality, long-term monitoring databases are in the national interest and should seek federal funds for them. 1   Surveying and monitoring are techniques for gathering data, where “data” is defined as raw facts about the world. Data products are methods to make the data available to users. After data analysis and interpretation, information products are generated.

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY The value of the USGS's high-quality, longitudinal databases (e.g., streamflow, groundwater levels, water quality, and natural hazard databases as well as biological-geological-topographic surveys) will increase as they become longer and include a wider range of environmental variability and human influences. When surveys are repeated, they constitute a form of monitoring that can be used to detect or quantify natural change or human influence. Invariably, the remapping of static features with new technology (e.g., radar altimeters, seismic tomography, hyperspectral imaging) reveals previously unsuspected characteristics. The use of automated gauging and other remote monitoring devices, especially at remote sites, makes long-term monitoring more reliable and cost-effective. The development and availability of long-term monitoring data are especially important in the biological sciences, since USGS is one of the few entities that has the capacity to carry out this work over long periods. There is a particular dearth of trend data for species groups or ecosystems, and certain USGS datasets, such as the Breeding Bird Survey and the more recent amphibian work, are flagship datasets. These long-term databases are one of the USGS's most important contributions to the nation, and care must be taken not to disrupt them. When the USGS was established, it was charged with the classification of public lands and the examination of the geology, resources, and products of the nation's domain. Scientists of the USGS met this challenge, but the need for such information remains as vital to the national interest today as it was more than a century ago. Arguably, the most important of all geological records are geologic maps. Geologic maps are the primary foundation for a broad range of science investigations, from mineral exploration to hydrogeologic investigations to land use planning. They are the fundamental source for creating many other kinds of map data, such as landslide hazard maps, earthquake hazard maps, aquifer maps, groundwater vulnerability maps, mineral resource maps, and in combination with other data sources, soil maps. The National Geologic Mapping Act of 1992 established the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program to implement and coordinate an expanded geologic mapping effort by the USGS, the state geological surveys, and universities. The primary goal of the program is to collect, process, analyze, translate, and disseminate earth science information through geologic maps (Sidebar 4.2). This information contributes to maintaining and improving the quality of life and economic vitality of the

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY SIDEBAR 4.2 National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program The National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program has three primary components: (1) FEDMAP, which funds federal mapping projects; (2) STATEMAP, a matching-funds grants program with state geological surveys; and (3) EDMAP; a geologic mapping education matching-funds program with universities. This information contributes to maintaining and improving the quality of life and economic vitality of the nation and to mitigating the effects of hazardous events and conditions. Technological advances in computing and spatial data analysis in the past decade provide geologic map data in digital formats that can be used by the public at all levels to assist in analysis and decision making. Priorities for the program are cooperatively developed through review councils and forums representing the broadest range of stakeholders. A new program direction began in 1999, with new FEDMAP geologic mapping projects being organized into regional partnership projects with long-term plans and strategies to address distinct issues throughout geologically similar regions of the nation. The objective of the state geologic mapping (STATEMAP) component of the NCGMP is to produce geologic maps of areas in which knowledge of geology is important to the economic, social, or scientific welfare of individual states. Two types of activities are supported by the STATEMAP program: (1) those that produce new geologic maps and (2) those that compile existing geologic data in digital form. The objectives of the educational component (EDMAP) of the NCGMP are to: (1) provide funding for students in academic research programs through cooperative agreements that involve geologic mapping and scientific data analysis as major components; (2) expand the research and educational capacity of academic programs that teach students the techniques of geologic mapping and field data analysis; and (3) facilitate the publication and distribution of geologic maps generated in field-based academic research programs. The emphasis of EDMAP is on the acquisition of new geologic map information presented as geologic maps.

