United States Geological Survey

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The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is a scientific agency of the United States government. The scientists of the USGS study the landscape of the United States, its natural resources, and the natural hazards that threaten it. The organization has four major science disciplines, concerning biology, geography, geology, and hydrology. The USGS is a fact-finding research organization with no regulatory responsibility.

A bureau of the United States Department of the Interior, it is that department's sole scientific agency. The USGS employs approximately 10,000 people and is headquartered in Reston, Virginia. The USGS also has major offices in Lakewood, Colorado (Denver Federal Center), and Menlo Park, California.


The USGS headquarters in Reston, VA
USGS gauging station 03221000 on the Scioto River below O'Shaughnessy Dam near Dublin, Ohio

The USGS is the primary civilian mapping agency in the United States, and is best known for its 1:24,000 scale, 7.5-minute quadrangle topographic maps. Their recent program, The National Map, is an attempt to be the ultimate online mapping service for the United States. The USGS also has a vigorous Business Partners program through which they encourage the reselling of their maps so that the public can have quicker, easier access to information. Many commercial sites have capitalized on this program to provide web mapping services in conjunction with the USGS.

The USGS Earthquake Hazards Program monitors earthquake activity worldwide. The National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) in Golden, Colorado on the campus of the Colorado School of Mines detects the location and magnitude of global earthquakes. The USGS also runs or supports several regional monitoring networks in the U.S. under the umbrella of the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS). The USGS informs authorities, emergency responders, the media, and the public, both domestic and worldwide, about significant earthquakes. It also maintains long-term archives of earthquake data for scientific and engineering research. It also conducts and supports research on long-term seismic hazards.

The USGS National Geomagnetism Program monitors the magnetic field at magnetic observatories and distributes magnetometer data in real time.

The USGS operates the streamgaging network for the United States, with over 7400 streamgages. Real-time streamflow data are available online.

Since 1962, the Astrogeology Research Program has been involved in global, lunar and planetary exploration and mapping.

The USGS also operates the National Wildlife Health Center, whose mission is "to serve the nation and its natural resources by providing sound science and technical support, and to disseminate information to promote science-based decisions affecting wildlife and ecosystem health. The NWHC provides information, technical assistance, research, education, and leadership on national and international wildlife health issues."[1] It is the agency primarily responsible for surveillance of wild-animal H5N1 avian influenza outbreaks in the United States.

As of 2005, the agency is working to create a National Volcano Early Warning System by improving the instrumentation monitoring the 169 volcanoes in U.S. territory and by establishing methods for measuring the relative threats posed at each site.

In collaboration with Stanford University, the USGS also operates the USGS-Stanford Ion Microprobe Laboratory, a world-class[2] analytical facility for U-(Th)-Pb geochronology and trace element analyses of minerals and other earth materials.

The motto of the USGS is "Science for a changing world."[3]

The USGS also runs 17 biological research centers in the United States, including the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.


Prompted by a report from the National Academy of Sciences the USGS was created by an act of Congress on March 3, 1879. It was charged with the "classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain." This task was driven by the need to inventory the vast lands added to the United States by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Clarence King, the first director of USGS, assembled the new organization from disparate regional survey agencies. After a short tenure, King was succeeded in the director's chair by John Wesley Powell.

List of USGS Directors

Clarence King, founder of the USGS
John Wesley Powell, former USGS Director and Colorado River explorer
  • 1879–1881 Clarence King
  • 1881–1894 John Wesley Powell
  • 1894–1907 Charles Doolittle Walcott
  • 1907–1930 George Otis Smith
  • 1930–1943 Walter Curran Mendenhall
  • 1943–1956 William Embry Wrather
  • 1956–1965 Thomas Brennan Nolan
  • 1965–1971 William Thomas Pecora
  • 1971–1978 Vincent Ellis McKelvey
  • 1978–1981 Henry William Menard
  • 1981–1993 Dallas Lynn Peck
  • 1994–1997 Gordon P. Eaton
  • 1998–2005 Charles G. Groat
  • 2006-2009 Mark Myers
  • 2009- Marcia McNutt (designate)

