USGS FAQ Spotlights

Wildfire in Mason Valley, Nevada

Be a defender of our great outdoors!

Wildfires are a growing natural hazard in most regions of the United States, posing a threat to life and property, particularly where native ecosystems meet developed areas.  The USGS provides tools and information by identifying wildfire risks, ways to reduce wildfire hazards, providing real-time firefighting support, and assessing the aftermath of wildfires. The goal is to build more resilient communities and ecosystems.


Learn More:


USGS FAQs Wildfires


Wildfire Hazards—A National Threat


Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination (GeoMAC)


Living with Fire: The USGS Southern California Wildfire Risk Project


Natural Hazards


Post-Wildfire Landslide Hazards

Landslides in the eastern part of the South Island, New Zealand

Don't get caught in a landslide!

Landslide monitoring is essential to predicting the behavior of landslides and forecasting which storms can trigger large numbers of landslides. Scientists in the USGS Landslide Hazards Program monitor selected landslides and hillsides in order to learn more about the physical processes that trigger landslides or control their movement.


Learn More:


FAQs Landslides 


Landslide Hazards Program

Landslide Monitoring

Real-Time Monitoring of Landslides

Real-time Monitoring for Potential Landslides

Landslide Preparedness

Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler - Truckee River, Reno, NV

Water, water…everywhere!

The USGS investigates the occurrence, quantity, quality, distribution, and movement of surface and underground waters and disseminates the data to the public, State and local governments, public and private utilities, and other Federal agencies involved with managing our water resources.



Learn More:



FAQs Rivers and Streams

Monitoring Our Rivers and Streams

USGS Water Data for the Nation


Local Water Resources Offices  

USGS Current Water Data for the Nation

“Earth Selfie” – Image of Morocco

Is that an "Earth Selfie"?

The surface of the Earth is changing rapidly, at local, regional, national, even global scales, with significant repercussions for people, the economy, and the environment.  Remote sensing satellites and aircraft monitor the Earth providing information that is broad, precise, impartial, and easily available.  



Learn More:



USGS Remote Sensing FAQs

Earth As Art 
USGS Land Remote Sensing Program

USGS Land Remote Sensing Program About Us

Land Remote Sensing Program News

Remote Sensing

Land Remote Sensing Program Featured Science Archive

Landsat Missions

Pu`u `O`o at Full Throttle

No need to blow your top!

Volcanoes are complex natural systems, and understanding a volcano’s behaviors requires the attention of specialists from many science disciplines.  It demands a combination of current knowledge about magma systems, tectonic plate motion, volcano deformationearthquakes, gases, chemistry, volcano histories, processes, and hazards.



Learn More: 

Volcano FAQs

U.S. Volcanoes and Current Activity Alerts

Current Alerts for U.S. Volcanoes

Education = Preparedness, Safety, and Resiliency

This Dynamic Planet

This Dynamic Planet: A Teaching Companion

This Dynamic Earth: the Story of Plate Tectonics

Meramec River, Eureka, MO December 2015

Floods give new meaning to “car pool lane”.

Unfortunately, winter's 2015/2016 persistent precipitation - accompanied by strong winds and tornadoes in some areas - blanketed two large swaths from Texas to Ohio, and Mississippi to North Carolina. As early flash-flooding began to recede, the nation began 2016 with major floods in the Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi River basins, setting new winter flood records.


Learn More:

Floods and Droughts FAQs

Flood Inundation Mapper

Water alert


Current Water Data for the Nation

USGS Surge, Wave, and Tide Hydrodynamics (SWaTH) Network

Mount Rainier rises above Tacoma, WA

Mount Rainier-Magma Cum Laude?

Not really! Because of its elevation (14,410 f), relief, hydrothermal alteration, icecap, glacier-fed radial valleys, and proximity to encroaching suburbs of the Seattle-Tacoma metropolis, Mount Rainier is the most threatening volcano in the Cascades.  Its next eruption could produce volcanic ash, lava flows, and avalanches of intensely hot rock and volcanic gases, called pyroclastic flows.