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY involved with ecosystem management before they joined the USGS. Ecosystem management requires not only biological data, but also geologic and hydrologic data on patterns of physical and biological features, much of which can be obtained using remotely sensed imagery. Clearly, the USGS, through coordinated research, is well suited to assist and, in many cases, to lead such studies. Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems Since the 1970s, the functions of aquatic ecosystems and the value of aquatic systems to society have become better understood and interest in the holistic process of the restoration of aquatic ecosystems has increased (NRC, 1992a, 1995c). Restoration efforts in a part of the Florida Everglades hydrologic-biologic system (Sidebar 4.10) are perhaps the most visible current expression of this national interest, but there are other important restoration efforts under way. Progress is being made to restore the Chesapeake Bay, an economically and ecologically important estuary (CBP, 2000). The CalFed Bay-Delta Program is attempting to improve ecosystem functioning, water quality, water supply, and levee integrity in the Central Valley of California (CalFed Bay-Delta Program, 1999). There is interest in the removal of obsolete dams in the Pacific Northwest that block fish runs and affect the quantity and timing of water flow in rivers as well as flow velocities, water chemistry, and water temperatures (NRC, 1996d). Both of these projects are collaborations of federal, state, and local partners. Adequate technical information is needed to help guide and assess appropriate responses to these initiatives. A coordinated program of process investigations, monitoring, historical reconstruction, modeling, large-scale experimentation and performance assessment is needed. A federal science agency is necessary for the development of unbiased transferable data, information, and knowledge about aquatic systems. The USGS has the nationwide science infrastructure for this task; the range of technical expertise in terrestrial and aquatic biology, hydrology, sedimentation, and geomorphology; and the capabilities for monitoring, mapping, data analysis, problem solving, and information dissemination, as exemplified by the long-term estuarine study of the San Francisco Bay. Since 1968, the San Francisco Bay has served as an estuarine laboratory for the USGS.

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Sidebar 4.10 South Florida Restoration Project The Florida Everglades is the largest single wetland in the contiguous United States, covering an area of 1.5 million acres and extending from near Orlando in the north to Florida Bay in the south (Davis and Ogden, 1994). Since the mid-1800s, fully half of the Everglades has been drained and converted to agriculture and urban uses, and intense human activity has altered the remaining wetland. These alterations have been caused chiefly by diversion of water for human uses, reduction of water flows to protect against floods, increase to the nutrient supply of wetlands by runoff from agricultural fields and urban areas, and invasion of nonnative or otherwise uncommon plants and animals that outcompete native species. Populations of wading birds, including some endangered species, have declined by 85-90 percent in the past half-century, and many species of South Florida's mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and plants are either threatened or endangered. The present management system of canals, pumps, and levees will be unable to provide adequate water supplies to agricultural and urban areas, or sufficient flood protection, let alone to support the natural, but severely damaged, ecosystems remaining as wetlands. The present system is unsustainable. To meet the needs of increasing population and agricultural demands for water, and to begin the restoration of Everglades aquatic ecosystem to a more natural regime, an ambitious plan called the Central and South Florida Project has been developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its local sponsor, the South Florida Water Management District. It was assisted by the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, a team of several federal agencies (including the USGS), state and local agencies, and Indian tribes. The USGS has been a catalyst and a major contributor to the science underlying the restorative actions to be taken. The plan to restore the Everglades is ambitious and comprehensive. It entails changing the current hydrologic regime in the remnant Everglades to one that resembles a more natural one, reestablishment of marshes and wetlands, implementation of agricultural best-management practices, enhancements for wildlife and recreation, and provisions for water supply and flood control. It will involve the creation of several large surface and subsurface storage areas to capture much of the water now drained by ditches and canals directly to the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, the creation of new wetlands to trap agricultural and urban pollutants before

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY their discharge to the natural wetlands, the supplementation of flows with highly treated wastewater, and an increase and change in the pattern of water releases to the natural wetlands and estuaries, partly by removing artificial barriers to the formerly dominant process of overland sheet flow. Planning for and implementation of the restoration effort requires application of state-of-the-art large systems analysis concepts, hydrological and hydroecological modeling, hydrological and ecological data, sophisticated decision support systems, integration of social sciences, and monitoring for planning and evaluation of performance in an adaptive management context. These large, complex challenges of the greater Everglades restoration effort demand the most advanced, interdisciplinary, and scientifically sound capabilities the nation has to offer. It is likely that this multiple-agency integrated approach to projects of regional and national concern will be a dominant way of doing business in the future (Harwell, 1997; Harwell et al., 1999). The USGS divisions have to develop working relations that foster the continuation of this type of collaboration. The USGS as an entity must be prepared to respond to the complex environmental problems the nation faces now and in the future. Investigations to Support Wise Urban Development in the West For several decades the population in the more arid parts of the western United States has increased faster than the national population growth rate. Rapid population growth is expected to continue and will be accompanied by rising resource consumption and rising requirements for environmental quality and outdoor recreation. This development raises management problems for governments at all levels. Nettlesome problems include the trend of transfers of water from agricultural to urban and industrial uses (NRC, 1992b) and the need to provide clean water supplies in a region that has already begun to face the physical limits of water resources. Alternative plausible scenarios of availability and timing will be necessary, along with innovative investigations of water use and substitution. Not only river flows, but groundwater recharge and snow-pack distributions will have to be investigated, and the ecological effects of further altering water supplies will have to be addressed. Another development is settlement of alluvial fans and debris-flow fans (NRC, 1996e) that results in flood hazard management problems. Urban expansion into fire-prone chaparral and woodland

