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U.S. Geological Survey Missions and Programs


As the Nation's largest earth-science research agency, the USGS maintains a long tradition of providing accurate and impartial information to all, which underscores its continued dedication to “Earth Science in the Public Service.”


The USGS is headquartered in Reston, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. Its scientific programs are administered through the Geologic, Water Resources, and National Mapping Divisions, supported by the Administrative and Information Systems Divisions. The Survey conducts its research and investigations through an extensive organization of regional and field offices located throughout the 50 States, Puerto Rico, and the Trust Territories.

Our Nation faces some serious questions concerning the availability and use of land, water, energy, and mineral resources of the Earth. How can we ensure an adequate supply of critical resources in the future? In what ways are we irreversibly altering our natural environment when we use these resources? How can we predict, prevent, or mitigate the effects of natural hazards? Responses to these and similar questions depend on continually increasing the knowledge about the structure, resources, and dynamics of the Earth. Collecting, analyzing, and disseminating the scientific information necessary to answer these questions is the primary mission of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The U.S. Geological Survey was established by an Act of Congress on March 3, 1879, to provide a permanent Federal agency to conduct the systematic and scientific “classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain.”

Since 1879, the research and factfinding role of the USGS has grown and has been modified to meet the changing needs of the Nation it serves. The USGS, however, has remained principally a scientific and technical agency rather than a developmental or regulatory one. Today's programs serve a diversity of needs and users. The current mission of the USGS is to provide geologic, topographic, and hydrologic information that contributes to the wise management of the Nation's natural resources and that promotes the safety and well-being of the public. This information consists of maps, data bases, and descriptions and analyses of the water, energy, and mineral resources, the land surface, the underlying geologic structure, and the dynamic processes of the Earth.

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Survey was reimbursed for work performed for other Federal, State, and local agencies whose needs for earth-science expertise complement USGS program objectives. Work for State, county, and municipal agencies is most often conducted on a cost-sharing basis.

Most of the appropriations and reimbursements received by the USGS in fiscal year 1987 were distributed to geologic, hydrologic, mapping, and administrative areas of responsibility. Budget tables appear at the end of this section.

level degree. Almost half of the USGS employees are professional scientists.

Permanent employees are supported by other-than-full-time permanent employees, including many university students and faculty members as well as part-time employees. This relationship with the academic community has made the expertise of many eminent scientists available to the USGS. Students have also proved valuable during times of increased workload, especially during the field season. Academic institutions have also provided a means of recruiting qualified young professionals for permanent full-time positions upon completion of their studies.


Awards and Honors

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Each year, USGS employees receive awards that range from certificates of excellence and monetary awards to recognition of their achievements by election to membership or office in professional societies. The large number of these awards attests to the high caliber of the Survey personnel. Of the many who received awards, the USGS is pleased to acknowledge here those individuals who became members or officers in professional societies or who received awards from those organizations. Also acknowledged are those who received the Department of the Interior's highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, and those in the Senior Executive Service who received management awards.

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Service in professional societies is one of the most important contributions a scientist can make. Societies play a fundamental role in disseminating knowledge as well as provide a forum in which new ideas are tested. The active participation of Survey scientists in professional societies attests to the scientific vitality of the bureau. The bureau is particularly proud of those individuals who have been elected to society presidencies or chairmanships of society committees by their professional peers.

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P. Robin Brett, Geologist, was named President of the Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology Section of the American Geophysical Union for the period 1986– 1988. Frederick J. Doyle, Research Cartographer, National Mapping Division, was appointed the Executive Director of the newly formed International Union for Surveys and Mapping. Robert M. Hamilton, Geologist, was named President-Elect of the Seismology Section of the American Geophysical Union for the period 1986–1988. Stanley P. Sauer, Regional Hydrologist for the Northeastern Region, Water Resources Division, was named Engineer of the Year for the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior, by the National Society of Professional Engineers.

