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United States Geological Survev Yearbook
UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE: 1991
For sale by the Books and Open-File Reports Section, U.S. Geological Survey
Message from the Director
The forces of nature, tragically evident in fiscal year 1990, added a host of new challenges for the U.S. Geological Survey. This year also marked significant accomplishments and advancements in our mission of providing "Earth Science in the Public Service."
The "World Series" Lonia Prieta earthquake of October 17, 1989, was one that will long be remembered for the devastation it caused in northern California and for the scientific lessons that it taught. The earthquake followed close after the destruction from Hurricane Hugo, which affected our citizens from the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to the coastal areas of North and South Carolina. Just after the hurricane we were able to use our hvdrologic knowledge to assist in restoring water resources to the citizens of St. Croix. Then, in December. Mount Redoubt volcano in Alaska awoke from a dormant period and began periodic eruptions that drastically affected air travel and caused concern for oil transport and public safetv. In Hawaii, Kilauea volcano continued its longest lived eruption in this century throughout the year,
Such natural hazards are sobering reminders that we will never control nature. Bv understanding better the mechanisms of these hazards, we can mitigate the severity of their impacts. The theme of preparedness is the emphasis of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), which began in January 1990. As one of the signatory nations to the United Nations resolution that authorized the IDNDR. the United States is developing a national program to prepare for natural hazards. Through scientific research, social planning and preparedness, and proper emergency response, we can, as a Nation and as a global community, work to lessen the effects of natural hazards and reduce the economic and social losses from natural disasters.
While the effects of nature's forces can be intense and often severe, thev are nonetheless short-term events. Other issues of concern to the environment are longer term and are thus also a challenge to the earth scientist. The cumulative impact of human activities on our water resources can result in changes to the quality of those resources. Nature itself can affect water resources so that the water is not of sufficient quality to meet human needs. To address pressing national questions, to determine the long-term trends, and to identify, describe, and explain the major factors that affect water quality, the USGS has undertaken a first-time-ever comprehensive assessment of the quality of the Nation's surface- and groundwater resources. This ambitious task, which was tested in 7 pilot studies, and begun at 20 study sites in fiscal year 1991, will provide the Nation with the information necessarv for addressing policv and scientific issues related to water quality.
A long-term environmental issue challenging earth scientists throughout the world is that of interdisciplinary research on global change. The Earth is a dynamic planet, and change is occurring always around us. As vet science does not have the finite answers to many of the questions concerning the changing environment of our planet. We must develop a sound understanding of the cycles of natural change and the impacts of human activities on Earth systems and develop the capabilitv to predict changes. The mission-oriented geologic, hvdrologic, geographic, and data management activities of the USGS provide a sound basis of information with which to investigate this intriguing area of longer term environmental change.
Among this year's significant accomplishments was the completion of primarv topographic mapping of the conterminous United States. With that milestone achieved, the USGS is continuing its work to develop more sophisticated technology to update existing maps and to make them available in digital form. During this year we also completed the Louisiana Barrier Island Erosion Studv. The maps from this study will be key to making accurate and reliable predictions of future conditions along the coast and adjacent wetland environments.
The USGS also completed, in cooperation with the Bureau of Mines, an initial assessment of the mineral potential of the Bureau of Land Management wilderness areas and is continuing our cooperative efforts with the U.S. Forest Service to assess the mineral resources of National Forests. Water resources investigations, conducted in every State, were supported bv State agencies to increase our understanding of the Nation's water resources. Also this year, USGS outreach programs answered the call from Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan to address the earth science educational needs of the Nation, the role of volunteerism, and the interests of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities. We are strongly committed to enhancing our support in these areas as part of the conduct of our mandated mission in the geologic, hvdrologic, and mapping sciences.
As earth scientists we have the opportunity to be the first line of defense in meeting present and future environmental challenges. We are committed to meeting those challenges and in providing the best science possible to meet the needs of the Nation we serve. It is with great pleasure that I present to you the accomplishments of the USGS for 1990.
International Decade for Reducing Loss from Natural Disasters
By Walter W. Hays
The United States is planning a balanced and comprehensive program of research and applications for the 1990s as a part of the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR). The U.S. program is designed to reduce the loss of life and damage to propertv from natural disasters. Worldwide loss from such disasters is increasing rapidly due to population growth, urbanization, and the concentration of industry and infrastructure in areas prone to recurrent natural hazards. The U.S. program will complement the programs of 154 other signatory nations of the December 1989 IDNDR resolution of the 44th General Assemblv of the United Nations. The resolution calls for all nations to develop programs to achieve the IDNDR goal of reducing the loss of life, economic impact, and human suffering resulting from natural disasters.
The IDNDR is both an unprecedented Opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is to apply new understanding of natural forces to regions at risk to minimize loss of life. The challenge is that such a multidisciplinarv effort must be taken on a global scale, an undertaking never before attempted.
The task of the IDNDR is great. Statistics compiled in 1989 by the United Nations International Ad Hoc Group of Experts show that, by the year 2000, the surface of the Earth will be subjected to
• One million thunderstorms,
• 100,000 floods.
• Tens of thousands of damaging landslides, earthquakes, wildfires, and tornadoes, and
• Several hundred to several thousand tropical cvclones and hurricanes, tsunamis, droughts, insect infestations, and volcanic eruptions.
Some of these recurrent natural hazards will cause a disaster. A disaster occurs when people are killed or property is destroved, but, for purposes of planning for assistance, a disaster is defined as a disruption of human
activity that prevents a communitv from functioning normallv. The consequences of disasters are grave.
Recall these recent U.S. disasters: floods in Arkansas, Texas, and Ohio; tornadoes in New York, Alabama, and Indiana: wildfires in Wvoming, California, and Oregon; earthquakes in California; hurricanes along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts; volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and Alaska; and droughts in the Midwest, Southeast, and California. The worldwide consequences of disasters, taken as a whole, are alarming. For example, the World Health Organization reports that worldwide natural disasters occurring between 1904 and 1983 killed more than 2 million people and left almost 750 million people homeless, orphaned, sick, or injured.
The United States has accepted the challenge of the IDNDR because of its great potential to assist in achieving the specified goals and because everv U.S. State and Territorv has communities that are at risk. Some are at risk from natural hazards that recur at intervals ranging from every vear for floods, landslides, tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires to once everv few vears for damaging earthquakes and drought. Others face risks once everv centurv or more for major earthquakes, such as those in Alaska, California, and the Mississippi Valley area, and for large volcanic eruptions, such as those in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
However infrequently these natural hazards occur, thev cause direct economic losses of more than $20 billion per year. At risk economicallv is the multitrillion dollar inventorv of dwellings, office buildings, government facilities and militarv installations, industrial complexes, schools, hospitals, utilitv and communication svstems, and other facilities that are located throughout the Nation in hazardprone regions such as
• In or adjacent to fault zones capable of generating damaging earthquakes,
• Along coasts where hurricanes, storm surges, or tsunami flood waves strike,
• Near active volcanoes,
• On unstable slopes susceptible to landslides,
• In flood plains subject to inundation,
• In regions prone to tornadoes,
• Along wilderness-urban interfaces vulnerable to wildfires, and
• In regions subject to drought or insect infestation.