USGS - science for a changing world

Eastern Geographic Science Center

Description of Current Projects

Advanced Remote Sensing Research and Development

Remote sensing, in its various forms, is fundamental to geographic science. The Eastern Geographic Science Center research in this area focuses on the identification and exploration of new and existing remote sensing, geographic information system and geospatial methods and technologies to promote their application for geographic and ecologic applications of land change science for the Land Remote Sensing program. Remote sensing techniques can be used across a range of spatial and temporal scales to address land change and ecosystem quality questions and provide mechanisms for vastly improving land-monitoring methods, which is a key to understanding landscape dynamics and providing essential landscape level information.

This research focuses on three primary objectives area:

 bullet Hyperspectral Remote Sensing and its unique contribution to Land Change Monitoring.
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Image above and below: The Civil Air Patrol’s Airborne Real-Time Cueing Hyperspectral Enhanced Reconnaissance (ARCHER) system and the Gippsland Aeronautics GA-8
Airvan that serves as the acquisitions platform.

Photo of interior of airplane, showing sensor instrument.
 bullet Remote sensing inputs to landscape ecology research and related geospatial techniques that have extended geographic information system analysis into whole new dimensions of ecosystem process research.

 bullet Automated ortho-rectification of overhead imagery as a cost effective method of preserving and enabling high-resolution historical imagery for future research into land change and its causes and effects.

EGSC recently completed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force and the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) to utilize the CAP’s Airborne Real-Time Cueing Hyperspectral Enhanced Reconnaissance (ARCHER). The CAP/Archer system will be utilized to conduct hyperspectral research in monitoring fugitive contamination, vegetation and aquatic ecosystem health.

Contact Information:
Terry Slonecker, PhD

Best Management Practices Designed to Improve Developing Landscapes

Land use change associated with development alters surface water flow patterns and affects landscape water quality, quantity, and timing, impacting area streams and downstream estuaries and ecosystems. Best Management Practices (BMPs) are specific structures and actions designed to mitigate, or lessen, the negative environmental effects of land use change; however, the individual and collective benefits of these efforts at the local and regional scale are poorly tracked and understood. USGS scientists are working in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency, Montgomery County, Maryland, government, and the University of Maryland, to better understand the mitigating effect of local level BMPs on the impacts of development.

Photo of Drs. Hogan and Loperfido.
Drs. Dianna Hogan and JV Loperfido set up a water quality monitoring station in Clarksburg, MD.

The Clarksburg Special Protection Area in Montgomery County, Maryland, an area currently undergoing rapid suburban development, is using advanced BMP designs. USGS scientists are creating a geographic database to map and interpret the use of different BMPs in relation to land cover change. Data are being integrated with available BMP, climate, and receiving stream physical, biologic, and chemical data to identify patterns of land use change and BMP usage with environmental information. The data integration is designed to improve communication among stakeholders and provide a platform to guide upcoming targeted data collection. The results may be directly applied to inform local and regional land use decision-makers for mitigation planning (BMP use), remediation actions (BMP modification) in preexisting, developed communities, and to better understand the potential results of specific development mitigation practices on ecosystem health.

Contact Information:
Dianna Hogan, PhD

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Construction of BMPs in a developing area in Clarksburg, Maryland.  The Clarksburg Special Protection Area uses advanced construction sediment and erosion controls and stormwater BMP design in their development activities.  This includes the use of BMPs in series, part of which is shown in the photo and includes the sand filter (far right) and the detention basin (on the left), mitigating stormwater runoff quality, quantity, and timing prior to release into the local stream.
Construction of BMPs in a developing area in Clarksburg, Maryland. The Clarksburg Special Protection Area uses advanced construction sediment and erosion controls and stormwater BMP design in their development activities.

This includes the use of BMPs in series, part of which is shown in the photo and includes the sand filter (far right) and the detention basin (on the left), mitigating stormwater runoff quality, quantity, and timing prior to release into the local stream.

Causes and Consequences of Land Use and Land Cover Changes in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

The long-term success of the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort depends on our ability to understand the causes and consequences of land use and land cover changes.  Over the past 30 years, human activities such as tillage techniques, over-fertilization, forest clearing, and paving have left a legacy of impacts that the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) Partners are addressing.  Over the next 30-years, continued changes to the landscape due to human activities and climate pose great challenges to our ability to restore and maintain the ecosystem.  Human populations, and associated urban areas, are expected to grow to 19 million people by the year 2030 and will be the major factor impacting restoration of the ecosystem (Boesch and Greer, 2003).  The CBP Partners formally recognized the impact of human activities on the Bay watershed and committed to addressing them in 1987 and again in 2000. 

