United States Geological Survey

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United States Geological Survey (USGS)
Seal of the United States Geological Survey
USGS logo green.svg
Official identifier of the U.S. Geological Survey
Flag of the United States Geological Survey.png
Flag of the United States Geological Survey
Agency overview
FormedMarch 3, 1879;141 years ago (1879-03-03) (as Geological Survey)
JurisdictionUnited States
Headquarters John W. Powell National Center
Reston, Virginia, U.S.
38°56′49″N77°22′03″W / 38.9470°N 77.3675°W / 38.9470; -77.3675 Coordinates: 38°56′49″N77°22′03″W / 38.9470°N 77.3675°W / 38.9470; -77.3675
Employees8,670 (2009)
Annual budget $1.16 billion (FY2019) [1]
Agency executive
Parent agency United States Department of the Interior
Website USGS.gov

The United States Geological Survey (USGS, formerly simply Geological Survey) is a scientific agency of the United States government. The scientists of the USGS study the landscape of the United States, its natural resources, and the natural hazards that threaten it. The organization's work spans the disciplines of biology, geography, geology, and hydrology. The USGS is a fact-finding research organization with no regulatory responsibility.


The USGS is a bureau of the United States Department of the Interior; it is that department's sole scientific agency. The USGS employs approximately 8,670 people [2] and is headquartered in Reston, Virginia. The USGS also has major offices near Lakewood, Colorado, at the Denver Federal Center, and Menlo Park, California.

The current motto of the USGS, in use since August 1997, is "science for a changing world". [3] [4] The agency's previous slogan, adopted on the occasion of its hundredth anniversary, was "Earth Science in the Public Service". [5]

Organizational structure

The USGS headquarters in Reston, Virginia Usgs-headquarters.jpeg
The USGS headquarters in Reston, Virginia
USGS gauging station 03221000 on the Scioto River below O'Shaughnessy Dam near Dublin, Ohio USGS Station.JPG
USGS gauging station 03221000 on the Scioto River below O'Shaughnessy Dam near Dublin, Ohio
Earthquake animations from 16 May 2010 to 22 May 2010 Anim7 us.gif
Earthquake animations from 16 May 2010 to 22 May 2010
Earthquakes around the world, from 23 April 2010 to 23 May 2010 Recent Earthquakes Last 8-30 Days.gif
Earthquakes around the world, from 23 April 2010 to 23 May 2010

Since 2012, the USGS science focus is directed at topical "Mission Areas" [6] that have continued to evolve iteratively over time. Further organizational structure includes headquarters functions, geographic regions, science and support programs, science centers, labs, and other facilities.

Mission areas

Current USGS Mission Areas include the following:


The USGS regional organization [14] aligns with the U.S. Department of the Interior Unified Interior Regions [15] :

Science programs, facilities, and other organizations

USGS operates and organizes within a number of specific science programs, facilities, and other organizational units:

Select activities

The following are older descriptions of select activities that will be updated or moved to new locations as this page continues to be edited.

Topographic mapping

1892 15-minute map (or topographic sheet) of the Mount Marcy area of the Adirondacks in New York State from the first decades of the USGS Mount Marcy New York USGS topo map 1892.jpg
1892 15-minute map (or topographic sheet) of the Mount Marcy area of the Adirondacks in New York State from the first decades of the USGS

The USGS produces several national series of topographic maps which vary in scale and extent, with some wide gaps in coverage, notably the complete absence of 1:50,000 scale topographic maps or their equivalent. The largest (both in terms of scale and quantity) and best-known topographic series is the 7.5-minute, 1:24,000 scale, quadrangle, a non-metric scale virtually unique to the United States. Each of these maps covers an area bounded by two lines of latitude and two lines of longitude spaced 7.5 minutes apart. Nearly 57,000 individual maps in this series cover the 48 contiguous states, Hawaii, U.S. territories, and areas of Alaska near Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Prudhoe Bay. The area covered by each map varies with the latitude of its represented location due to convergence of the meridians. At lower latitudes, near 30° north, a 7.5-minute quadrangle contains an area of about 64 square miles (166 km2). At 49° north latitude, 49 square miles (127 km2) are contained within a quadrangle of that size. As a unique non-metric map scale, the 1:24,000 scale naturally requires a separate and specialized romer scale for plotting map positions. [31] [32] In recent years, budget constraints have forced the USGS to rely on donations of time by civilian volunteers in an attempt to update its 7.5-minute topographic map series, and USGS stated outright in 2000 that the program was to be phased out in favor of The National Map [33] (not to be confused with the National Atlas of the United States produced by the Department of the Interior, one of whose bureaus is USGS).

