Dude Where’s our Water? Drought conditions across the United States

Although, news media coverage of the California drought has fizzled over time, the reality is that many parts of my home-state continue to be under “Extreme” or “Exceptional” drought conditions.

The United States Drought Monitor (USDM) is a useful tool in analyzing current drought conditions across the United States. The USDM is a joint project by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

With weekly comparisons, data tables, and even GIS data (among other useful tools), anybody can log on and examine the different effects of drought conditions. Users can examine specific attributes such as percent of normal rainfall and the Vegetation Drought Response Index (VegDRI) of a given state.

As the drought in California and other parts of the United States drag on, it is important to be informed about conditions and develop plans to save water.

USDM: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home.aspx

Tracking Water Quality in the United States

Tracking Water Quality in the United States

Nicole Murgia


The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides an in-depth look at water quality in the United States. Through a program referred to as the “Watershed Assessment, Tracking, and Environmental Results System” (WATERS), anyone can access details of water quality of watersheds across the country. The program was designed under the Clean Water Act to improve communications regarding water conditions among the government and citizens.

WATERS allows anyone to access information regarding the quality of the nation’s surface water through a variety of different data tools. The data program provides information such as the designated uses of bodies of water, water quality monitoring results, and assessments of water qualities.

One of the helpful programs that is included on the site is called “How’s My Waterway”. This tool allows the user to enter their current location and observe the water conditions of nearby bodies of waters. Once selected, one can view updated condition and pollution reports of the waterways near them. In addition to the technical report, the EPA provides an option to read the report in an edited, “Plain English” version that makes the scientific terms used understandable for the average citizen. https://watersgeo.epa.gov/mywaterway/mywaterway.html

Programs like WATERS allows everyone to stay informed on the quality of the waters around them as well as the hydrosphere as a whole.

Plate Tectonics Map

This map, provided by Geography.com is an interactive map of the major Tectonic plates of the world and how/when they are known to move. Each dropped pin states the name of the plate as well as it’s recent history.

It also designates whether or not it is a plate boundary and specifies the difference between volcanic chains, faults, and other tectonic movement/action. It also has links to informative articles on the different plate types and different fault lines around the world.

It also details the different types of boundaries (divergent, convergent, transform) and teaches about Earth’s Internal Structure.

Overall, a very useful website for those looking to better understand Plate Tectonics and how/where they affect the world.


Link: http://geology.com/plate-tectonics.shtml


Gap Analysis Program (GAP) Protected Areas and Land Cover Data Viewer

This geographic website is for the Gap Analysis Program (GAP) Viewer of the USGS for Protected Areas and Land Cover Data.

Separated into two different viewers for user clarity, the viewers provide users ranging from the public to professional land managers a spatially explicit inventory of the Protected Areas of the United States and a consistent nation-wide inventory of vegetation and land-use patterns for the United States.

This compilation of data types for the Gap Analysis Program is being served by the United States Geological Survey for aid in conservation, land management, planning, and recreation, amongst other uses.  In order to increase collective knowledge, these interactive maps are designed to disseminate up to date, concise, and specific data to facilitate the planning and management of biological diversity on a local, regional, and national scale.

Data viewers like these can be exceptionally helpful to both grab data and see data without the need to use any local semblance of a Geographical Information System.  In accordance with our national park projects and our final projects, I could see these viewers becoming exceedingly helpful in data gathering and analysis.  I encourage you to check them out and see how you can utilize them!

PAD: https://maps.usgs.gov/padus/

LCD: https://maps.usgs.gov/padus/

Water Use in the United States

This section of the United States Geographic Survey website deals specifically with the water use in the United States. The National Water-Use Information program collects and spreads the data. This data is gathered at county levels and then compiled by state, leading to the final culmination at the national-level.

By analyzing this data, we gain a better understanding of the hydrosphere. We can see where and how this resource is being utilized by exploring the different water use categories. These categories include, public supply, domestic, irrigation, thermoelectric power, industrial, mining, livestock and aquaculture. This data also accounts for surface & groundwater use as well as trends in water use. Looking at this data on a state level helps us understand why certain states differ so vastly compared to others. Not only can we analyze current data, but the section for trends helps us see how we have recently decreased freshwater withdrawal.

With the limited amount of available freshwater, it is important for us to be aware of our current water use and freshwater withdrawal overtime. This is the main objective of the USGS Water-Use Data and Research program. The importance of the data has led the program to develop improved water-use data through state water-use resources. This has to be a priority if we want to maintain our hydrosphere.


Website: http://water.usgs.gov/watuse/

Personal Water Footprint Calculator: The Results May Surprise You

Have you ever wondered how much water you use? Even though the average American uses 100 gallons a day, the actual amount you use may vary greatly. National Geographic has created this interactive (and in my opinion, pretty entertaining) water footprint calculator. It can be found at:


This is a very thorough questionnaire. It start off by asking where your zip code, household size, year of your house, and what water using amenities you have in it such as sinks, toilets, showers. It even asks if any of them have been replaced recently to use less water. It then asks you about your usage habits of these and any other things you may have that use water such as a dishwasher.

