An atmospheric river, or narrow band of moisture moving from the tropics to the higher latitudes, hit California in early January and brought the first heavy rains of 2017. While these storms help a drought-stricken state, the onslaught of rain triggers floods and mudslides, and fills rising rivers with sediment and debris. Here the San Lorenzo River flows full and muddy past the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Photo by Andrew Stevens, USGS
On the remote western coast of Australia lies a UNESCO World Heritage Site above and below the sea. Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Western Australia convened here at Ningaloo Reef and Jurabi Coastal Reserve to embark on the most extensive study EVER done into how coral reefs shape our coasts. [Transcript]
During a massive northwesterly storm in September 2016, a USGS team documenting coastal change on Barter Island, Alaska, watched car-sized chunks of permafrost bluffs fall into the ocean. Aside from flooding the runway and delaying their departure, the storm—with winds up to 50 mph pushing 6 to 10 foot seas—also eroded some of the offshore sandy barrier islands where 50 to 60 polar bears spend their late summers. The storm cut a small channel through one island—essentially splitting it into two—leaving just a strip of submerged land for the bears to walk across. A USGS time-lapse camera captured some bears at one of the USGS study sites on Barter Island—a gully the bears use to move from the beach to the bluff top.
Learn more about how the USGS is studying climate change in the Arctic.
Cerulean damselfish dart around lettuce coral off the Cape Range National Park along the Ningaloo Coast in Western Australia. USGS researchers combined forces with Australian colleagues in this UNESCO World Heritage Site to conduct the most extensive study of how erosion of reefs contribute sand to the beaches—a coast’s natural armor. With the threat of a rising sea and changes to the climate, understanding this connection can tell us how resilient the coast will be. Photo by Curt Storlazzi, USGS
Scientists from USGS offices in Santa Cruz, California, and St. Petersburg, Florida, sampled seawater off the coral reefs of west Maui in March 2016. Several times a day, they measured conditions such as acidity and nutrient levels to determine whether freshwater from land is seeping from the ocean floor and potentially harming corals. Left to right: Kim Yates and Nate Smiley of the St. Petersburg office. Photo by Nancy Prouty of the Santa Cruz office. [Larger version]
Curt Storlazzi places an ocean monitoring system 65 feet down in Oʻahu’s Maunalua Bay during a summer of coral spawning. The device measures a myriad of properties: waves, currents, temperature, salinity, turbidity, all of which help USGS scientists understand what controls coral reef health. Photo by Tom Reiss, USGS. [Larger version]
After capturing imagery of the ocean bottom in Monterey Bay in 2014, USGS engineering technician Tim Elfer’s watercraft broke down on the way back to the Santa Cruz Harbor. Sitting still in a dry suit on a hot, 80° day, motivated Tim to plunge into cool water while waiting for a tow. Photo by Andrew Stevens, USGS. [Larger version]
On remote Barter Island, Alaska, Bruce Richmond (right) and Cordell Johnson drill into 500-foot-thick permafrost using a handheld drill with a 2-inch drill bit—a challenging task! It can take 3 hours to drill nearly 20 feet down. They collect samples of the frozen ground to better understand how climate change is affecting permafrost thaw on Alaska’s Arctic coast. Photo by Peter Swarzenski, USGS. [Larger version]