USGS Publications

USGS publishes many series of maps and reports, including:

Biological Science Report (BSR)

Record significant scientific interpretations and findings, usually of lasting scientific interest, addressing a wide variety of topics relevant to Biological Resources Discipline (BRD) investigations and research. May include extensive data or theoretical analyses. Reports published by the U.S. Biological Survey and later by the U.S. Geological Survey. The report series began in 1995 and continued through 2003.

Bulletin (B)

Significant data and interpretations of lasting scientific interest but generally narrower in scope than professional papers. Results of resource studies, geologic or topographic studies, and collections of short papers on related topics.

Circular (CIR/C)

A wide variety of topics covered concisely and clearly to provide a synthesis of understanding about processes, geographic areas, issues, or USGS programs. The Circular should be aimed at enhancing knowledge and understanding among general audiences, decision makers, university students, and scientists in related fields.

Circum-Pacific Map (CP)

Multicolor equal-area maps at scales of 1:10,000,000 for the Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, Southeast quadrants of the Pacific and the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and of 1:17,000,000 for the whole Pacific Basin. The series consists of base, geographic, geodynamic, plate-tectonic, geologic, tectonic, mineral-resources, and energy-resources maps, as well as other miscellaneous maps.

Coal Investigations (COAL/C-) Map

Origin, character, and resource potential of coal deposits shown by geologic maps, structure contours, cross sections, columnar sections, and measured coal sections, where appropriate. Text on same sheet or in an accompanying pamphlet.

Folios of the Geologic Atlas (GF)

Quadrangles named from a city, town, or prominent natural feature within the area covered. They include maps showing the topography, geology, underground structure and mineral deposits of the area and several pages of descriptive text and illustrations. May include maps of oil and gas and artesian water. Precursor to Geologic Quadrangles.

General Interest Publication (GIP)

A wide variety of topics covered concisely and clearly in a variety of formats. Focus is on USGS programs, projects, and services and general scientific information of public interest. The series covers a broad range of topics in a variety of media, including pamphlets, postcards, posters, videos, teacher kits, CD/DVDs, bookmarks, and interactive and motion graphics. Previously called "General Interest Publications".

Geologic Quadrangle (GQ) Map

Detailed geologic maps depicting areas of special importance to the solution of geologic problems. May portray bedrock or surficial units, or both. May include brief texts, structure sections, and columnar sections. 71/2- or 15-minute quadrangles printed in multicolor on topographic bases that meet National Map Accuracy standards.

Geophysical Investigations (GP) Map

Chiefly the results of aeromagnetic and (or) gravity surveys shown by contours. Area depicted may range in size from a few square miles to an entire country. Single or multiple sheets.

Hydrologic Investigations Atlas (HA)

A wide range of hydrologic and hydrogeologic data of regional and national interest, such as streamflow, ground water, water quality, and extent of flooding. Various scales. Single or multiple sheets.

Land Use and Land Cover (L) Map

Various categories of land use and cover, both artificial and natural, for use by geographers, land-use planners, and others. Planimetric maps at scales of 1:250,000 or 1:100,000 on a single sheet.

Mineral Investigations Resource (MR) Map

Information on mineral occurrences, mineral resources, mines and prospects, commodities, and target areas of possible resources other than coal, petroleum, or natural gas. Small scale (1:250,000 or smaller).

Miscellaneous Field Studies (MF) Map

Rapidly prepared, low-budget maps in a broad range of presentations in terms of portrayal, completeness, interpretations, draftsmanship, scale, and area coverage. Single or multiple sheets.