An older series of maps, the 15-minute series, was once used to map the contiguous 48 states at a scale of 1:62,500, but was discontinued some time ago for maps covering the continental United States. Each map was bounded by two parallels and two meridians spaced 15 minutes apart—the same area covered by four maps in the 7.5-minute series. The 15-minute series, at a scale of 1:63,360 (one inch representing one mile), remains the primary topographic quadrangle for the state of Alaska (and only for that particular state). Nearly 3,000 maps cover 97% of the state. [31] The United States remains virtually the only developed country in the world without a standardized civilian topographic map series in the standard 1:25,000 or 1:50,000 metric scales, making coordination difficult in border regions (the U.S. military does issue 1:50,000 scale topo maps of the continental United States, though only for use by members of its defense forces).

The next-smallest topographic series, in terms of scale, is the 1:100,000 series. These maps are bounded by two lines of longitude and two lines of latitude. However, in this series, the lines of latitude are spaced 30 minutes apart and the lines of longitude are spaced 60 minutes, which is the source of another name for these maps; the 30 x 60-minute quadrangle series. Each of these quadrangles covers the area contained within 32 maps in the 7.5-minute series. The 1:100,000 scale series is unusual in that it employs the Metric system primarily. One centimeter on the map represents one kilometer of distance on the ground. Contour intervals, spot elevations, and horizontal distances are also specified in meters.

The final regular quadrangle series produced by the USGS is the 1:250,000 scale topographic series. Each of these quadrangles in the conterminous United States measures 1 degree of latitude by 2 degrees of longitude. This series was produced by the U.S.  Army Map Service in the 1950s, prior to the maps in the larger-scale series, and consists of 489 sheets, each covering an area ranging from 8,218 square miles (21,285 km2) at 30° north to 6,222 square miles (16,115 km2) at 49° north. [31] Hawaii is mapped at this scale in quadrangles measuring 1° by 1°.

USGS topographic quadrangle maps are marked with grid lines and tics around the map collar which make it possible to identify locations on the map by several methods, including the graticule measurements of longitude and latitude, the township and section method within the Public Land Survey System, and cartesian coordinates in both the State Plane Coordinate System and the Universal Transverse Mercator coordinate system.

Other specialty maps have been produced by the USGS at a variety of scales. These include county maps, maps of special interest areas, such as the national parks, and areas of scientific interest.

A number of Internet sites have made these maps available on the web for affordable commercial and professional use. Because works of the U.S. government are in the public domain, it is also possible to find many of these maps for free at various locations on the Internet. Georeferenced map images are available from the USGS as digital raster graphics (DRGs) in addition to digital data sets based on USGS maps, notably digital line graphs (DLGs) and digital elevation models (DEMs).

In 2015, the USGS unveiled the topoView website, a new way to view their entire digitized collection of over 178,000 maps from 1884 to 2006. The site is an interactive map of the United States that allows users to search or move around the map to find the USGS collection of maps for a specific area. Users may then view the maps in great detail and download them if desired. [34]

The National Map and U.S. Topo

In 2008 the USGS abandoned traditional methods of surveying, revising, and updating topographic maps based on aerial photography and field checks. [35] Today's U.S. Topo quadrangle (1:24,000) maps are mass-produced, using automated and semiautomated processes, with cartographic content supplied from the National GIS Database. [35] In the two years from June 2009 to May 2011, the USGS produced nearly 40,000 maps, more than 80 maps per work day. [35] Only about two hours of interactive work are spent on each map, mostly on text placement and final inspection; there are essentially no field checks or field inspections to confirm map details. [35]