The CBP Partners currently identify three “keystone” commitments related to land use and management:

  • by 2010, develop and implement watershed management plans in two-thirds of the Bay watershed to address protection, conservation, and restoration of stream corridors, riparian forest buffers, and wetlands for the purpose of improving habitat and water quality;
  • permanently preserve from development 20 percent of the land area in the watershed by 2010; and
  • by 2012, reduce the rate of harmful sprawl by 30 percent.
The EGSC, in collaboration with the USEPA, NOAA, USFS, State resource agencies, and universities, will inform local and state decision-makers of the causes and consequences of land change to water quality, habitat, and hazards in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The majority of products and all of the techniques associated with this project are applicable and transferable nationwide.

The objectives of this project are based on the USGS Chesapeake Science Plan and directly support the first five of nine geographic research goals detailed in the USGS Science Strategy for Geographic Research (USGS Circular 1281).  The objectives also support four of the five themes of the USGS Geographic Analysis and Monitoring Program and several of the priority activities of the USGS Land Remote Sensing Program.

The work of the USGS Chesapeake Bay Program address the following four science themes of the USGS Chesapeake Bay Science Plan:

  1.  Impact of human activities on land use
  2.  Factors affecting water quality and quantity
  3.  Ability of habitat to support fish and bird populations
  4.  Synthesis, application, and dissemination of science to improve ecosystem assessment, conservation, and restoration

Multidiscipline project plans are being prepared for each theme above and investigators will coordinate activities and synthesize findings between projects to provide integrated science to support effective ecosystem conservation and restoration for Chesapeake Bay and apply the implications to other ecosystems.

Contact Information:
Peter Claggett

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Detecting Evidence of Climate Change in the Forests of the Eastern United States

Can evidence of climate change impacts on vegetation phenology be found in moderate-resolution satellite imagery? If changes are evident, what is their impact on fluxes of water and nutrients from the headwater streams of the Potomac River? Evolving streamflow and microclimatic conditions that are caused by changing watershed land use make the analysis of relationships among vegetation fluctuations, climate, and hydrology difficult. Because they are protected from direct land use changes, the Potomac Watershed headwaters found in the Shenandoah National Park (SNP) present excellent real-world laboratories for the investigation of relationships among vegetation fluctuations, climate, non-anthropogenic disturbances, and hydrology.

The scientific goals of this project are to examine whether climate-change related signals in SNP canopy phenology are detectable in the data we have assembled and to explore the implications of any detected signal(s) for watershed hydrology in the region. Meteorological stations have been set up in various locations throughout the SNP to record trends in climatic factors and a public web site has been developed that enables viewing of the information in near-real time.

The U.S. Geological Survey established the USA National Phenology Network in collaboration with the National Science Foundation, to coordinate the collection and analysis of phenologic data on plants and animals throughout the Nation. Citizens are being encouraged to get involved in understanding how climate change is impacting our nation’s forests by recording when plants first leaf out and bloom each year. This site,, is temporarily down (Septebmer 23, 2009), but please check back at a later date.

small animation from projects first webcam site, Stoney Man Mountain, August 16, 2008. Visit the project's web site featuring their live webcam, near real-time park conditions, and a cool webcam slideshow showing the autumn leaf color change. The animation to the left shows a view (August 2008) of Stoney Man Mountain, looking northwest in the Shenandoah National Park.

Contact Information: 
John W. Jones, PhD

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Bear in Shenandoah Park
This black bear watched attentively as team members downloaded weather data from one of the projects weather stations and repaired damage to the weather station caused by.... Black bears! Along with information on the Parks climate and physical environment, this project is providing valuable experience regarding the long-term, real-world deployment of monitoring equipment for research and resource management.

Ecosystem Portfolio Model - Ecosystem Analysis in South Florida

The Ecosystem Portfolio Model (EPM), a Web-based tool, is being used to investigate and communicate ecological values of land between the Everglades and Biscayne Bay, in Miami-Dade County, Florida. This tool was developed in conjunction with partners at the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Florida, and the University of Pennsylvania. The tool is used to develop, assess, and communicate strategies for restoring and protecting important ecological values of the remaining open land in southern Miami-Dade County. The intense development pressure in this area could adversely affect Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, and the land bridge in between them.
EPM users will
 bullet explore different land use, restoration, and development scenarios, and
 bullet explore tradeoffs between priorities.

