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Facing Tomorrows Challenges - U.S. Geological Survey Science in the Decade 2007-2017
By U.S. Geological Survey
USGS Circular 1309
Facing Tomorrows Challenges U.S. Geological Survey Science in the Decade 20072017
USGS is a world leader in the natural sciences through our scientific excellence and responsiveness to societys needs. USGS Vision Statement
In 1996, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) drafted a strategic plan that considered the internal and external drivers and challenges we faced at that time. It was intended as a 10- year view of the future, establishing goals that would guide the USGS into the next century. It served its purpose wellbut the drivers and challenges the Nation faces today are markedly different from those of 1996, and by 2006 the USGS needed a new strategic science vision.
The science strategy presented in this document was prepared by the Science Strategy Team (SST), a group of USGS scientists selected for its broad range of expertise, experience in strategic thinking, and proven customer relationship-building skills. The charter (see Appendix) tasked the SST to develop
a comprehensive vision, with science goals and priorities that unite all bureau capabilities toward challenges for the future
. The major objective was to guide planning over the next decade by identifying opportunities for the USGS to better use its remarkable scientific capabilities to serve the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Nation. The resulting high-level strategy does not reflect all aspects of USGS work; in fact, it does not directly deal with the details of many things that the USGS does extremely well and that are critical to the mission. The intent is that the science strategy will outline areas where natural science can make substantial contributions to the well-being of the Nation and the world. This strategy is intended to inform long-term approaches to USGS program planning, technology investment, partnership development, and workforce and human capital strategies.
This science strategy builds upon a hierarchy of planning documents. It provides a science-based response to the overarching DOI strategic plan and is a follow-up to the 1993 publication, The U.S. Geological Survey: A Vision for the 21st Century. The present document differs from two previous strategic plans (those of 19952005 and 20002009), which were heavily operational in their focus. The current portfolio of USGS monitoring and research efforts has evolved under comprehensive planning processes at a variety of organizational levels. Planning documents have been produced at the discipline, program, center, team, and project levels. All of these previous planning efforts contributed to this report.
The process of developing the strategy was launched at a meeting of the full SST in early February 2006. Team members initially reviewed a range of strategy documents from a spectrum of governmental and nongovernmental sources. Within the USGS, the SST sought input from USGS program coordinators, senior scientists, an advisory group of about 50 USGS researchers selected for their breadth of expertise, a USGS leadership training class, and ultimately, the entire USGS workforce. Subsets of the SST met with groups of employees at several USGS worksites. A Customer Listening Session that focused on developing the science strategy was held in Washington, D.C., May 1, 2006, and SST members attended a session of the DOI Research and Development Council to brief and obtain information from key DOI partners. The SST thanks the many participants inside and outside the USGS for putting their time and energy into aiding in the development of this report.
As they reviewed this enormous amount of material, the SST looked for topics or directions that were innovative and transformational, served key clients and customers, had long-term national significance, allowed for expanded partnership opportunities, were integrative, and had an obvious USGS role. Ultimately, the choice of strategic science directions from within this framework was guided by the view that complexities of measuring, mapping, understanding, modeling, and predicting the status and trends of natural and managed resources in the United States transcend the traditional USGS structure and require broad interdisciplinary thinking and action. The science strategy thus defines priority areas and opportunities where the USGS can serve the Nations pressing needs. This strategy unites and integrates all USGS capabilities and takes advantage of its strengths and unique position as a nonregulatory Federal science agency with national scope and responsibilities. Implementing these strategic directions will not only enable the USGS to be the best science agency it can be but will also strengthen the Nation with the information needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Mark D. Myers
In order for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to respond to evolving national and global priorities, it must periodically reflect on, and optimize, its strategic directions. This report is the first comprehensive science strategy since the early 1990s to examine critically major USGS science goals and priorities.