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY ecosystems threatens to intensify fire management problems, including both ecological damage and postfire erosion hazards to settled areas (Keeley et al., 1999). Low-density settlement patterns, typical of the West, threaten to eradicate or impoverish large areas of both terrestrial and aquatic habitat. In addition to water and flooding issues, the USGS should continue its work with state and municipal agencies to evaluate the basic geologic framework of cities. Having a detailed geologic map and a three-dimensional view of a city's geology is crucial for geotechnical evaluations and land use and an idea of the distribution and character of construction materials. Integrated work on urban geology in several southwestern cities is beginning with the STATEMAP program, in which the USGS cooperates with municipalities and states. The nation needs an integrated research agenda on the sustainable development of lands in the West. These lands will be the focus of conflict because of the environmental constraints on available resources and the changing environmental values of society. The USGS would be shrinking from its responsibilities to “provide science for a changing world in response to present and anticipated needs” if it does not embrace this topic in much the same way that John Wesley Powell sought to provide scientific information for wise development of the West more than a century ago. Natural Resources Life Cycles of Ore Materials One of the great challenges of the coming decades will be to better understand the cycles of material and energy flow and use within the dynamic earth environment. Earth systems are inherently complex (NRC, 1993c) and human activity adds to this complexity. Understanding these systems will require integration across many natural and social science disciplines. Breakthroughs in understanding will often come at the interfaces of disciplines. As a multidisciplinary science agency, the USGS is suited to play a role in advancing functional models of material and energy cycling within the earth's environment. Investigations of mineral, energy, and water resources have been at the center of USGS activities for more than a century, but these investigations will undergo major changes in coming decades. There will

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY be decreased emphasis on identifying domestic resources for development and increased emphasis on gathering and interpreting information needed to support the sustainable use of resources. Essential to this changing emphasis will be the development of reliable models, known generally as life-cycle models, that trace the fate of elements and minerals in the environment. Life cycle models of mineral resources document the physical and chemical processes involved in deposit formation, weathering and erosion, mining and processing, commodity use, recycling, and ultimate disposition of mineral commodities. Mineral deposits are physical and chemical anomalies in the crust of the earth. Whether or not a mineral deposit is developed, it may have an impact on the local environment and ecosystem of an area. Thus, the life cycle of a mineral commodity starts with the formation of a mineral deposit. Genetic mineral deposit models provide an understanding of the character, location, and abundance of the nation's mineral resources. Geoenvironmental models build on these genetic ore deposit models with information that can be used to understand and predict the effects of natural exposure or human development. Mining, processing, and refining provide the interface between the natural mineral cycle and the human use cycle in which mineral products are used, recycled, and ultimately disposed. For many elements, these geochemical cycle models link directly to models relating environmental geochemistry to animal and human health. The impacts of resource development and use can be diverse, affecting air quality, water quality, stream sedimentation, and soil erosion or contamination. Useful geoenvironmental models must be based on rigorous models of the geochemical, geological, and biological processes involved, as well as on adequate documentation of the natural background character of the nation's lands and waters. Documented national geochemical baselines and backgrounds provide a standard or measure against which future environmental perturbations, natural or anthropogenic, can be compared. Determining geochemical baselines and backgrounds must also be a multidisciplinary endeavor involving geochemists, geologists, hydrologists, and biologists. The USGS, with integrated expertise in the earth and biological sciences, is capable of meeting this challenge.