Calculation of the ecological value of a location will take into account biodiversity potential, threatened and endangered species, rare and unique habitats, water quality, landscape patterns and fragmentation, and restoration potential.  Economic values will be calculated using a land hedonic model.

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USGS Western Geographic Science
Bill Labiosa
Richard Bernknopf
Anne Wein
USGS Nevada Water Science Center
Amy Mathie
U.S. National Park Service
Leonard Pearlstine
David Hallac
Sarah Bellmund
University of Pennsylvania
Susan Wachter
Kevin Gillen

Contact Information:
Paul Hearn, PhD

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EGSC Land Cover Trends

This activity is part of the USGS Land Cover Trends Project, which is a joint effort between the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration to study the types, rates, causes, and consequences of land use and land cover change in the conterminous United States for the 1973 – 2000 period. Eighty-four “ecoregions,” (Figure 1) each containing a geographically distinct assemblage of environmental conditions, natural communities, and species, provide a geographic framework for the project and serve as separate reporting units. A sampling approach using randomly selected 10-km by 10-km sample blocks is used to estimate land cover change in each ecoregion. The goal is to provide estimates within one percent of the actual land change at an 85-percent confidence level. Historical Landsat Multispectral Scanner, Thematic Mapper, and Enhanced Thematic Mapper satellite imagery, along with historical aerial photography, topographic maps, field observations, and socioeconomic data are used to derive land cover maps for five separate dates (1973, 1980, 1986, 1992, and 2000). The sample block land cover data are used to analyze the types, rates, causes, and consequences of land cover change.

Small picture of U.S. EcoRegion Map Figure 1. Map of the conterminous United States with the 1992 National Land Cover Dataset as a base, and the Level III ecoregion boundaries superimposed on it. Also depicted are the sample blocks. Notice how well this illustrates the strong relationship between land cover and ecoregions.

Goals and Objectives:
 bullet Estimate the types, rates and temporal variability of change in each ecoregion.
 bullet Document regional driving forces and consequences of change.
 bullet Prepare a national synthesis of land cover change.

Contact Information:
Steve Kambly

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EGSC Land Cover Change—National Land Cover Database

The EGSC National Land Cover Database (NLCD) team collaborates with teams at three other USGS Science Centers to develop, maintain and analyze NLCD data, which describes the nation's land cover and is updated every 5 years to reflect the changing landscape.

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Our EGSC NLCD team collaborates with teams at three other USGS Science Centers to develop, maintain and analyze NLCD data, which describes the nation's land cover and is updated every 5 years to reflect the changing landscape. The following are provided:
    bullet development of land cover, impervious layers, and metadata
    bullet quality assurance and quality control review of products
    bullet land cover accuracy assessment and metadata
    bullet process analysis and testing
    bullet model and technique development
    bullet research to improve methodology and end products
Under the guidance of the Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium, the National Land Cover Database has grown to offer four major land cover data releases:
    bullet NLCD 1992-a conterminous U.S. land cover dataset containing one thematic layer of land cover
    bullet NLCD 2001-an updated 50-state U.S. and Puerto Rico database with three thematic layers including land cover, percent imperviousness, and percent tree canopy
    bullet NLCD 1992 and 2001 Retrofit Land Cover Change Product-a retrofit land cover change product designed to identify real land cover change between the two eras
    bullet NLCD 2006-a conterminous U.S. dataset including updated land cover, land cover change, and percent imperviousness
MRLC Consortium (
MRLC Home and data access (

Contact Information:
Michelle Coffey

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Enhancements of the SLEUTH Urban-Growth Model for Regional Use

The SLEUTH Model is a cellular-automaton model used to forecast urban growth or plausible scenarios of urban growth based on input images which provide past and present Slope, Land cover, Exclusion, Urbanization, Transportation, and Hillshade. Please visit Project Gigalopolis: Urban and Land Cover Modeling for details and access to source code for various versions of the SLEUTH model. During Fiscal Year 2006, the Eastern Geographic Science Center produced a modified version of SLEUTH for use in modeling regional growth within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This new version incorporates several changes which reduce the computer memory requirements of the SLEUTH model. A change which is necessary for regional modeling because the input images employed for regional modeling are substantially larger than those used in earlier USGS work with SLEUTH. EGSC also modified a number of SLEUTH’s modules to speed up processing during model calibration.