While much less expensive to compile and produce, the revised digital U.S. topo maps have been criticized for a lack of accuracy and detail in comparison to older generation maps based on aerial photo survey and field checks. [35] As the digital databases were not designed for producing general purpose maps, data integration can be a problem when retrieved from sources with different resolutions and collection dates. [35] Man-made features once recorded by direct field observation are not in any public domain national database, and are frequently omitted from the newest generation digital topo maps, including windmills, mines and mineshafts, water tanks, fence lines, survey marks, parks, recreational trails, buildings, boundaries, pipelines, telephone lines, power transmission lines, and even railroads. [35] Additionally, the digital map's use of existing software may not properly integrate different feature classes or prioritize and organize text in areas of crowded features, obscuring important geographic details. [35] As a result, some have noted that the U.S. Topo maps currently fall short of traditional topographic map presentation standards achieved in maps drawn from 1945 to 1992. [35]

USGS Hydrologic Instrumentation Facility

The Hydrologic Instrumentation Facility (HIF) has four sections within its organizational structure; [36] the Field Services Section which includes the warehouse, repair shop, and Engineering Unit; the Testing Section which includes the Hydraulic Laboratory, testing chambers, and Water Quality Laboratory; the Information Technology Section which includes computer support and the Drafting Unit; and the Administrative Section.

The HIF was given national responsibility for the design, testing, evaluation, repair, calibration, warehousing, and distribution of hydrologic instrumentation. Distribution is accomplished by direct sales and through a rental program. The HIF supports data collection activities through centralized warehouse and laboratory facilities. The HIF warehouse provides hydrologic instruments, equipment, and supplies for USGS as well as Other Federal Agencies (OFA) and USGS Cooperators. The HIF also tests, evaluates, repairs, calibrates, and develops hydrologic equipment and instruments. The HIF Hydraulic Laboratory facilities include a towing tank, jet tank, pipe flow facility, and tilting flume. In addition, the HIF provides training and technical support for the equipment it stocks.

The Engineering Group seeks out new technology and designs for instrumentation that can work more efficiently, be more accurate, and or be produced at a lower cost than existing instrumentation. HIF works directly with vendors to help them produce products that will meet the mission needs of the USGS. For instrument needs not currently met by a vendor, the Engineering Group designs, tests, and issues contracts to have HIF designed equipment made. Sometimes HIF will patent a new design in the hope that instrument vendors will buy the rights and mass-produce the instrument at a lower cost to everyone.

USGS publications

USGS researchers publish the results of their science in a variety of ways, including peer-reviewed scientific journals as well as in one of a variety of USGS Report Series [37] that include preliminary results, maps, data, and final results. A complete catalog of all USGS publications is available from the USGS Publications Warehouse.

Current and historic USGS Report Series include.

Locating USGS publications

The United States Geological Survey Library holds copies of current and historical USGS publications, and is the largest earth sciences library in the world. Most publications are available for inter-library loan within the United States. Under the Organic Act, which provided for the formation of the USGS, the library was given extra copies of all USGS publications when published to be used in exchange with other domestic and foreign geological agencies, making the acquisition of the USGS Library collection one of the most cost efficient libraries in the U.S. government.

USGS publications are available for purchase at USGS Store. [38] Many USGS published reports are available to view and access on-line from the USGS Publications Warehouse, [39] while many USGS publications are now available online via the USGS Publications Warehouse.

Many older USGS publications have been scanned and digitized by such services as Google Books and the Hathi Trust and Internet Archive. An online search will quickly reveal if a digital version is available. All USGS publications are public domain.


Prompted by a report from the National Academy of Sciences, the USGS was created, by a last-minute amendment, to an act of Congress on March 3, 1879. It was charged with the "classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain". This task was driven by the need to inventory the vast lands added to the United States by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Mexican–American War in 1848.

The legislation also provided that the Hayden, Powell, and Wheeler surveys be discontinued as of June 30, 1879. [40]

Clarence King, the first director of USGS, assembled the new organization from disparate regional survey agencies. After a short tenure, King was succeeded in the director's chair by John Wesley Powell.

List of USGS directors

Clarence King, first director of the USGS Clarence King.jpg
Clarence King, first director of the USGS

See also

Related Research Articles

Topographic map Medium to large scale map that shows a precise map of the terrain

Topography concerns the shape and character of the Earth's surface and maps were among the first artifacts to record these observations.They are also known as topographical maps. In modern mapping, a topographic map or topographic sheet is a type of map characterized by large-scale detail and quantitative representation of relief, usually using contour lines, but historically using a variety of methods. Traditional definitions require a topographic map to show both natural and artificial features. A topographic survey is typically based upon systematic observation and published as a map series, made up of two or more map sheets that combine to form the whole map. A topographic map series uses a common specification that includes the range of cartographic symbols employed, as well as a standard geodetic framework that defines the map projection, coordinate system, ellipsoid and geodetic datum. Official topographic maps also adopt a national grid referencing system.

