USGS identifier


The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) strives to provide the Nation with reliable earth science information that is used to minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; to manage energy, mineral, water, and biological resources; to enhance and protect the quality of life; and to contribute to wise economic development and a sustainable future. This mission requires that the USGS anticipate and respond in a timely manner to a broad array of national earth science issues. The science strategy described in this report outlines how the Geologic Division (GD) of the USGS will face the challenges of the next decade and ensure maximum contribution and relevance to the national interest.

The GD, described in Highlight 2, will conduct an integrated mixture of monitoring, research, and assessment activities in support of seven major science goals. These seven science goals specifically address major societal issues involving geologic hazards and disasters, climate variability and change, energy and mineral resources, ecosystem and human health, and ground-water availability. For each science goal, a set of strategic actions and products is provided to aid in GD planning and to measure progress. Many of the actions and products require development of new methods, skills, and technologies in addition to continued support of division core capabilities (for example, geologic mapping, regional geologic synthesis, and basic process studies). Success will, therefore, depend greatly on the ability of the GD to continue to attract and support its most important resource, a flexible world-class staff.

The most significant change described for the GD in the seven science goals is a much larger emphasis on developing a broad understanding of the interactions between humans and the Earth. This emphasis necessitates an increased focus on understanding active geologic processes and events (from the commonplace to the catastrophic) and the use of models to predict their frequency and effects in the future. These predictive models will have the form of science-based deterministic scenarios and probabilistic assessments and will outline a range of possible consequences that should be incorporated into policymaking and land-management decisions. The science strategy also places particular emphasis on interdisciplinary research, acknowledging the importance of crossing traditional discipline boundaries in investigating complex Earth systems. This science strategy report proposes changes in GD operations to facilitate interdisciplinary work and significant fruitful collaboration with the USGS Water Resources Division (WRD), the National Mapping Division (NMD), and the Biological Resources Division (BRD). Achieving these science goals will also require extensive collaboration and partnerships with other Federal agencies, State geological surveys, industry, academia, and professional societies. At the project level, the GD's role may vary from leadership to participation to facilitation. The GD's responsibilities in developing and nurturing these partnerships are described below (see "Working with Others") and takes advantage of the unique USGS ability to provide a coherent, unbiased, long-term, national perspective on earth science problems and societal issues.

Implementing the strategic actions and completing the products described in the science goals will require a combination of rigorous short-term and long-term research. Short-term scientific responses to pressing national issues will require rapid, creative, flexible approaches and are predicated on the GD's ability to quickly deploy broad world-class expertise in earth sciences. Long-term investments in the deeper understanding of basic Earth processes will continue to provide the basis for solving some of the more complex and intractable problems facing the Nation, while leading to fundamental advances in science. The effectiveness of the GD in applying the results of long-term research to pressing short-term national needs has been repeatedly demonstrated in recent years, and specific examples are included throughout this report. Although not emphasized in the science goals, the national need for economic and environmental security and the global nature of many important hazard, resource, and environmental issues require that the GD engage in international science activities.

To achieve the science goals outlined in this report, the GD must also commit significant intellectual and fiscal resources to using and developing new technologies. Although it is impossible to predict the full range of technological advances that will affect the earth sciences over the next decade, it is certain that many basic tools and approaches to problem solving will change dramatically. As an example, space-based remote sensing should increasingly provide the opportunity for GD earth scientists to monitor and quantify geologic processes and changes associated with natural disasters and landscape evolution. Vastly enhanced computing capabilities will provide an important tool with which to model and understand these processes and changes and to evaluate the effects of possible human modifications to the surface and near-surface environment. For success, the GD must contribute to, reward, and thrive on such technological innovation.

Regardless of the scientific progress achieved by concentrating on the seven science goals, the success of the GD in serving the Nation will ultimately depend on the ability to communicate earth science information and its relevance to a broad range of users. To address that critical need, this report describes strategies to enhance the public's ability to locate, access, and use GD data.

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Last updated 04.08.98