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United States-Mexican Borderlands Science Knows No Boundaries


Children playing in a makeshift swimming pool at a colonia in Aqua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. Scientists examine the growing health concerns related to the fate of hazardous wastes and contaminants introduced into the air, water, and soils of the Borderlands region, as well as pathogens carried by wildlife, domesticated animals, and humans.

Back in the 1840s and 50s when the existing United States-Mexican border was being defined, little concern was devoted to creating a separation based on environmental, water or geologic parameters. However, these issues are paramount to present-day socioeconomic, political and ecological welfare. USGS scientists have been and will continue to foster border-related themes that encompass ecological resources, water availability and quality, environmental health, energy and mineral resources, climate change, and most critically, how all of the above impact humans in both the United States and Mexico.

Borderland Challenge Themes Explored:

Ecological Resources

Along its corridor from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, the border traverses ecosystems ranging from riparian systems along the Rio Grande in Texas to the coniferous forest “sky islands” of Arizona and the extremely arid regions of southeastern California. Ecological resource issues that scientists are interested in include biodiversity, invasive species, endangered species indicators, habitat fragmentation, and species loss.

Water Availability and Quality

Population growth on both sides of the border, especially in southern California and Arizona, and pressures for sufficient irrigation for agriculture in Arizona, California, Texas, and the northern States of Mexico raise enormous concerns for future water availability. Even in areas where water remains plentiful, the introduction of metals, salts, biochemicals, and pharmaceuticals to surface water and groundwater has greatly degraded the qualities of both of these resources.

Environment and Human Health

Rapid population growth is occurring in the arid southwestern United States and in the northern Mexican States. Scientists examine the growing health concerns related to the fate of hazardous wastes and contaminants introduced into the air, water, and soils of the Borderlands region, as well as pathogens carried by wildlife, domesticated animals, and humans

Natural Hazards

The border region is subject to rare but spectacular natural events, including hurricanes on both the California–Baja California and Texas-Tamaulipas coasts; earthquakes in the San Diego–Tijuana sister city area; floods along the Rio Grande in New Mexico, Texas, and Chihuahua; and wildfires in Arizona, California, Sonora, and Baja California. There is a need for continuous monitoring of earth and atmospheric processes that can lead to hazardous events. Populations on both sides of the border also need to receive information before a disaster strikes on the steps that can be taken to reduce risks associated with these natural hazards.

The dry climate of the Borderlands increases the challenge of balancing water supplies between humans and ecosystems. Here, two horses and their riders observe the low water levels of a river.

Energy/Mineral Resources

The exploration for and exploitation of geological resources such as oil and gas, copper, gold, uranium, and mercury have recently accelerated as domestic and global demands have increased. This theme focuses on the assessment of natural resources and resultant economic development that will occur in the Borderlands in the coming decades as a response to an increase in demand, as well as on the environmental effects of the extraction of those resources.

Climate Change

Although it is not listed as a challenge theme, the issue of climate change cannot be ignored—the scientific community is now in broad consensus that global climate change is happening at an accelerating rate. This phenomenon will affect all regions of the United States, and the Borderlands are no exception. In fact, the effects of climate change are expected to be especially significant in the Borderlands, where even slight climatic fluctuation can have cascading effects on ecosystems and human inhabitants. Because climate change exerts such strong, long-lasting influences on the seven challenge themes in both the United States and Mexico, the issue of climate change as it applies to the Borderlands will be discussed in depth and with a forward-looking perspective

Access the publication and accompanying poster here.


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