Topography The study of the shape and features of the surface of the Earth and other observable astronomical objects

Topography is the study of the shape and features of land surfaces. The topography of an area could refer to the surface shapes and features themselves, or a description.

Orthophoto geometrically corrected aerial photograph

An orthophoto, orthophotograph or orthoimage is an aerial photograph or satellite imagery geometrically corrected ("orthorectified") such that the scale is uniform: the photo or image follows a given map projection. Unlike an uncorrected aerial photograph, an orthophoto can be used to measure true distances, because it is an accurate representation of the Earth's surface, having been adjusted for topographic relief, lens distortion, and camera tilt.

Sevier River river in central Utah, United States

The Sevier River is a 385-mile (620 km)-long river in the Great Basin of southwestern Utah in the United States. Originating west of Bryce Canyon National Park, the river flows north through a chain of high farming valleys and steep canyons along the west side of the Sevier Plateau, before turning southwest and terminating in the endorheic basin of Sevier Lake in the Sevier Desert. It is used extensively for irrigation along its course, with the consequence that Sevier Lake is usually dry.

Kern River River in California, United States

The Kern River, originally Rio de San Felipe, later La Porciuncula, is a river in the U.S. state of California, approximately 165 miles (270 km) long. It drains an area of the southern Sierra Nevada mountains northeast of Bakersfield. Fed by snowmelt near Mount Whitney, the river passes through scenic canyons in the mountains and is a popular destination for whitewater rafting and kayaking. It is the southernmost major river system in the Sierra Nevada, and is the only major river in the Sierra that drains in a southerly direction.

Marshyhope Creek river in the United States of America

Marshyhope Creek is a 37.0-mile-long (59.5 km) tributary of the Nanticoke River on the Delmarva Peninsula. It rises in Kent County, Delaware, and runs through Caroline County, Maryland, and Dorchester County, Maryland.

Kaweah River river in the United States of America

The Kaweah River is a river draining the southern Sierra Nevada in Tulare County, California in the United States. Fed primarily by high elevation snowmelt along the Great Western Divide, the Kaweah begins as four forks in Sequoia National Park, where the watershed is noted for its alpine scenery and its dense concentrations of giant sequoias, the largest trees on Earth. It then flows in a southwest direction to Lake Kaweah – the only major reservoir on the river – and into the San Joaquin Valley, where it diverges into multiple channels across an alluvial plain around Visalia. With its Middle Fork headwaters starting at almost 13,000 feet (4,000 m) above sea level, the river has a vertical drop of nearly two and a half miles (4.0 km) on its short run to the San Joaquin Valley, making it one of the steepest river drainages in the United States. Although the main stem of the Kaweah is only 33.6 miles (54.1 km) long, its total length including headwaters and lower branches is nearly 100 miles (160 km).

Digital orthophoto quadrangle digital image format with the properties of an orthographic projection

A digital orthophoto quadrangle (DOQ) is aerial photography or satellite imagery that has been corrected so that its pixels are aligned with longitude and latitude lines, and have a narrowly defined region of coverage. This is a widely used format introduced by United States Geological Survey (USGS). The correction technique is called image rectification and is a large part of photogrammetry.

Mystic Lake (California) lake of the United States of America

Mystic Lake is a seasonal lake in the San Jacinto Valley of western Riverside County, California. The lake's size can vary widely each year. At times the lake will persist from one year to the next, and at other times it will completely dissipate during the dry season. The Mystic Lake area attracts one of the most diverse populations of birds in the United States, with over 200 species identified.

Tuscarora Sandstone

The Silurian Tuscarora Formation — also known as Tuscarora Sandstone or Tuscarora Quartzite — is a mapped bedrock unit in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia, USA.