Learn More:

Other Cascades Volcanoes FAQs

Mount Rainier Multimedia

Airborne Volcanic Ash- A Global Threat to Aviation

Volcano Notification Service

Regional Preparedness Resources


Mount  Rainier

Lidar image: Mount St. Helens, WA

Do you have a 3D map?

It might be time to get one.  All 3DEP products are available free of charge and without use restrictions. Visit our website to download 3DEP products.  3DEP products and services consist of standard digital elevation models (DEMs) at various horizontal resolutions, elevation source and associated datasets, an elevation point query service, and bulk point query service.

Learn  More:

Elevation FAQs

3DEP Products and Services

TNM Elevation

Elevation Video

TNM News & Events

Using TNM Web Services in ArcMap

California Red-legged Frog

Have you kissed a frog lately?

First you may want to make sure it is not a toad. Toads have a poison gland behind their eyes with a chubby body and shorter legs. Amphibians are ecologically important for several reasons. They are critical predators of invertebrates, helping to stabilize insect populations, and they serve as prey to other animals, such as birds. Amphibians are also indicator species; that is, they are sensitive to specific environmental factors and their fate can help predict the health of the ecosystem. Scientists are only beginning to realize the potential amphibians have for providing potentially lifesaving medicines to fight infections.


Learn More:

Amphibian FAQs

Frog and Toad Calls

National Amphibian Atlas

Amphibian Conservation & the Wetlands Reserve Program

North American Amphibian Monitoring Program

ANURA- Frogs and Toads

Caribou in Northern Alaska

Does that reindeer look sick?

Maybe, but, the reindeer doesn’t have Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).  CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy that currently affects black-tail deer, white-tail deer, mule deer, moose and elk. It causes a spongy degeneration in the brain and spinal cord with a long incubation period ranging between 18 months and 8 years.

Learn More:

Chronic Wasting Disease FAQs

Distribution of CWD in North America

National Wildlife Health Center

CWD/Prion News

CWD Positive Tissue Bank

Sandy beach, Atlantic coastal barrier island, central Florida.

Do you have an ocean view?

More than half of our Nation's population lives within 50 miles of the coast, along productive estuaries and extensive coastlines of the Gulf of Mexico, the extensive Alaska coastline, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the Caribbean Sea. USGS works with many and varied partners to ensure that our Nation has the information it needs to understand, restore and protect healthy coastal and ocean resources and the communities who depend on them.

Learn More :

Oceans FAQs

Coastal Change Hazards Portal

Coastal and Marine Geology Program

Welcome to USGS iCoast!

Northern Alaska Coastal Erosion Threatens Habitat and Infrastructure

Follow us on twitter @USGSCoastChange

USGS Map Editor, Sacramento CA 1957

Do you have any old maps?

Yes we do. Historic maps are snapshots of the nation's physical and cultural features at a particular time. In 2011, USGS released high-resolution scans of more than 178,000 historical topographic maps of the United States. GeoPDF® versions of our historic map collection can be downloaded free of charge at The USGS Store, The National Map Viewer, or Geonames, a text query application.


Learn More:

Historical Topographic Maps FAQs

Historical Maps Go Digital

Find A Map!

The National Map

USGS Library-Special Collections

USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer

Getting the Shot, Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park.

Is a picture worth a thousand words?

Yes indeed! The USGS maintains many different photo collections  for your use.  All of our images are in the public domain and can be freely used without permission. All we ask is that you acknowledge the USGS as the source. See our Copyrights and Credits statement for more information.

Learn More:

Publications and Photographs FAQs

Multimedia Gallery

USGS on flickr

Marking Whooper Swan

Avian flu, that’s for the birds!

But, not only the birds: A study by the U.S. Geological Survey and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, shows that the avian influenza H3N8 strain that infected New England harbor seals could be transmitted to other mammals through the air without physical contact.

Learn More:

Avian Influenza FAQs

Avian Influenza Map

National wildlife Health Center

NWHC: Education and Outreach

Aug. 24, 2014 Napa CA M6 Earthquake

Is it your fault?