The development of this science strategy comes at a time of global trends and rapidly evolving societal needs that pose important natural-science challenges. The emergence of a global economy affects the demand for all resources. The last decade has witnessed the emergence of a new model for managing Federal landsecosystem-based management. The U.S. Climate Change Science Program predicts that the next few decades will see rapid changes in the Nations and the Earths environment. Finally, the natural environment continues to pose risks to society in the form of volcanoes, earthquakes, wildland fires, floods, droughts, invasive species, variable and changing climate, and natural and anthropogenic toxins, as well as animal-borne diseases that affect humans. The use of, and competition for, natural resources on the global scale, and natural threats to those resources, has the potential to impact the Nations ability to sustain its economy, national security, quality of life, and natural environment.
Responding to these national priorities and global trends requires a science strategy that not only builds on existing USGS strengths and partnerships but also demands the innovation made possible by integrating the full breadth and depth of USGS capabilities. The USGS chooses to go forward in the science directions proposed here because the societal issues addressed by these science directions represent major challenges for the Nations future and for the stewards of Federal lands, both onshore and offshore.
The six science directions proposed in this science strategy are summarized in the following paragraphs. The ecosystems strategy is listed first because it has a dual nature. It is itself an essential direction for the USGS to pursue to meet a pressing national and global need, but ecosystem-based approaches are also an underpinning of the other five directions, which all require ecosystem perspectives and tools for their execution. The remaining strategic directions are listed in alphabetical order.
Understanding Ecosystems and Predicting Ecosystem Change:
Ensuring the Nations Economic and Environmental Future
In collaboration with others, the USGS reports on the state of the Nations terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal/marine ecosystems and studies the causes and consequences of ecological change, monitors and provides methods for protecting and managing the biological and physical components and processes of ecosystems, and interprets for policymakers how current and future rates of change will affect natural resources and society. The USGS works in collaboration with others to understand the distribution, interactions, condition, and conservation requirements of organisms in an ecosystem context, and predicts changes to biodiversity resulting from land-cover change, climate change, and other impacts to ecosystems. The USGS and its partners will advance understanding, through research, of ecosystem structure, function, patterns and processes, and will develop new products, including standardized national maps of ecosystems in the United States. They will also provide regularly updated reports on the status of ecosystems and assessment of trends that will help communities and managers make informed decisions that take into account ecosystem health and sustainability.
Climate Variability and Change:
Clarifying the Record and Assessing Consequences
The USGS scientists will meet the pressing needs of the U.S. Department of the Interior, policymakers, and resource managers for scientifically valid state-of-the-science information and predictive understanding of climate change and its effects. Studies of the interactions among climate, earth surface processes, and ecosystems across space and time will contribute directly to the strategic goals of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. To answer questions about how the world is changing, the USGS will expand its already strong research and monitoring initiatives in the science of carbon, nitrogen, and water cycles, hydroclimatic and ecosystem effects of climate change, and land-cover and land-use change. The USGS will continue studies of paleoclimate and past interactions of climate with landscapes and ecosystems, and apply the knowledge gained to understanding potential future states and processes. Expanded and modernized USGS observing networks of land, water, and biological resources will be crucial to rigorous analyses of future responses to climate change. The USGS will provide robust predictive and empirical tools for managers to test adaptive strategies, reduce risk, and increase the potential for hydrologic and ecological systems to be self-sustaining, resilient, or adaptable to climate change and related disturbances.
Energy and Minerals for Americas Future:
Providing a Scientific Foundation for Resource Security, Environmental Health, Economic Vitality, and Land Management
The USGS energy and minerals resource research will be broadened to contribute more comprehensively to discourse and decisions about future natural resource security, environmental effects of resource use, the economic vitality of the Nation, and management of natural resources on U.S. Department of the Interior, Federal and other lands. A wide-ranging, multidisciplinary approach is used to understand and evaluate how the complex life cycle of occurrence, formation processes, extraction methods, use, and waste products of energy and mineral resources influence, or are influenced by, landscape, hydrology, climate, ecosystems, and human health. Cumulative knowledge, long-term data, and new understanding of resource origin and assessment methodologies will improve the reliability and accuracy of national and global assessments and information products, especially as the energy mix evolves and new requirements for rare and scarce materials used by the Nation emerge. Information from the USGS resource cycle increasingly will be put in economic terms so that policymakers can more clearly weigh competing alternatives. Through partnerships and collaborations, USGS natural resource knowledge and expertise helps advance the Nations economy and improve its competitiveness.