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Geologic Frameworks for Transition to a Methane Fuel Economy Historical market forces promoting efficiencies, along with current and future concerns of atmospheric quality, are likely to drive the world and particularly the United States to a methane-based economy and eventually to an energy economy based on hydrogen (Williams, 1996; PCAST, 1997; Serchuk and Means, 1997). Several recent estimates of the remaining natural gas resource base in North America, and especially the United States, indicate a volume sufficient to meet the large demands of the methane economy (NRC, 1999d). However, no more than one-third of the expected demand can be met by current reserves, currently projected reserve growth from existing fields, and ready discovery. Adding a sufficient volume of resources to producible reserves will involve discovery in the deeper parts of basins where the geology is known only marginally or in hostile environments, such as ultradeep waters and arctic frontiers. Other sources must come from low-permeability formations where basic understanding of formation variation and fracturing will be required. Increasingly, reserves must be developed from a whole series of emerging resources such as basin center formations, deep deposits of coal bed methane, methane hydrates, and methane in geopressured geothermal waters, all insufficiently known (Collett, 1993; Kvenvolden, 1993; Socolow, 1997). As the natural gas resource base moves from higher- to lower-quality resources, demands for technology and the geologic framework to efficiently deploy new and advancing technology become essential if natural gas supplies are to be available as needed and at affordable prices. The United States has a substantial geological work force to meet the demands of the methane energy economy—in industry, universities, states, and private research concerns. However, the paramount public interest that will be served by a clean-burning and efficient energy source defines a role for the USGS in collaboration with other partners particularly DOE, MMS, EPA, and the Department of the Navy. TRANSITION TOWARD AN INTEGRATED NATURAL SCIENCE AND INFORMATION AGENCY The research opportunities discussed in the previous section all concern complex systems and illustrate a need for the USGS to develop a

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY strong agency-wide commitment to, and capacity in, integrative science. Because of its information resources, technological capabilities, and range of professional expertise, the USGS is well positioned to pursue integrative science. By evolving into a natural science and information agency, the USGS can meet society's expectations for analytical and integrative science focused on problem solving, rather than on monitoring or knowledge advancement alone (Pielke et al., 1999). Integrative science focuses on the major issues that cross the narrow boundaries of conventional scientific disciplines and is more than simply an interdisciplinary collaboration, although it may begin there. Rather, integrative science entails individuals sharing different perspectives, methodologies, and conceptual models in a manner that changes each person's approach to the problem at hand. Integrative science is the construction of conceptual models that link causal processes to illuminate the complex interrelationships among physical and biological phenomena (Turner, 1991). Data are a starting point in the refinement, testing, and elaboration of successively more realistic models of natural-and human-driven processes, but the overall goal is to derive and apply a conceptual understanding of these systems to the betterment of human life. Thus, data on streamflows should lead to a holistic understanding of flood dynamics, but may also lead to a better understanding of agricultural productivity, avoidance or mitigation of contamination, and ecosystem dynamics. In other words, the output should be multidimensional and utilitarian. An integrative approach implies focusing on the nature of the problems in all of their complexity and creating teams with the skills and resources necessary to provide the entire suite of knowledge required for well-informed responses. Developing interdisciplinary teams requires more of management than drawing a committee of scientists from each of the existing USGS divisions to attack a problem. It requires management of the development of the integrative habit of inquiry by knowledgeable individuals. The development of true interdisciplinary teams requires changes in group dynamics, analytical approaches, and types of synthesis activities (Metzger and Zare, 1999). A determination to commit the agency to integrative scientific investigations is not an easy step to undertake. Not only are the objects of study (e.g., fish, trace-element geochemistry, tectonics), and therefore the vocabularies, different among disciplines, but the traditional spatial and temporal scales of phenomena to be studied and the nature of acceptable