Check out this interactive fault map for an easy look at what faults are in your area.  You can also find information on faults and associated folds in the United States that are believed to be sources of M>6 earthquakes during the Quaternary (the past 1,600,000 years)

Learn More:

Earthquake FAQs

Latest Earthquakes

Earthquake Early Warning

Earthquake  Feeds & Notifications

Seismogram Displays

An Illustrated Guide to Reading a Seismogram

The Sky at Sunset

Did you get wind of the geomagnetic storm?

A geomagnetic storm is a temporary disturbance of the Earth's magnetosphere caused by a solar wind shock wave and/or cloud of charged particles,​which interacts with the Earth's magnetic field.  Space weather phenomena associated with,​ or caused by geomagnetic storms​ include: Solar Energetic Particle (SEP) events, geomagnetically induced current (GIC), ionospheric disturbances, and auroral displays at much lower latitudes than normal.

Learn More:

Geomagnetism FAQs

Introduction to Geomag

Real-Time Geomagnetic Conditions

USGS and Its Role in Space Weather Monitoring

USGS Observatories

Space Weather Applications

Monitoring the Earth's Dynamic Magnetic Field

Eskimo Volunteers Helping with Banding

Sign me up!

Did you know that you may volunteer with USGS?  Whether it is online help with our National Mapping efforts, in the field aiding our Hawaiian Volcanoes team, or supporting many other USGS tasks, you, can make a contribution to science.  Often you will have the best success in finding a volunteer position by directly contacting a USGS office or USGS scientist and asking them about possibilities.

Learn More:

Basics About USGS

Volunteer for Science: Questions and Answers



Coal Car

A Canary in a Coal Mine?

Well into the 20th century, coal miners brought canaries into coal mines as an early-warning signal for detecting toxic gases. Coal use in the United States began around 2,000 years ago, when early inhabitants of this continent probably gathered coal from outcroppings, beaches, and streambeds. Coal mining by European-Americans began in Virginia, in the Richmond Basin, between 1720 and 1750.  Our Energy Resources Program maintains Coal Databases.

Learn More:

Coal FAQs
Coalbed Gas
Glossary of Coal Classification System
Coal Assessments

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

What do glaciers and pigs have in common?

They both have snouts.  Glaciers periodically retreat or advance, depending upon their mass balance. This is their snow accumulation balanced against evaporation and melting (ablation)​. Glacial retreat and advance refer only to the position of the terminus, or snout, of the glacier.  To better understand the modern glacier environment, take a look at the photo Glossary of Glacier Terminology.

​Learn More:

Glacier FAQs

Glaciers and icecaps: Storehouses of freshwater

Retreat of Glaciers in Glacier National Park

Benchmark Glaciers

Satellite image courtesy of NASA

Is that Santa and his reindeer?

It might just be the Landsat 8 satellite streaking northward in the nighttime sky. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) and Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) are instruments onboard the Landsat 8 satellite, which was launched in February of 2013. The satellite collects images of the Earth with a 16-day repeat cycle, referenced to the Worldwide Reference System-2.  (Landsat 8 doesn't use reindeer.)

Learn More:

Landsat 8 FAQs
International Ground Station Network
Landsat Image Gallery
Satellite and Sensor Information
Landsat 8 History

Photo of Storm Surge Sensor During Hurricane Irene, 2011

If you hurry can you run away from a storm?

Tropical storms are events we can see coming, giving residents of coastal or low-lying areas time to get to higher ground. Tropical storms can bring high water, dangerous waves, and currents that can move large amounts of sand, destroying buildings and infrastructure, reshaping our coastline.

The USGS studies coastal storms and creates information to help responders and decision-makers minimize damage in the future.

Learn More:

Severe Storms
Citizen scientists identify changes with iCoast
Coastal Change Hazards: Hurricanes and Extreme Storms
USGS Public Lecture: Hurricanes and Our Changing Coasts

USGS Streamgage

Will USGS send me a Turkey dinner?

No, but the USGS  monitors the Turkey River, Turkey Creek, and other sites, and can send you real-time water data (typically recorded at 15-60 minute intervals and transmitted within 4 hours). You may subscribe to WaterAlert and receive data via email or text. If you only are wondering “How high is the river today?” you can send a text or email to WaterNow.