A National Hazards, Risk, and Resilience Assessment Program:
Ensuring the Long-Term Health and Wealth of the Nation
The USGS collects accurate and timely information from modern earth observation networks, assesses areas at risk from natural hazards, and conducts focused research to improve hazard predictions. In addition, the USGS works actively with the Nations communities to assess the vulnerability of cities and ecosystems and to ensure that science is effectively applied to reduce losses. The USGS will develop a national risk-monitoring program, built on a robust underpinning of hazard assessment and research, to visualize and provide perspectives at multiple scales of vulnerability and resilience to adverse land change and hazards. Accurate observations, focused research, and timely communications will safeguard people and property and keep natural hazards from becoming natural disasters.
The Role of Environment and Wildlife in Human Health:
A System that Identifies Environmental Risk to Public Health in America
The USGS can contribute substantially to public health decisionmaking. The USGS monitors wildlife, is at the forefront of identifying wild animal disease reservoirs, and maintains critical knowledge about wild animal disease transmission to humans, drinking-water contaminants, air-dust-soil-sediment-rock contaminants, pathogens in recreational water, and the use of wild animals as sentinels of human health. To employ this expertise in support of the Nations health needs, the USGS will fully integrate its massive data holdings and environmental science expertise to produce a national database and atlas of geology, and ecology-sourced diseases and toxicants. Once this atlas is in place, the USGS will partner with allied health science agencies to support spatially related health research.
A Water Census of the United States:
Quantifying, Forecasting, and Securing Freshwater for Americas Future
The USGS will develop a Water Census of the United States to inform the public and decisionmakers about (1) the status of its freshwater resources and how they are changing; (2) a more precise determination of water use for meeting future human, environmental, and wildlife needs; (3) how freshwater availability is related to natural storage and movement of water, as well as engineered systems, water use, and related transfers; (4) how to identify water sources, not commonly thought to be a resource, that might provide freshwater for human and environmental needs; and (5) forecasts of likely outcomes for water availability, water quality, and aquatic ecosystem health caused by changes in land use and land cover, natural and engineered infrastructure, water use, and climate.
The six strategic science directions outlined here are themselves interrelated. Their interaction, correlation, and interplay reveal the complexity of the Earths natural, physical, and life systems. Developing new understanding, therefore, requires a systems approach that calls upon the full range of USGS capabilities. The USGS, with its breadth of scientific expertise, can provide an important perspective on the entire web of interrelated natural processes that affect national and global well-being.
Understanding the implications of these intricate linkages requires that data and information be readily shared among USGS scientists and collaborators, and with our partners and customers in forms suited to their needs, interests, and responsibilities. Thus, expansion of information technology to allow for seamless data and information sharing is an important component of the USGS science strategy. However, information technology is only one of the technological areas that will require continual updating. The USGS must keep abreast of advances in areas, such as environmental sensors, microbiology, nanotechnology, and many others that are now, or will become, critical to the mission. Therefore, the SST has identified two critical crosscutting science directions that are essential for the success of the science strategy:
Data Integration and Beyond
The USGS will use its information resources to create a more integrated and accessible environment for its vast resources of past and future data. It will invest in cyberinfrastructure, nurture and cultivate programs in natural-science informatics, and participate in efforts to build a global integrated science and computing platform.