It doesn’t just stop there. It asks you about your eating habits because it takes a lot of water to feed America whether it is to water livestock or plants. It then follows that with your energy usage, and finally, the things you buy (especially clothing and paper products). You’re able to see how your water consumption changes as you answer each question and you can see the average American usage statistic for each question.

At the end, it’ll tell you your usage summary. For me, I use less water, on average, in my home in Charlottesville, my food consumption, and the things I buy. However, I can reduce transportation and energy usage. I urge all of you to try this: it takes 5 minutes and you may be shocked at how much water you’re actually using.

This directly relates to the hydrosphere and human water consumption. Because we only have 0.3% of freshwater available to us, we need to be smart about our usage. Additionally, our water resources vary based on the area we live in so there may be an abundance or shortage if people are using water without having an idea of how much.

Live Earthquakes Map

Website: http://quakes.globalincidentmap.com/

This website maps earthquakes from around the world using data from the US Geological Survey feed. It provides information about the location, the date and time (including how long ago it happened from the current viewing time),  the magnitude, and the depth of the quake in a table below the map. On the map itself, dots corresponding to the magnitude of the earthquake are placed at the geographic location of the quake, providing a clear visual display of where recent earthquakes have occurred.

This website clearly relates to our class discussion on the lithosphere and earthquakes specifically. Being able to visualize the location and magnitude of recent quakes drives home the theory of plate tectonics (thanks Alfred Wegener) because you can see that earthquakes most often occur along certain, invisible boundaries. I also like that this map shows how frequently earthquakes occur, even smaller ones that are not necessarily detectable without technology. I think this drives home the point that earthquakes are a common phenomenon that frequently, and often heavily, impact human life.

Light Pollution Mapper

Light pollution is a byproduct of most human settlements, especially since the industrial revolution and the harnessing of electricity with the light bulb. Although artificial light has become a nearly unavoidable facet of modern life, light pollution can have adverse environmental effects on both plants and animals, and can also reduce the natural beauty of dark night skies.

This light pollution map [LINK: http://www.lightpollutionmap.info/#zoom=4&lat=5759860&lon=1619364&layers=B0TFFFF] is designed to reveal the extent of light pollution across all of Earth’s continents. The map aggregates Sky Quality measurements from the Earth Observation Group and the NOAA National Geophysical Data Center, and then produces a gradient that overlays a Bing map of the Earth. The gradient reflects anthropogenic radiance in watts per square meter. The user can toggle features of the map layers, including altering which year’s data set is being displayed.

Perhaps the most interesting component of the map is the ability to pinpoint more specific locations and their radiance using the search/pinpoint/drawing functions on the left side of the screen. The ruler feature functions the same way as the ruler featured in Google Earth, allowing the user to measure between two distances. This tool is particularly useful in gauging how far away from a light source the light pollution spreads. For example, measuring the distance from end to end of the patch of radiance surrounding Richmond can help the user make inferences about how intense particular city’s light pollution can be. Also noteworthy is the Radiance Area tool, which allows the user to draw a figure with three or more sides over any area on Earth. The system then produces information about the area given.

Worth noting–and also mentioned in the site’s FAQ–is that Canada appears to be covered in light pollution. This discoloration on the map is somewhat misleading; although Canada does experience light pollution in its major cities, most of the light pollution pictured on the map is actually caused by aurora borealis, which is visible from many parts of northern Canada and disrupts the radiance measurements that are displayed on the map.

Try finding your home town on the map! Looking at my home outside of Los Angeles from high above made it seem like my particular street was contributing to lots of the light pollution, but zooming in, it is actually possible to see the variation from street to street. The street I live on emits nearly 4 times less radiance than one of the larger streets only a few blocks over. It’s very cool!

Interactive Global Map


This website is a great way to visualize many of the things we’ve been learning about in class. Through its huge number of parameters and extensive customization options you can see many global systems. A sampling of options are ocean currents, wind patterns, and particulate pollution flow.

Within each of these categories, you can specify additional controls, such as altitude and type of pollution. Overlays and animations can be modified to show different comparisons of data. You can even change the projection and date (including forecasting the future).

I would encourage you to take some time and poke around (click on the “Earth” button to expand the options menu). It is a great visual way to make connections between different parts of the course and our world!

Hurricane Matthew Hits the South-eastern Seaboard of the United States 2016.10.06

Have you ever looked for a free online tool aimed at improving awareness about meteorological events in our atmosphere?  Look no further than Ventusky.com.


After devastating several Caribbean countries like Haiti, Hurricane Matthew (pictured above 2016.10.07) followed its predicted path along the coast of the south-eastern seaboard of the United States.  Hurricane Matthew was a category 4 hurricane, meaning just the wind alone has the potential to rip trees out of the ground and even level entire buildings.  The worst part of Hurricane Matthew was the storm surge which is caused by high winds pushing water inland.  Widespread flooding along the coast of the eastern seaboard is the result of storm surge.  The danger during a category 4 hurricane is real, which is why several National Parks, including the Everglades National Park closed for the duration of the storm.

On Ventusky.com, anyone can view a multitude of different atmospheric or hydrospheric measurements of any desired location on Earth.  I used the webpage to track and view the wind speed and gusts, air pressure readings, and precipitation levels during Hurricane Matthew.  I encourage any other amateur geographer out there to utilize this amazing tool to track the next storm in your area.