Following up on its 2006 work, EGSC will be working on several enhancements to SLEUTH this year. EGSC expects to:

     1. Further reduce SLEUTH’s memory requirements,
     2. Add additional output statistics and metrics,
     3. Adjust some of the modeling algorithms,
    ` 4. Provide a Web interface to SLEUTH, and
     5. Add a suite of new visualizations to SLEUTH in order to allow a broader set of users to see and understand what is going as SLEUTH iterates through scenarios and to visualize the uncertainty in SLEUTH forecasts.

a predictive animation of urbanization in the Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C., region

One example of what the SLEUTH model can produce. Shown here, is a predictive animation of urbanization in the Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C., region. The yellow represents urbanization from 1750-1992 and the purple represents urbanization from 1993-2100. This animation was completed using the SLEUTH model in the mid-1990s. To see additional animations, please visit SLEUTH's Online Data Repository (Urban Change Histories and Predictive Urban Modeling at the bottom) Base maps were provided by the following institutions: Johns Hopkins University, Library of Congress, and Maryland Historic Trust.

Contact Information:
David Donato

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Loosely couple the Chesapeake Bay Land Cover Model with the Chesapeake Bay Program Watershed Model, SPARROW, and with Groundwater and Habitat Models

The environmental impact of land use and land use change associated with development in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed has become a pressing concern at both local and regional scales. Land use decisions are often made at the local or county level, and affect not only local ecosystems such as area streams but also regional level ecosystems including the Chesapeake Bay estuary. Numerous local and regional stakeholders including county and state governments and the Chesapeake Bay Program are interested in decision support tools to integrate scientific and socioeconomic factors and to better inform land use, environmental mitigation, and targeted remediation and conservation decisions.

This task is focused on the development of Web-based tools to assist local and State decision makers in optimizing strategies for reducing the load of harmful nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) to the Chesapeake Bay. In 2007 this effort established a strategic partnership with the Chesapeake Bay Program to explore merging the modeled output from USGS’s SPARROW model with the Chesapeake Bay Program’s web-based Vortex model. EGSC will utilize SPARROW output to allow users to more easily target areas with high nutrient loads, while utilizing the Vortex software to build scenarios for nutrient management and best management practice strategies. A prototype is expected in the year 2008.

Example graphic of process a decision maker would progress through using merged output from the USGS SPPARROW model.
Example process decision maker would progress through using merged output from the USGS SPARROW model with the Chesapeake Bay Program’s web-based Vortex model. The two models complement each other and allow users to more easily target areas where it would be most effective to invest time and money to reduce nutrient loads.

Contact Information:
Paul Hearn, PhD

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National Land Change Community Modeling System

In the United States the impact of land-change modeling on public policy has - so far - fallen short of its potential. Among the many reasons, two stand out. First, fragmented research has led to a proliferation of models which do not interoperate, largely because of narrow thematic focuses and lack of technical standards. Second, research has disproportionately favored local extents at the expense of regional and national extents. The USGS Geographic Analysis and Monitoring (GAM) Program has, however, specifically recognized the need to improve the effectiveness of ecological, environmental, and land-change modeling at all scales. To this end, Geographic Analysis and Monitoring now funds research to address the neglected regional scale of land-change models and to foster a vibrant, collaborative, national community of modelers.

Our proposed framework for collaboration within this national community is the National Land-Change Community Model (NLCCM). By encouraging the development of software toolkits along with standards for integrating models within and across spatial and temporal scales, the NLCCM will enable modelers:

      bullet to pick and choose from among the best features of various existing models;
      bullet to build progressively refined, credible, and widely accepted models;
      bullet to identify the drivers of ecological, environmental, and land-cover change; and
      bullet thus to inject credible alternative land-cover futures into the formation of public policy at all levels of government.

The NLCCM will be both eclectic and inclusive. Mediated by an interactive Web site, the NLCCM will operate much like open-source software development projects. The community of participating researchers and modelers is expected to span all levels of government, the academic community, and non-governmental organizations. As it matures, the NLCCM is expected to evolve into an integrated mosaic of regional and national models which will serve as a bridge between local-extent models and global models.

To jump-start interest and participation in the NLCCM, the GAM Program is planning a model inter-comparison event (a model "bake-off") to be held in 2009. We will participate in the event by entering the Chesapeake Bay Land-Change Model (CBLCM), consisting of a local-scale growth-allocation model coupled with a regionalized cellular-automata urban-growth model (SLEUTH3-d).