Leveraging Evolving Technologies
The USGS will foster a culture and resource base that encourages innovation, thereby advancing scientific discovery through the development and application of state-of-the-art technologies. The next decade poses formidable challenges, but it also holds unprecedented opportunities for USGS science to improve the economic and environmental health and prosperity of people and communities across the Nation and around the world. The USGS looks forward to applying the full breadth and depth of its scientific capabilities to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Formidable 21st century challenges form the backdrop for this U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) science strategy. Society must deal with a series of national and global trends that have major natural-science implications. First, the emergence of a global economy affects the demand for all resources. The worlds natural resources, and the materials produced by people from those resources, are being used on a scale that is modifying the terrestrial, marine, and atmospheric environments upon which human civilization depends. The use of, competition for, and natural threats to resources on the global scale will affect the Nations ability to sustain its economy, national security, quality of life, and natural environment. Second, the last decade has witnessed the emergence of a new paradigm for managing Federal landsecosystem-based management. By understanding the status of U.S. natural resources, how natural resources interrelate and change with time, and how resilient they are to future natural and human-caused threats, decisionmakers will be able to ensure the security of the Nation, the vitality of its economy, the health of its environment, and the well-being of its citizens. Third, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (2005) predicts that the next few decades will see rapid changes in the Nations and the Earths environment. Land and resource managers will need to understand the local and regional implications of climate change, anticipate its impacts, and prepare for expected effects to reduce the potential for disaster. Finally, the natural environment continues to pose risks to society from volcanoes, earthquakes, wildland fires, floods, droughts, invasive species, variable and changing climate, and natural and anthropogenic toxins, as well as animal-borne diseases that affect humans. Some of these risks may be increased by changing climate and will be increased by the movement of the Nations population into harms way in coastal, earthquake-prone, and wildfire-prone areas. Understanding those health, resource, and hazard risks, better defining their probabilities, and forecasting their effect on the status and future of society are essential for a resilient and prosperous United States.
This decadal USGS science strategy will be implemented at a time when the Nation can benefit greatly by using natural science information in its decisionmaking. The USGS is well positioned to address the challenge of providing this information. It is the Nations and the worlds leading natural science and information agency. The workforce of nearly 9,000 scientists and support staff, distributed in about 400 locations, collects and interprets data from tens of thousands of hydrological, biological, and geological sampling sites throughout the Nation, its coastal zones, and Continental Shelves; these efforts, combined with its extensive remote-sensing capabilities, allow the USGS to map and understand Earth processes and changes. The USGS is uniquely suited to address the broad scope of natural-resource and natural-science issues facing the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Nation, by using scientific tools at scales ranging from microscopic to global. The USGS brings a special set of temporal perspectives that range from deep geologic time to recent historic scales, and, with its predictive capabilities, to look to the future. The USGS does not have regulatory or land-management responsibility and has a worldwide reputation for objective, unbiased science. For the 127 years of its existence, the USGS has used its earth-science expertise to provide decisionmakers at all levels of government and citizens in all walks of life with the information and tools they need to address pressing societal issues and to help ensure the sustained health, welfare, and prosperity of the Nation. Over the last decade, the USGS: enhanced the Nations understanding of the causes and the impact of natural hazards, wildlife disease, invasive species, and climate change; deepened the Nations understanding of the economics related to water use and the potential for abundant high-quality water; contributed to the creation of new industries in minerals and gas hydrates; and provided for the testing of new theories of land management and prevention of loss through the availability of long-term information and a national array of interdisciplinary monitoring activities that includes remote sensing, imaging, seismic monitoring, streamgaging, and field study. The USGS maintains a broad scope of research activities and long-term data sets, such as:
- information relating to natural hazards, including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, landslides, and coastal erosion; energy and mineral resources; and geologic processes that affect the Nations land and coasts;
- real-time flood data and information on the quality and quantity of surface- and ground-water resources;
- information critical to animal health, identifying and dealing with invasive species, biological species management, and ecosystems; and
- geospatial data, topographic maps, and satellite images critical to emergency response, Homeland Security, land-use planning and resource management.
As outlined in the body of this report, the USGS can build upon previous strengths and achievements by leveraging its talents and skills to undertake comprehensive and integrated studies that examine the Earth as a system in which biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and atmosphere are interrelated. This report recommends implementing a series of six science directions that were chosen to build on existing strengths and to optimize the USGS response to major natural science issues facing DOI and the Nation during the next decade. The Science Strategy Team (SST) considered a broad spectrum of information from inside and outside the USGS before deciding on the directions to researched to some extent within the USGS, but the challenges of the future call for a substantial increase in, and integration across, disciplines of the current levels of effort. Central to the SST deliberations on the content of each of the six directions was a structured framework that addressed the need to (1) identify and measure key variables, (2) map the resulting data spatially, (3) understand the fundamental natural science processes involved, (4) monitor essential variables over time, (5) predict or forecast the future course of natural science events, and (6) engage stakeholders in the use of this information for problem- solving. Implementation of the strategic directions, likewise, will address these themes. The strategic directions are listed below. The ecosystem strategy is listed first. The remaining strategic directions are presented in alphabetical order.