Quadrangle (geography) Large area in geology or geography

A "quadrangle" is a topographic map produced by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) covering the United States. The maps are usually named after local physiographic features. The shorthand "quad" is also used, especially with the name of the map; for example, "the Ranger Creek, Texas quad". From approximately 1947-1992, the USGS produced the 7.5 minute series, with each map covering an area one-quarter of the older 15-minute quad series, which it replaced. A 7.5 minute quadrangle map covers an area of 49 to 70 square miles. These maps employ the 1927 North American Datum (NAD27); conversion or a change in settings is necessary when using a GPS which by default employ the WGS84 geodetic datum. Beginning in 2009, the USGS made available digital versions of 7.5 minute quadrangle maps based on GIS data that use the NAD83 datum, which is typically within one meter of WGS84, or within the uncertainty of most GPS coordinate measurements. On a quadrangle map, the north and south limits are not straight lines, but are actually curved to match Earth's lines of latitude on the standard projection. The east and west limits are usually not parallel as they match Earth's lines of longitude.

The geology of Alabama is marked by abundant geologic resources and a variety of geologic structures from folded mountains in the north to sandy beaches along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Alabama spans three continental geologic provinces as defined by the United States Geological Survey, the Atlantic Plain, Appalachian Highlands, and Interior Plains. The Geological Survey of Alabama breaks these provinces down into more specific physiographic provinces.

Dallas Lynn Peck American geologist

Dallas Lynn Peck was an American geologist and vulcanologist. Peck was a native of Cheney, Washington. He received his bachelor's (1951) and master's (1953) degrees in geology from the California Institute of Technology. He received a doctorate in geology from Harvard University in 1960.

The geologic map of Georgia is a special-purpose map made to show geological features. Rock units or geologic strata are shown by colors or symbols to indicate where they are exposed at the surface. Structural features such as faults and shear zones are also shown. Since the first national geological map, in 1809, there have been numerous maps which included the geology of Georgia. The first Georgia specific geologic map was created in 1825. The most recent state-produced geologic map of Georgia, by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is 1:500,000 scale, and was created in 1976 by the department's Georgia Geological Survey. It was generated from a base map produced by the United States Geological Survey. The state geologist and Director of the Geological Survey of Georgia was Sam M. Pickering, Jr. Since 1976, several geological maps of Georgia, featuring the state's five distinct geologic regions, have been produced by the federal government.

Old Port Formation

The Devonian Old Port Formation is a mapped bedrock unit in Pennsylvania, USA. Details of the type section and of stratigraphic nomenclature for this unit as used by the U.S. Geological Survey are available on-line at the National Geologic Map Database. Current nomenclature usage by U.S. Geological Survey restricts the name Old Port Formation to Pennsylvania, but correlative units are present in adjacent states.

Little Butte Creek River in Oregan, USA

Little Butte Creek is a 17-mile-long (27 km) tributary of the Rogue River in the U.S. state of Oregon. Its drainage basin consists of approximately 354 square miles (917 km2) of Jackson County and another 19 square miles (49 km2) of Klamath County. Its two forks, the North Fork and the South Fork, both begin high in the Cascade Range near Mount McLoughlin and Brown Mountain. They both flow generally west until they meet near Lake Creek. The main stem continues west, flowing through the communities of Brownsboro, Eagle Point, and White City, before finally emptying into the Rogue River about 3 miles (5 km) southwest of Eagle Point.

Big Butte Creek River in Oregon, United States of America

Big Butte Creek is a 12-mile-long (19 km) tributary of the Rogue River in the U.S. state of Oregon. It drains approximately 245 square miles (635 km2) of Jackson County. Its two forks, the North Fork and the South Fork, both begin high in the Cascade Range near Mount McLoughlin. Flowing predominantly west, they meet near the city of Butte Falls. The main stem flows generally northwest until it empties into the Rogue Falls was incorporated in 1911, and remains the only incorporated town within the watershed's boundaries.

Delaware Geological Survey

The Delaware Geological Survey (DGS) is a scientific agency for the State of Delaware, located at the University of Delaware (UD), that conducts geologic and hydrologic research, service, and exploration. The mission of the DGS is to provide objective earth science information, advice, and service to citizens, policy makers, industries, and educational institutions of Delaware. The DGS became formally affiliated with the university's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE) in July 2008. Most DGS scientists have secondary faculty appointments in the College's Department of Geological Sciences.

United States Geological Survey Library library

The United States Geological Survey Library is a program within the United States Geological Survey, a scientific bureau within the Department of Interior of the United States government. The USGS operates as a fact-finding research organization with no regulatory responsibility.



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The list of external links and references is incomplete and in review.

USGS websites