United States Geological Survey

United States Geological Survey
United States Geological Survey
USGS logo green.svg
Official identifier
Agency overview
Formed March 3, 1879
Headquarters Reston, Virginia
Employees 8,670 (2009)
Annual budget $1.1 billion (FY2010)[1]
Agency executive Marcia McNutt, [2] Director
Parent agency Department of the Interior

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) 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 has four major science disciplines, concerning biology, geography, geology, and hydrology. The USGS is a fact-finding research organization with no regulatory responsibility.

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[3] and is headquartered in Reston, Virginia. The USGS also has major offices in Lakewood, Colorado (Denver Federal Center), and Menlo Park, California.

The motto of the USGS is "Science for a changing world."[4]



Prompted by a report from the National Academy of Sciences the USGS was created by 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.

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, founder of the USGS


The USGS headquarters in Reston, VA
USGS gauging station 03221000 on the Scioto River below O'Shaughnessy Dam near Dublin, Ohio
Earthquake Animations from the past 7 days
Recent earthquakes from the last 8-30 days around the world.

The USGS is divided into seven Mission Areas[5] with specific programs including:

Topographic Mapping

The United States Geological Survey (USGS), a civilian federal agency, 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.[9] 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[10] (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 U.S. 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.[9] The U.S.A. 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 U.S., 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.[9] 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).

USGS publications

USGS publishes many series of maps and reports, including:

Biological Science Report (BSR)

Record significant scientific interpretations and findings, usually of lasting scientific interest, addressing a wide variety of topics relevant to Biological Resources Discipline (BRD) investigations and research. May include extensive data or theoretical analyses. Reports published by the U.S. Biological Survey and later by the U.S. Geological Survey. The report series began in 1995 and continued through 2003.

Bulletin (B)

Significant data and interpretations of lasting scientific interest but generally narrower in scope than professional papers. Results of resource studies, geologic or topographic studies, and collections of short papers on related topics.

Circular (CIR/C)

A wide variety of topics covered concisely and clearly to provide a synthesis of understanding about processes, geographic areas, issues, or USGS programs. The Circular should be aimed at enhancing knowledge and understanding among general audiences, decision makers, university students, and scientists in related fields.

Circum-Pacific Map (CP)

Multicolor equal-area maps at scales of 1:10,000,000 for the Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, Southeast quadrants of the Pacific and the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and of 1:17,000,000 for the whole Pacific Basin. The series consists of base, geographic, geodynamic, plate-tectonic, geologic, tectonic, mineral-resources, and energy-resources maps, as well as other miscellaneous maps.

Coal Investigations (COAL/C-) Map

Origin, character, and resource potential of coal deposits shown by geologic maps, structure contours, cross sections, columnar sections, and measured coal sections, where appropriate. Text on same sheet or in an accompanying pamphlet.

Data Series (DS)

The Data Series is intended for release of basic data sets, databases, and multimedia or motion graphics. This series can be used for videos, computer programs, and collections of digital photographs.

Folios of the Geologic Atlas (GF)

Quadrangles named from a city, town, or prominent natural feature within the area covered. They include maps showing the topography, geology, underground structure and mineral deposits of the area and several pages of descriptive text and illustrations. May include maps of oil and gas and artesian water. Precursor to Geologic Quadrangles.

General Interest Publication (GIP)

A wide variety of topics covered concisely and clearly in a variety of formats. Focus is on USGS programs, projects, and services and general scientific information of public interest. The series covers a broad range of topics in a variety of media, including pamphlets, postcards, posters, videos, teacher kits, CD/DVDs, bookmarks, and interactive and motion graphics. Previously called "General Interest Publications".

Geologic Quadrangle (GQ) Map

Detailed geologic maps depicting areas of special importance to the solution of geologic problems. May portray bedrock or surficial units, or both. May include brief texts, structure sections, and columnar sections. 71/2- or 15-minute quadrangles printed in multicolor on topographic bases that meet National Map Accuracy standards.

Geophysical Investigations (GP) Map

Chiefly the results of aeromagnetic and (or) gravity surveys shown by contours. Area depicted may range in size from a few square miles to an entire country. Single or multiple sheets.

Hydrologic Investigations Atlas (HA)

A wide range of hydrologic and hydrogeologic data of regional and national interest, such as streamflow, ground water, water quality, and extent of flooding. Various scales. Single or multiple sheets.

Land Use and Land Cover (L) Map

Various categories of land use and cover, both artificial and natural, for use by geographers, land-use planners, and others. Planimetric maps at scales of 1:250,000 or 1:100,000 on a single sheet.

Mineral Investigations Resource (MR) Map

Information on mineral occurrences, mineral resources, mines and prospects, commodities, and target areas of possible resources other than coal, petroleum, or natural gas. Small scale (1:250,000 or smaller).

Miscellaneous Field Studies (MF) Map

Rapidly prepared, low-budget maps in a broad range of presentations in terms of portrayal, completeness, interpretations, draftsmanship, scale, and area coverage. Single or multiple sheets.

Miscellaneous Investigations/ Geologic Investigations (I) Series

High-quality maps and charts of varied subject matter such as bathymetry, geology, hydrogeology, landforms, land-use classification, vegetation, and others including maps of planets, the Moon, and other satellites. Various scales. Topographic or planimetric bases; regular or irregular areas. May include a text printed as an accompanying pamphlet.