Understanding Ecosystems and Predicting Ecosystem Change
- A new, comprehensive focus on terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal/marine ecosystems will be implemented. Knowledge of ecosystems is critical to the well-being of the Nation because ecosystems provide the natural resources and other goods and services that humans require. Understanding, mapping, monitoring, modeling, and advising DOI and the Nation on ecosystems are critical to balance land-use and land-change issues with human needs. Ecosystem studies require the full power of an integrated systems approach and thus are a perfect fit with USGS capabilities and strengths. During the next decade, the USGS will emphasize the fundamental research, mapping, and monitoring necessary to assess the Nations ecosystem function, as well as begin to document and forecast change. Working with partners, the USGS will develop new products, including standardized national maps of ecosystems in the United States and regularly updated status and trends assessments, that will help communities and land and resource managers make informed decisions about sustainable resource use. The ecosystem strategy outlined in this report has a dual nature. It is itself an essential direction for the USGS to pursue in order to meet a pressing national and global need, but ecosystem-based approaches also underpin the other five directions, which all require ecosystem perspectives and tools for their execution.
|Alpine tundra is projected to be vulnerable to changing climate. Here, scientists are collecting soils for chemical analysis. Loch Vale Watershed, Rocky Mountain National Park. Photograph by M. Hartman. [larger image]
Climate Variability and Change
- The USGS scientists will meet the pressing needs of the U.S. Department of the Interior, policymakers, and resource managers for scientifically valid state- of-the-science information and predictive understanding of climate change and its effects. Studies of the interactions among climate, earth surface processes, and ecosystems across space and time will contribute directly to the strategic goals of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. To answer questions about how the world is changing, the USGS will expand its already strong research and monitoring initiatives in the science of carbon, nitrogen, and water cycles, hydroclimatic and ecosystem effects of climate change, and land-cover and land-use change. The USGS will continue studies of paleoclimate and past interactions of climate with landscapes and ecosystems, and apply the knowledge gained to understanding potential future states and processes. Expanded and modernized USGS observing networks of land, water, and biological resources will be crucial to rigorous analyses of future responses to climate change. The USGS will provide robust predictive and empirical tools for managers to test adaptive strategies, reduce risk, and increase the potential for hydrologic and ecological systems to be self-sustaining, resilient, or adaptable to climate change and related disturbances.
Energy and Minerals for Americas Future
- Two issues will dominate the energy and minerals resources picture in the future. One is the potential for domestic scarcity driven by global economic circumstances. The other is the likelihood that environmental impacts from energy and mineral extraction and consumption will factor more strongly into how we use resources. The strategy for future research in these areas is to link the resource and environmental sides of an expanded set of energy and mineral issues into a set of comprehensive resource life cycle studies.
A National Hazards, Risk, and Resilience Assessment Program
- The USGS is positioned to prepare the Nation to more effectively plan for, and deal with, natural hazards by implementing a national hazards risk and resilience assessment program. The USGS will enhance its ability to collect the critical information from modern earth-observation networks and deliver the data in real time, and we will expand its role as a primary source of the research to improve hazard assessments and predictions. In addition, the USGS and its partners in academia will work actively with the Nations communities to assess the vulnerability of cities and ecosystems and to ensure that science is effectively applied to reduce losses. This risk and resilience assessment program will become an indispensable national asset over the next decade.
The Role of Environment and Wildlife in Human Health
- Nothing is more important to the Nation than the health of its citizens. A recent report by the National Health Statistics Group, at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, projects that U.S. health spending will continue to rise, reaching 20 percent of the gross domestic product by 2015 (Borger and others, 2006). The environment is one of the major determinants of human health. The USGS has the most comprehensive databases, sampling programs, and research programs, not only for determining national backgrounds of natural and anthropogenic toxins but, equally important, for understanding the processes by which these materials migrate through the environment. Zoonotic diseases (those transmitted from animals to humans), such as avian flu and West Nile virus, are major concerns in the United States and abroad. USGS biologists and ecologists have played a major role and will continue to do so in providing information to health professionals on the biologic pathways involved in disease transmission. The USGS will fully integrate its massive data holdings and produce a national database and atlas of geology, and ecology-sourced diseases and toxicants. Once this atlas is in place, the USGS will partner with allied health science agencies to support spatially related environmental health research.