E-an Zen, Geologist, was awarded the Day Medal by the Geological Society of America for his application of plate-tectonic theory to the geologic history of New England and his pioneering research in the field of geochemistry. Joseph I. Ziony, Geologist, was awarded the E.B. Burwell, Jr., Award of the Engineering Geology Division of the Geological Society of America for his work as editor of USGS Professional Paper 1360, Evaluating Earthquake Hazards in the Los Angleles Region-An Earth-Science Perspective, an integrated set of studies describing methods for evaluating geologically controlled earthquake hazards as a basis for reducing future losses. Mary Lou Zoback, Geologist, was awarded the James B. Macelwane Medal by the American Geophysical Union for significant contributions to the geophysical sciences by a young scientist of outstanding ability.


Department of the

Service Awards

Charles R. Bacon, Geologist, was awarded the Wager Prize by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior for his landmark work on the Coso Range and the Mt. Mazama-Crater Lake igneous systems. John A. Barron, Geologist, was awarded the Schuchert Award of the Geological Society of America for his work in biostratigraphy in solving a broad variety of geologic, paleoceanographic, and paleoclimatologic problems. Robert L. Smith, Geologist, was awarded the Thorarinsson Medal by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior for his contributions to understanding magma chamber processes and resurgent caldera eruptions. Allen H. Watkins, Chief of the Earth Resources Observation Systems Data Center, National Mapping Division, was awarded the 1986 William T. Pecora Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions toward the understanding of the Earth in the field of satellite remote sensing. The award, which is sponsored jointly by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Department of the Interior, was conferred at ceremonies held during the Eleventh William T. Pecora Memorial Symposium on May 6, 1987.

The highest honor given by the Department of the Interior to its employees is the Distinguished Service Award. Symbolized by a gold medal, this award for outstanding achievement was presented by Secretary Donald Hodel to nine USGS employees: William Back, Research Hydrologist, for outstanding contributions in advancing the knowledge of complex geochemical processes in ground-water systems. James E. Biesecker, Assistant Director for Information Systems and Chief of the Information Systems Division, for outstanding leadership and contributions to the U.S. Geological Survey in the fields of scientific computing and telecommunications services. James L. Cook, Regional Hydrologist for the Southeastern Region, for exceptional achievements in program management. James F. Devine, Assistant Director for Engineering Geology, for outstanding contributions to the solution of critical national problems as a scientist and administrator in the U.S. Geological Survey.

J. David Love, Geologist, for outstanding contributions to defining the geology of Wyoming and for his exceptional scientific leadership for research programs of the U.S. Geological Survey. David W. Moody, Chief of the Office of National Water Summary and Long Range Planning, for contributions to the programs of the U.S. Geological Survey through external liaison and water-resource assessment activities. Donald R. Poch, a Personnel Management Specialist, for outstanding contributions to the personnel management program of the U.S. Geological Survey and of the Department of the Interior. Keith V. Slack, Biologist, for an eminent career and outstanding service to the Nation as a research biologist in the field of aquatic biology. Merle E. Southern, Chief of the Rocky Mountain Mapping Center, in recognition of his achievements as an engineer, cartographer, manager, and administrator of the National Mapping Program.

pret, publish, and disseminate information about the natural resources of the Nation. The results of USGS investigations are published in its scientific reports and in its topographic, geologic, and hydrologic maps. About 93,000 different maps and books are available for purchase. A series of general-interest publications is available to inform the public about USGS activities. Research results and investigations are also published in journals of technical and scientific organizations and in publications of cooperating Federal and State agencies. During fiscal year 1987, the USGS produced 5,252 new and revised topographic, geologic, and hydrologic maps; printed 14,196,626 copies of different maps; distributed 7,528,585 copies of maps; and sold 5,433,488 copies for $8,211,411. The number of reports approved for publication by the USGS in fiscal year 1987 was 5,041, with 69 percent designated for publication in professional journals and monographs outside the USGS and the remainder scheduled for publication by the Survey. In addition, 509,710 copies of technical reports were distributed, of which 44,176 were sold for $232,844; and 970 open-file reports were released, of which 17,062 copies were sold for $219,896. Of the 80 active titles in the USGS general-interest publications series, 355,469 copies were distributed during fiscal year 1987 to meet inquiries from the general public. Additionally, of the approximately 8.6 million different aerial and space images available for sale, about 200,000 copies are sold annually. USGS maps are also currently available from more than 3,200 authorized commercial map dealers nationwide.