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY explanations are different too, as are scientific methods, criteria of evaluation, and professional culture in general. Thus, integrative work relevant to policy often requires that new perspectives are forged, new applications of methods are developed (perhaps involving unprecedented measurement precision), and greater emphasis is given to the definition of conceptual system models. Despite the difficulties of achieving integrative science even for rather narrowly defined problems, the results can be analyses of unprecedented power and utility and more effective reports and data products. Both the difficulties and the rewards imply that in a large, multifaceted agency such as the USGS, senior management has to take the lead in promoting such integration because they are the only personnel with knowledge of all the agency's resources and they alone are charged with the strategic application of these resources in the overall national interest. USGS managers should also recognize the opportunity inherent in multiagency (federal, state, tribal, and local) teams. Several recent multiagency studies, such as the ecosystem evaluations of San Francisco Bay and Chesapeake Bay, offer illustrations of both the potential, for integrated science investigation and the commitment to integrated implementation of recommendations. The committee believes that comprehensive understanding of the types of complex natural science issues described in earlier sections of the report will be difficult to achieve without some substantial degree of disciplinary integration. Thus, the committee recommends that the USGS evolve from an agency organized primarily around disciplines to discover and understand what is out there (surveys, data collection, and data synthesis) to one that is organized to a greater degree around interdisciplinary teams to understand how what is out there works (process understanding). Understanding how the complex air-water-human-land system works calls for scientists to cooperate on studies that encompass a combination of physical, chemical, biological, and social processes. The USGS was founded around disciplinary skills and experience, and it continues to embrace a discipline-specific organizational structure. Despite this constraint, the agency recognizes the value of interdisciplinary teams and studies, and has demonstrated the importance of these efforts many times. However, it has not yet created an interdisciplinary environment to confront the complexity of the issues at hand. One of the important benefits of USGS ecosystem studies has been

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY to increase the appreciation by earth system scientists of the interdependence of natural processes with the lithosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere. Animal life depends upon plant life, which depends upon water and soil, which are controlled by geology and climate. It is impossible to understand any single part of the environment without an understanding of the whole. The USGS has the capability and the opportunity to advance understanding of such interconnected processes, with integrated research teams crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries. The failure to integrate will inhibit understanding of natural science problems. However, the committee recognizes that integration is difficult to achieve, especially in cases that require integration of physical and social sciences. Because of the gulf between disciplines, efforts to achieve integration are more likely to advance incrementally through the cooperative study of particular problems than through the top-down imposition of a comprehensive framework. All the same, senior USGS management should help to instill an agency-wide commitment to integrative science. Senior USGS management should ensure that appropriate disciplines are brought to bear on problems that require cooperative study for their solution. SUMMARY In the twenty-first century, the USGS will be called upon to play critical roles in solving complex problems. To confront these issues, the committee recommends that the USGS evolve into a natural science and information agency. The USGS should exercise national leadership in its areas of primary responsibility and, in view of the international and global nature of many science problems, should increase its international activities above present levels. Opportunities exist for the USGS to improve service to its multiple audiences particularly by (1) ensuring that science information is provided to DOI departments efficiently and effectively; (2) strengthening liaison and coordination with related federal agencies; (3) maintaining and improving relations with state and regional government organizations and with nongovernmental organizations that are users of science information; (4) facilitating the use of science information by the general public and by stakeholders for critical issues; and (5) increasing

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY interactions with foreign customers and partners. In light of its strong move toward regionalization to bring the agency's leadership closer to its customers, the USGS should be careful not to assume the role of state or regional organizations. In the realm of future program emphasis, the USGS should provide national leadership and coordination in such areas as establishing data standards; assessing resources; and monitoring, reporting, and where possible, forecasting critical natural science phenomena. It should give high priority to (1) maintaining and enhancing high-quality, long-term databases; (2) emphasizing the value-added activities of data analysis, information dissemination, and problem solving; (3) establishing an interdivisional program in system modeling and integration; (4) advancing toward a natural science and information integration organization that involves the development of a framework for a geospatial information depository and portal; and (5) conducting monitoring activities more efficiently through the use of advanced technology. The committee believes that the USGS should, because of its mission, study problems of regional, national, and international importance. It encourages studies that encompass a combination of physical, chemical, biological, and social processes and are thus multidisciplinary and provide opportunities for integrative science. Senior USGS management should ensure that appropriate disciplines are brought to bear on studies that must integrate across disciplines. The USGS will face administrative challenges as it transitions toward a natural science and information agency. These challenges are the subject of Chapter 5.

OCR for page 61
FUTURE ROLES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY This page in the original is blank.