USGS identifier

Executive Summary

This report presents a science strategy for the Geologic Division of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for the years 2000-2010. The report describes seven science goals conceived to address pressing issues facing the Nation in the next decade. In general, these goals focus on understanding human interaction with the natural environment and build upon long-term USGS investments in basic research on the fundamental geologic processes controlling how the Earth works. These goals are consistent with the USGS's mandated role as a Federal science agency charged with providing long-term monitoring, research, and assessments. Although investigations will typically be at the regional to national scale, more localized studies and demonstration projects will also be conducted, either on Federal lands or in other areas of national interest, to develop principles and methods that can be applied much more broadly. The goals are intentionally ambitious for a Geologic Division of its current size; success will require extensive collaboration with other USGS divisions, other Federal agencies, State geological surveys, and academic colleagues.

The first three goals define future thrusts in traditional areas of national leadership for the Geologic Division--studies of the Nation's geologic hazards and natural resources:

1) Conduct geologic hazard assessments for mitigation planning

2) Provide short-term prediction of geologic disasters and rapidly characterize their effects

3) Advance the understanding of the Nation's energy and mineral resources in a global geologic, economic, and environmental context

There are strong links between the first two goals (see Highlight 1). Hazard assessments (Goal 1) integrate knowledge about the potential location, size, and frequency of a geologic hazard with knowledge of a region's or site's vulnerability to the effects of such an event. Goal 2 addresses the division's role in providing timely information on both the likely and the actual geologic effects of disasters in the short term before, during, and after a hazardous event.

By embracing a global perspective on natural resource supply and demand in Goal 3, the Geologic Division will enhance its ability to inventory the Nation's earth resources. Such assessments must be backed by fundamental studies of the character and distribution of natural resources, as well as the economic benefits and environmental consequences of their development.

Climate-related studies already represent a significant Geologic Division effort and are expected to be of increasing importance in the next decade. The next goal relates to climate change:

4) Anticipate the environmental impacts of climate variability

This fourth goal defines a leadership role for the USGS within the U.S. National Global Change Program in carrying out regional- to national-scale syntheses on the following two topics: first, reconstructions of past climates from terrestrial records and, second, assessments of the potential impacts of climate change or variability.

The final three goals address societal issues that the USGS anticipates will be of growing importance in the next decade due to increasing concerns over quality of life:

5) Establish the geologic framework for ecosystem structure and function

6) Interpret the links between human health and geologic processes

7) Determine the geologic controls on ground-water resources and hazardous waste isolation

These goals represent modest Geologic Division efforts at present and are envisioned as largely collaborative or support roles in the future when the USGS will form new partnerships with other agencies and groups. They represent exciting opportunities whereby the Geologic Division can take advantage of the new USGS role as the Nation's earth science and biological science agency.

Goals 4-7 have many obvious links and overlaps. Goals 4 and 5 both require a fundamental understanding of the geologic and geochemical processes that shape the Earth's surface and that exert control on the biosphere. Many of the same processes affecting human health (Goal 6) also affect ecosystem health (Goal 5). Because many of the pathways for material flux in the environment are related to water, an understanding of the geologic controls on water movement in the upper crust (Goal 7) will benefit human and ecosystem health, while it also will help to assure the quality and quantity of the Nation's ground water.

The Geologic Division's ability to respond to each of these societally driven goals requires a sustained investment in documenting the present and past state of the Earth and in using this information to predict future changes. For example, geologic mapping, which has long been a strength of the Geologic Division, is essential to achieving all seven science goals. Meeting these goals will necessitate a commitment to technological innovation and a broadening of expertise through interagency collaboration, training, and visiting scientist and postdoctoral programs.

Although this report does not contain a detailed implementation plan, it does describe six operational objectives. These objectives will improve the usefulness and accessibility of information created by Geologic Division activities and will promote the flexibility and vitality of the staff. The six objectives are listed below:

1) Greatly enhance the public's ability to locate, access, and use Geologic Division maps and data

2) Maintain a first-rate earth-system science library

3) Effectively transfer the knowledge acquired through Geologic Division science activities

4) Promote vitality and flexibility of the scientific staff

5) Promote interdisciplinary research

6) Institute internal and external reviews

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Last updated 04.08.98