Learn More:

Rivers and Streams FAQs
Water Resources of the United States
Water Data Discovery
National Water Information System: Help System
Water Data for the Nation

Nanushuk Formation, Tuktu Bluff, Alaska

It Takes Energy!

The USGS Energy Resources Program (ERP) addresses the challenge of increasing demand for energy sources by conducting basic and applied research on geologic energy resources and on the environmental, economic, and human health impacts of their production and use.  The ERP provides reliable and impartial scientific information on geologically based energy resources, including: oil, natural gas, coal, coalbed methane (CBM), gas hydrates, geothermal resources, uranium, oil shale, and bitumen and heavy oil. 


Learn More:

USGS Energy FAQs

Energy Resources Program

The U.S. Geological Survey Energy Resources Program Fact Sheet

Energy Resources Program Newsletter

Energy News and Current Publications

Congressional Information

Energy Data

White-Nose Syndrome Lesions Under UV Light

Do scientists need to kill bats?

Not any longer.  The only way to confirm white-nose syndrome (WNS) used to be to euthanize a bat and send it back to a laboratory for testing, but UV light can now help diagnose this disease in bats.  When UV light is directed at the wings of infected bats, it produces a distinctive orange-yellow fluorescence, a good indication of bats that are infected.  Now scientists only take a small biopsy for testing rather than sacrifice a bat.

Learn More:

Bats General
White-Nose Syndrome
Flying by Night
Bat Fatalities at Wind Turbines




Geologists extract a hand-driven core on Sitkinak Island, Alaska.

Could a tsunami hit US beaches?

Yes. According to tsunami deposit records left in Hawaii, Alaska, and the U.S. West Coast. U.S. beaches are vulnerable to tsunamis generated all around the Pacific Rim - anywhere there is a subduction zone or unstable shelf - which includes all of the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii. Tsunamis have been less frequent on the U.S. East coast and the Gulf coast.

Learn more:

Could a large tsunami happen in the United States?

Information about the latest earthquakes

Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

“Earth Selfie” – image of Morocco

Is that an "Earth Selfie"?

The surface of the Earth is changing rapidly, at local, regional, national, even global scales, with significant repercussions for people, the economy, and the environment.  Remote sensing satellites and aircraft monitor the Earth providing information that is broad, precise, impartial, and easily available.  



Learn More:



USGS Remote Sensing FAQs

Earth As Art 
USGS Land Remote Sensing Program

USGS Land Remote Sensing Program About Us

Land Remote Sensing Program News

Remote Sensing

Land Remote Sensing Program Featured Science Archive

Landsat Missions

Sinkhole in Daisetta, Texas

Getting a sinking feeling?

Sinkholes are created when underground rocks are eroded or dissolved by groundwater. Certain rocks are more susceptible than others to this kind of dissolution, and we have a pretty good idea of where they are. Here is a map showing areas of karst, areas susceptible to sinkholes, in the U.S.

Learn More:

The Science of Sinkholes

Water Science for Schools: Sinkholes

Factsheet: Sinkholes

New York City

But, can I see my house?

That depends upon the remote-sensing platform (i.e., satellite, aircraft).  However, you may be able to identify your town. The surface of the Earth is changing rapidly, at local, regional, national, even global scales, with significant repercussions for people, the economy, and the environment. Remote sensing satellites and aircraft monitor the Earth providing information that is broad, precise, impartial, and easily available. 

Learn More:
Land Remote Sensing Image Collections
Land Remote Sensing Program
Global Visualization Viewer





Karst Feature Along Peace River, FL

What's up with sinkholes?

A sinkhole is a closed natural depression in the ground surface caused by removal of material below the ground and either collapse or gradual subsidence of the surface into the resulting void. Sinkholes are common where the rock below the land surface is limestone, carbonate rock, salt beds, or rocks that can naturally be dissolved by ground water circulating through them. As the rock dissolves, spaces and caverns develop underground.