Contact Information:
David Donato

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Operation of the Research and Development Computing Cluster (Beowulf)

The Eastern Geographic Science Center (EGSC) Research and Development Computing Cluster (RDCC) includes a Beowulf, a networked cluster of commodity computers (figure below) operated to support computationally intensive models, analyses, and research and development activities. The EGSC RDCC (Beowulf) is intended primarily as a national computational resource for USGS projects in computational and quantitative geography, including those interdisciplinary projects with significant geographic components. The Beowulf meets some of the need for general, professionally administered computational systems which has not otherwise been directly addressed since the de-commissioning several years ago of the Data General™ servers and other UNIX®-based systems once operated by the former National Mapping Division’s research branch.

Specifically, the Eastern Region now operates the RDCC to:

      bullet Support the development of a Web interface for the SLEUTH (UGM-3) urban-growth model, and the development and application of parallelized calibration of this model for use in Chesapeake Bay restoration;
      bullet Provide a UNIX®-like (Linux) computing environment for geographic researchers who do not otherwise have access to UNIX® or UNIX®-like systems;
      bullet Provide a network-accessible, high-performance parallel-processing resource for USGS research; and
      bullet Promote interdisciplinary and collaborative projects, including projects involving researchers from outside the USGS.

The Beowulf expands USGS capabilities in quantitative geography beyond those agreeable to solution with conventional desktop geographic information systems. The EGSC Beowulf consists of 18 interconnected computers (or nodes) including 17 running under Linux and one running under Windows. Eleven of the Beowulf’s computers have recently been upgraded with dual-core processors and 4 Gigabytes of random-access memory each. Additional information about the EGSC Beowulf is available at

Contact Information:
David Donato

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Phototgraph of Beowulf computer cluster
A view of some of the Beowulf interconnected nodes.

Visualizing the Spread of West Nile Virus and Five Other Diseases Across the United States

To see how the West Nile Virus (WNV) has and is spreading across the U.S. in five categories (bird, human, mosquito, sentinel, and veterinary), Visit the West Nile Virus - Human - Maps page. The site is updated weekly during the WNV season that typically runs from April to October.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Geological Survey shows the data in easy to understand ways:

 bullet Maps showing disease activity - Color-coded maps labeled with the number of cases per county are shown for each state. You can easily navigate between categories (e.g. human to bird) and to adjacent states.
 bullet Charts showing disease spread over time - Below each state map, special charts show the weekly spread of WNV. Historically, the peak season is late summer and early autumn.
 bullet Tables showing county-level data - The total number of cases per county are shown in an easy-to-read table below each chart.
 bullet Total counts for regions - The total number of cases for each state and the nation are printed at the bottom of the webpage.

Five additional diseases, St. Louis encephalitis, eastern equine encephalitis, western equine encephalitis, La Crosse encephalitis, and Powassan virus, are mapped and accessible via a user-friendly navigation system just below the USGS banner.

Contact Information:
Cassandra Ladino

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Graphic showing the WNV Web site

Web Application Framework Development

Increasingly, decision makers at all levels are challenged not by the lack of information, but by the absence of effective tools to synthesize the large volume of data available and utilize them to frame policy options in a straightforward and understandable manner. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technologies have been widely applied to this end; however, systems with the necessary analytical power are still largely confined to workstations and are useable only by trained operators. Numerous internet-based systems have been developed, but few offer features beyond simple display of data on map and imagery backgrounds.

Within the USGS, as well as other government agencies and academia, development teams often duplicate each others efforts attempting to develop complex dynamic Web-based GIS applications. Many never see the light of day because of the level-of-effort to deploy such an application. A common reusable application framework would benefit many projects within the USGS and elsewhere and help many of these projects reach completion.

This task is focused on the development of a reusable Web application framework with a common architecture. This framework will be able to host a variety of GIS web applications which share a common architecture. Spatial analysis will also be developed to allow users to analyze the data.

A reusable map viewer (figure 1) has been developed that can be utilized by a wide variety of GIS web applications. The map viewer will serve as a spatial and data selection tool for the Web applications as well as display the resulting output from the Web applications. A common spatial analysis library (similar to Arctool box) will be established as the framework for building robust GIS analysis applications (i.e. flood inundation, viewshed, etc.).

Contact Information:
Paul Hearn, PhD

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Sample reusable Web map viewer
Figure 1. An illustration of the reusable Web map viewer.

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