Presidential Rank

Several USGS managers were honored by the Office of Personnel Management with Presidential Rank Awards for 1987 in recognition of prolonged highquality accomplishments by career members of the Senior Executive Service. The highest honor, the distinguished rank award, was given to Doyle G. Frederick, Associate Director. Meritorious rank awards were given to James F. Devine, Assistant Director for Engineering Geology, and James L. Cook, Southeastern Region Hydrologist.

Program Descriptions

Information Dissemination

Geologic Division


Along with its continuing commitment to meet the earth-science needs of the Nation, the USGS remains dedicated to its original mission to collect, analyze, inter

The basic mission of the Geologic Division is to evaluate the Nation's geologic structure and the geologic processes that have shaped it, to assess the Nation's mineral and energy resources, and to identify and investigate geologic hazards. • Investigations of geologic hazards provide information for predicting and delineating hazards from earthquakes and volcanoes and for identifying engineering problems related to ground failure hazards. • Regional geologic studies provide geologic maps and regional syntheses of detailed geologic data essential to mineral, energy, and hazard assessments. • Offshore geologic studies identify and describe the mineral and petroleum resources of the offshore areas of the United States, including the Exclusive Economic Zone, an area one-third larger than the land area of the United States. • Mineral resource investigations assess the distribution, quantity, and quality of the Nation's mineral resources, with particular emphasis on strategic and critical minerals. • Surveys of energy resources provide assessments of the Nation's coal, petroleum, uranium, and geothermal resources and enhance capabilities to explore for and develop new sources of energy.

effort to reduce hazards and risks from future earthquakes in the United States. Specific tasks include evaluation of earthquake potential for seismically active areas of the United States and operation of global seismic networks.

The Volcano Hazards Program conducts research on volcanic processes to help reduce the loss of life, property, and natural resources that can result from volcanic eruptions and related hydrologic events. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and the Cascades Volcano Observatory are the principal field research centers for this program.

The Landslide Hazards Program emphasizes field and laboratory research into the active Earth processes that result in ground failures such as landslides, mudflows, and debris flows.

Land Resource Surveys


The headquarters office of the Geologic Division is located in Reston, Virginia, and consists of the Office of the Chief Geologist and six subordinate offices: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Engineering; Regional Geology; Mineral Resources; Energy and Marine Geology; International Geology; and Scientific Publications. Assistant Chief Geologists in the Eastern, Central, and Western Regions act for the Chief Geologist in carrying out general objectives, policies, and procedures for the Division. Project operations are conducted by personnel located principally in regional centers at Reston, Virginia; Denver, Colorado; and Menlo Park, California; and at field centers in Flagstaff, Arizona; Anchorage, Alaska; and Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

The Geologic Framework Program conducts basic geologic research to acquire fundamental data on the Nation's geologic structure and the environmental and dynamic processes that have shaped it. Geologic mapping, geophysical research on the properties of Earth materials, age determinations of rocks, and deep continental studies to obtain information on the composition, structure, formation, and evolution of the middle and lower crust and upper mantle of the Earth are key components of this program.

The Geomagnetism Program measures and interprets changes in the strength and direction of the Earth's magnetic field. Eleven geomagnetic observatories provide data for continually updating global navigational charts and maps produced by various Federal agencies.

The Climate Change Program conducts research on the natural variability of past climate, on the extent of human influence on natural patterns of change, and on the magnitude of climate change demonstrated in the geologic record.

The Coastal Erosion Program provides geologic information on the nature, extent, and cause of coastal erosion that is used by various Federal and State agencies to mitigate coastal retreat and land loss.

Geologic Hazards Surveys

The Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program conducts a national research

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