A Water Census of the United States
- Water issues are critical to the Nation. A U.S. General Accounting Office (2003) report from July 2003 stressed that we do not have an adequate picture of water availability at national, regional, and local levels. The report stated, National water availability and use has not been comprehensively assessed in 25 years. The Council of State Governments (2003) recently reported, Water, which used to be considered a ubiquitous resource, is now scarce in some parts of the country and not just in the West as one might assume. The water wars have spread to the Midwest, East, and South as well. Water
conflicts are occurring within states, among states, between states and the federal government and among environmentalists and state and federal agencies. Tribal governments
are pursuing several legal battles to reclaim their water rights. Indeed it is time for a comprehensive water census of the United States, and the USGS will undertake this effort.
The six strategic science directions outlined above are themselves interrelated. Their interaction, correlation, and interplay reveal the complexity of the Earths natural, physical, and life systems. Therefore, developing new understanding requires a systems approach that calls upon the full range of USGS capabilities. The systems approach is the major underlying theme of the entire USGS science strategy. Because climate affects all life on earth, the expanded USGS climate studies are inevitably linked to ecosystem, health, water, hazards, and energy issues. The USGS energy and minerals strategy will be broadened to deal not only with resource availability, but also with a broad spectrum of related land, water, and environmental concerns. This of necessity links the energy and minerals strategy to the USGS ecosystem, water, and climate studies.
The USGS, with its breadth of scientific expertise, can provide an important perspective on the entire web of interrelated natural processes that affect national and global well-being. To fully realize the extent and implications of these intricate linkages, this science strategy also identifies two crosscutting science directions that are essential to the success of future USGS science: data integration, in which accessibility of data and information crosses multiple disciplines, geographic, temporal, and political boundaries to reach scientists, collaborators, partners, and customers in forms suited to the needs, interests, and responsibilities of each; and leveraging evolving technologies, in which innovative sensors and technologies have the potential to transform not only scientific methods, but also the questions that scientists ask. The USGS must keep abreast of advances in areas, such as environmental sensors, microbiology, nanotechnology, and many others that are now, or will become, critical to the mission.
The societal issues that these science directions address pose major challenges for the Nations future and for the stewards of Federal lands. These directions will require the full breadth and depth of USGS energies and skills. The scope of each science direction is such that the USGS will need to work with partners to achieve all of its goals. Yet those goals can only be fully achieved by building on the foundation provided by the broad span of scientific expertise found in the USGS. The ability to explore these science directions across local, state, and national scales will enable the USGS to provide needed information to decisionmakers that is appropriate to the level of the challenges they face. Equally essential for decisionmakers will be the objectivity and credibility of the scientifically rigorous information that is a hallmark of the USGS, along with its unbiased, nonregulatory perspective. The USGS chooses these science directions not because they are easy but because they are critically important, will require the best of the organization to fulfill, and will provide information needed for solutions to the challenges facing the Nation.
The USGS is a public agency. Public support of science is primarily justified by three rationales (Sarewitz and others, 2004):
- Scientific advance is necessary to solve particular societal problems;
- Scientific advance provides the information necessary for making effective decisions; and
- Scientific advance is necessary to create new wealth.
Throughout its 127-year history, the USGS has contributed substantially to the national well-being in all these areas. The implementation of this science strategy over the next decade will strengthen and enhance this tradition of science in service to the U.S. Department of the Interior and to the Nation.
|Mallik gas hydrate production test research project, 2002, in the Mackenzie Delta of the Canadian Arctic: The location was chosen because the research site has a high concentration of known gas hydrates. The project was conducted by an international consortium, including the U.S. Geological Survey, Geological Survey of Canada, U.S. Department of Energy, Japan, India, Germany, and the energy industry. [larger image]
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