Miscellaneous Investigations/ Geologic Investigations (I) Series

High-quality maps and charts of varied subject matter such as bathymetry, geology, hydrogeology, landforms, land-use classification, vegetation, and others including maps of planets, the Moon, and other satellites. Various scales. Topographic or planimetric bases; regular or irregular areas. May include a text printed as an accompanying pamphlet.

Oil and Gas Investigations (OC) Chart

Information about known or possible petroleum resources, presented as logs, correlation diagrams, graphs, and tables, but ordinarily not as maps. Single or multiple sheets. Text printed on same sheet or in an accompanying pamphlet.

Oil and Gas Investigations (OM) Map

Apply particularly to areas of known or possible petroleum resources. Typically include cross sections, columnar sections, structure contours, correlation diagrams, and information on wells drilled for oil and gas. Single or multiple sheets. Text usually on map sheet but sometimes printed as an accompanying pamphlet.

Open-File Report (OFR/OF)

Interpretive information that needs to be released immediately; maps and reports (and their supporting data) that need to be released as supporting documentation because they are referenced, discussed, or interpreted in another information product; preliminary findings (pending a final map or report); interim computer programs and user guides; bibliographies.

Professional Paper (PP)

Premier series of the USGS. Comprehensive reports of wide and lasting interest and scientific importance, characterized by thoroughness of study and breadth of scientific or geographic coverage. The series may include collections of related papers addressing different aspects of a single scientific topic, either issued together under one cover or separately as chapters.

Water-Resources Investigations Report (WRIR/WRI)

Hydrologic information, mainly of local interest, intended for quick release. Book or map format. Varied scales.

Water-Supply Paper (WSP)

Reports on all aspects of hydrology, including quality, recoverability, and use of water resources; statistical reports on streamflow, floods, groundwater levels, and water quality; and collections of short papers on related topics.

A complete listing of descriptions of USGS Series is available at [1] (accessed 11/25/08)

Locating USGS Publications

USGS publication are available for purchase at USGS Publications Warehouse.

Many USGS publications are now available online:

Many older USGS publications have been scanned and digitized by such services as Google Books. An online search will quickly reveal if a digital version is available. All USGS publications are public domain.

Publishing review, scientific integrity, and questions of censorship

In December 2006, it was announced that the rules for the publication of USGS research were being revised. Employees were informed that USGS leadership and communications staff should be notified "of findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed."[4][5] The revision was claimed not to change existing rules, but rather to emphasize the importance of maintaining the scientific integrity of the agency's work by requiring scientists to accept comments from the public and follow administrative policies. However, scientists have questioned whether this revision is likely to facilitate censorship of their work, as has been alleged by critics to have occurred in some Federal agencies under the administration of United States President George W. Bush.[4][6]

According to the authors of this policy, USGS information is given to the public after it has been through a peer review and approval process. USGS leadership and communications staff are kept informed of relevant scientific findings so they can manage the flow of information to decision-makers, who use this information to make resource-management choices. Policy makers have said these principles and practices will bolster the USGS’s scientific objectivity and reputation.[4][5][7][8]

See also

  • Core research center
  • Geographic Names Information System
  • Maps of the United States
  • QuakeSim
  • Timeline of environmental events
  • Volcano Disaster Assistance Program


  1. "National Wildlife Health Center". http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/. Retrieved 2007-12-27. 
  2. "SHRIMP-RG Bibliography as of 24, July 2007". http://shrimprg.stanford.edu/bibliography/Ion_Probe_Bibliography7-07.htm. 
  3. "USGS Visual Identity System". U.S. Geological Survey. July 27, 2006. http://www.usgs.gov/visual-id/outside_use.html. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Lubick, February 7, 2007
  5. 5.0 5.1 Eilperin, December 14, 2006
  6. Eilperin, December 14, 2006. Eilperin uses information without attribution, quoting the one person mentioned in Heilprin's earlier article: James Estes.
  7. Erickson, December 14, 2006
  8. Heilprin, December 13, 2006


External links

USGS sites
Non-USGS related sites