Oil and Gas Investigations (OC) Chart

Information about known or possible petroleum resources, presented as logs, correlation diagrams, graphs, and tables, but ordinarily not as maps. Single or multiple sheets. Text printed on same sheet or in an accompanying pamphlet.

Oil and Gas Investigations (OM) Map

Apply particularly to areas of known or possible petroleum resources. Typically include cross sections, columnar sections, structure contours, correlation diagrams, and information on wells drilled for oil and gas. Single or multiple sheets. Text usually on map sheet but sometimes printed as an accompanying pamphlet.

Open-File Report (OFR/OF)

Interpretive information that needs to be released immediately; maps and reports (and their supporting data) that need to be released as supporting documentation because they are referenced, discussed, or interpreted in another information product; preliminary findings (pending a final map or report); interim computer programs and user guides; bibliographies.

Professional Paper (PP)

Premier series of the USGS. Comprehensive reports of wide and lasting interest and scientific importance, characterized by thoroughness of study and breadth of scientific or geographic coverage. The series may include collections of related papers addressing different aspects of a single scientific topic, either issued together under one cover or separately as chapters.

Water-Resources Investigations Report (WRIR/WRI)

Hydrologic information, mainly of local interest, intended for quick release. Book or map format. Varied scales.

Water-Supply Paper (WSP)

Reports on all aspects of hydrology, including quality, recoverability, and use of water resources; statistical reports on streamflow, floods, groundwater levels, and water quality; and collections of short papers on related topics.

A complete listing of descriptions of USGS Series is available at [1] (accessed 11/25/08)

Locating USGS Publications USGS publication are available for purchase at USGS Publications Warehouse.

Many USGS publications are now available online:

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


In December 2006, it was announced that the rules for the publication of USGS research were being revised.[citation needed] Employees were informed that USGS leadership and communications staff should be notified "of findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed."[11][12][citation needed]

The revision was claimed not to change existing rules,[citation needed] but rather to emphasize the importance of maintaining the scientific integrity of the agency's work by requiring scientists to accept comments from the public and follow administrative policies. However, scientists have questioned whether this revision is likely to facilitate censorship of their work, as has been alleged by critics to have occurred in some federal agencies under the administration of United States President George W. Bush.[11][13][citation needed]

According to the authors of this policy,[citation needed] USGS information is given to the public after it has been through a peer review and approval process. USGS leadership and communications staff are kept informed of relevant scientific findings so they can manage the flow of information to decision-makers, who use this information to make resource-management choices. Policy makers have said these principles and practices will bolster the USGS’s scientific objectivity and reputation.[11][12][14][15]

See also

DirkvdM rocks.jpg Earth sciences portal


  1. ^ "Secretary Salazar Applauds Senate’s Confirmation of Dr. Marcia McNutt as Director of the U.S. Geological Survey" (Press release). U.S. Department of the Interior. October 22, 2009. http://www.doi.gov/news/09_News_Releases/102209.html. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  2. ^ Straub, Noelle (October 22, 2009). "Senate Confirms Nominees for Interior, DOE". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/10/22/22greenwire-senate-confirms-nominees-for-interior-doe-23080.html. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  3. ^ The Associated Press (October 23, 2009). "Monterey Aquarium's McNutt new USGS director". Google News. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5h8x87AaAYRWeBc4YNW2FfTS7yLpgD9BH4EEO0. Retrieved 2009-10-25. [dead link]
  4. ^ "USGS Visual Identity System". U.S. Geological Survey. July 27, 2006. http://www.usgs.gov/visual-id/outside_use.html. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  5. ^ "Start with Science Web site". http://www.usgs.gov/start_with_science/. Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  6. ^ "NCCWSC Web ite". http://nccwsc.usgs.gov/index.shtml. Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  7. ^ "SHRIMP-RG Bibliography as of 24, July 2007". http://shrimprg.stanford.edu/bibliography/Ion_Probe_Bibliography7-07.htm. 
  8. ^ "National Wildlife Health Center". http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/. Retrieved 2007-12-27. 
  9. ^ a b c USGS Topographic Maps and "USGS Maps Booklet". http://erg.usgs.gov/isb/pubs/booklets/usgsmaps/usgsmaps.html. 
  10. ^ "The U.S. Geological Survey's Revision Program for 7.5-Minute Topographic Maps", Larry Moore (USGS), December, 2000.
  11. ^ a b c Lubick, February 7, 2007
  12. ^ a b Eilperin, December 14, 2006
  13. ^ Eilperin, December 14, 2006. Eilperin uses information without attribution, quoting the one person mentioned in Heilprin's earlier article: James Estes.
  14. ^ Erickson, December 14, 2006
  15. ^ Heilprin, December 13, 2006


External links

USGS sites
Non-USGS related sites
  • The Libre Map Project offers free, high-quality USGS DRG maps in TIFF format along with world files for use with your GIS software
  • Microsoft Research Maps (formerly TerraServer-USA) and Acme host USGS topographic maps (and aerial photos on Microsoft Research Maps);
  • Maptech hosts historical USGS topos in the northeast U.S.
  • Mapfinder Utility download USGS Topographic maps for free in Tiff format using Google Earth.
  • The US Minerals Databrowser provides interactive access to data visualizations based on data from USGS DS140: "Historical Statistics for Mineral Commodities"

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