Learn More:

Sinkhole FAQs


Karst in the United States: A Digital Map Compilation and Database

Karst and the USGS

Karst Topography - Black and white and color paper models

The Science of Sinkholes


Pu`u `O`o at Full Throttle

No need to blow your top!

Volcanoes are complex natural systems, and understanding a volcano's behaviors requires the attention of specialists from many science disciplines.  It demands a combination of current knowledge about magma systems, tectonic plate motion, volcano deformationearthquakes, gases, chemistry, volcano histories, processes, and hazards.


Learn More: 

Volcano FAQs

This Dynamic Planet

This Dynamic Planet: A Teaching Companion

This Dynamic Earth: the Story of Plate Tectonics

U.S. Volcanoes and Current Activity Alerts

Current Alerts for U.S. Volcanoes

Education = Preparedness, Safety, and Resiliency

Head of landslide; Seattle, Washington-1997

Will a landslide bring you down?

Hopefully not! However, landslides occur in all U.S. states and territories, and cause $1-2 billion in damages and more than 25 fatalities on average each year. Falling rocks, flows, and slides are among the most common and sometimes deadly hazards, yet there is still much to learn about how and why they happen.

Learn More:

USGS Landslide Hazards Program
Report a Landslide
Landslides 101
Landside Types and Processes

Satellite image of VOG produced by Kilauea being blown to southwest

January is Hawaii's Volcano Awareness Month. Where can I learn about VOG and other volcanic hazards?

On the Big Island of Hawaii, Kilauea has been continuously erupting since January 1983! Besides the hazard posed by flowing lava, residents and visitors alike need to be aware of the hazard posed by volcanic smog (VOG).


Photo of native elemental gold

Precious! What's in your Olympic medal?

There's gold (and silver and copper and tin) in those hills! The gold, silver, and bronze Olympic medals contain valuable minerals that are actively sought all over the world. The USGS has information about all of those and many other minerals of great value to society.


See America -- In person and in maps!

As you see America in person -- or instead of traveling -- check out USGS topographic maps. The USGS has been mapping since the 1880s. Now you can get almost any map we've ever made free online; a printed map is $15.


From your home town to America's favorite destinations, topo maps can take you higher, back in time, and far from where the car can go.


Historical topo FAQs

US Topo FAQs


Learn more about historical topographic maps and US Topo products.

US map showing drought areas, July 2013

Droughts, floods, glacial melting... Is this all "climate change" at work?

Cyclical weather patterns may cause periods of drought and floods. However, a drought or even a destructive hurricane season do not determine climate. Changes to climate are detected over much longer periods and larger areas. 
Test what you know about climate change using USGS FAQs:
A Wall of Fire in Southern California

Where’s the Fire?

The USGS carries out a wide range of wildfire-related science activities that span multiple USGS mission areas, including landscape ecology studies, geospatial support for fire response, burned area hydrology, and post-fire debris flow warnings.

Learn More:

Wildfires FAQs

Four Million Acres Burned, And a Few Questions About Alaska’s Future

GeoMAC Wildland Fire Support

Wildfire Hazards – A National Threat

Satellite Data Applications for Fire Science

Mineral map from USGS website

Why are minerals so vital in modern society?

Global demand for critical mineral commodities, including rare-earth elements, is on the rise with increasing applications in consumer products, computers, alternative energy systems, and other advanced technology products.  (Learn more about this image.)

Copper River Delta, Alaska, May 28, 2013

Explore Land Imaging!

The USGS has provided continuous, objective imaging of Earth's surface since 1972 via Landsat satellites. The resulting land imaging archive is priceless not only as a record of change over time, but also in allowing us to understand large scale ecosystems and processes, and view the beauty and fragility of our planet.


FAQ: What is Landsat and when did it begin?

View of Alaska pipeline

How is the USGS involved in assessing the Nation's energy resources?


The USGS conducts energy resource assessments on "traditional resources" (gas, oil, coal) - but also on alternative energy resources such as geothermal and methane hydrates.  The following links provide more information:

Oil & Gas Assessments

Coal Assessments

Gas hydrate (methane clathrate) FAQs

Other energy

This Web site has a new look!!

A few things have changed, but the content is the same trusted USGS answers you have always found here.


So what's new?

-->We have a new mobile-friendly version of the site. (20% of you are seeing this on mobile right now!)

-->FAQs in a category can now be presented in a more logical order. (We'll be doing more with this!)

-->Each Spotlight now includes an eye-catching image.


We hope you find what you need and enjoy your visit here!

Photo of mosquito biting human hand

How is animal and human health interrelated?


Some of the intricate ways human, animal, and ecosystem health are interconnected can be seen in the following USGS resources:

Animal-borne disease FAQs

Alaska Interagency Ecosystem Health Work Group

National Wildlife Health Center features and topics/

Environmental Health Science "GeoHealth Newsletter"

Diagram showing magnetic polarity of mid-ocean ridge rock

Why does the USGS study Earth's magnetic fields and paleomagnetism?


Learn about geomagnetic storms, magnetic reversals, and other interesting phenomena:

Geomagnetism FAQs

USGS Geomagnetism Program

Photo of erupting volcano

It's Volcano Awareness Month for Hawai'i. Where can I obtain more information on Hawaiian volcanoes?


January 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of Kīlauea's East Rift Zone eruption, which continues today. Two-hundred fourteen structures have been destroyed by lava since the eruption began. Check the following USGS links for FAQs and other information:

Hawai'i volcanoes

Lava flow Hazard Zone Maps

Volcanic ash and gases

Hawai'i Volcano Observatory

Map of Bakken Formation boundary

What's the latest and greatest on undiscovered oil and gas resources in the Bakken Formation?


In April 2013, the USGS released a new assessment of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources in the Bakken Formation, which shows twice the amount of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas as our earlier assessment. Learn more from our updated Bakken FAQs and the Energy Resources Program Web site.

Types of Landslides

Landslides? Could landslides affect me?

Yes they could. Learn about landslides in this video (, and find out more about what the USGS is doing about landslides in our Landslide FAQs.

Photo of a Burmese Python-record setting length, 17ft. 7in.

Green: Not just for St. Patrick's Day!

Ecosystems is the USGS theme for March, and what better way to be green on March 17th - or any other day this month - than to scroll down to Florida Ecosystems on our Invasive Species FAQs page.  Further scrolling reveals that we could use a modern St. Patrick to drive out invasive snakes in the Everglades!

USGS Ecosystems science

South Florida Information Access

Burmese Pythons  Pose Little Risk to People in Everglades

Earth's Magnetic Field

What does the USGS Geomagnetism Program do?

The mission of the Geomagnetism Program is to monitor the Earth’s magnetic field. Using ground-based observatories, the Program provides continuous records of magnetic field variations covering long timescales; disseminates magnetic data to various governmental, academic, and private institutions; and conducts research into the nature of geomagnetic variations for purposes of scientific understanding and hazard mitigation.

See Fact Sheet 2007-3092 for more information on "Monitoring the Earth's Dynamic Magnetic Field".

More information: Click Here.

Rainbow over the Owyhee Canyonlands wilderness area

Do April showers stop drought?

Not necessarily, however, USGS hydrologic science can help citizens and communities prepare for and cope with drought - through drought planning, and by helping communities make the best day-to-day management decisions while the drought is taking place.

Learn more:

Water Watch
Drought Monitoring Viewer
Questions and answers about droughts

Schematic diagram of radon gas pathways in a home

What is "uranium decay" and why is this something I might be interested in?


You've heard of radioactivity. Uranium decay is another way of referring to radioactivity. Uranium decay is important for many reasons, including its use as a tool to measure large spans of geologic time. In addition, radon, a dangerous gas that can accumulate in confined areas in buildings, is one of the products of uranium decay.

Learn more about uranium decay at one of our newest FAQs!

Diagram showing water table

Where can I learn more about groundwater?


The USGS monitors groundwater and has many kinds of information available. Learn more:

Where can I find information on water table depth?

Ground Water Atlas of the United States

The USGS Water Science School  (all ages)