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MOC Host: We're doing a little research about all of the things you can do when you work for the U.S. Geological Survey and we thought we'd start by asking some people what they already know about the USGS. Would you mind answering a couple of questions?

MOC Host: Ok, first of all, what do you think they do at the USGS?

MOC Person #1: The U.S. what?

MOC Host: G.S. Geological Survey.

MOC Person #1: Oh…Study rocks?

MOC Person #2: Rocks.

MOC Person #3: Something to do with rocks?

MOC Person #4: Collect rocks from all over the U.S.?

MOC Person #5: I really have no idea but I'll just guess, study rocks?

MOC Host: Ok, then what kind of scientist do you think would work at the Geological Survey?

Person #1: Geologists.

Person #2: Geologists.

Person #3: Geography-ists.

Person #4: Geometry teachers.

Person #5: Scientists who study rocks?

MOC Host: All right that was helpful. At least now we know where to start.




V.O. HOST: Actually, if we start at the beginning, the USGS is as old as the hills…well almost. It started with mapping all of the new territory during the Westward expansion of the U.S. in the mid 1800's. They started making maps of mountain ranges, streams, oil and mineral deposits and other natural resources as the land was explored and settled. It became a government agency, officially in 1879. And today, mapping is still a big part of what the USGS does…only, it's a lot more involved and sophisticated. John Nazimek is a Cartographer at the USGS. John maps just about everything.

MOC NAZIMEK: Right now I'm mapping industrial waste sites. But I'm not just mapping where they are…I also map what's buried there, the thickness of the landfill and its age. Then other people can take that information and do studies on whether the waste is indeed contaminating the water and figure out how to keep it from leaching into the water supply. Sometimes you have to get lost in the details in order to get the job done, but you also can step back and remember why you're doing it.

MOC NAZIMEK: I'm one of those people who started out in pre-med and found myself in classes with 2 to 3000 other people. Then I took an elective class in geography and liked it.

V.O. NAZIMEK: You may not become a millionaire doing this type of work but it's very rewarding to get to the point where you get to write up the report and put your name on it. And I like that it's not all theoretical. I get to go out in the field and use surveying tools, and if it's nice weather, it's particularly nice!

MOC KIM: I've had a lot of outdoor experiences in my work with the USGS. In one of my first projects we were looking at the mercury content in walleyes up in Washington State. And we went out in boats on Lake Roosevelt and used a technique called "fish shocking". We put an electrical device into the water TO stun the fish. Then when they float TO the surface, we can count them or catch them. But the technique didn't work because walleyes are bottom feeders so they don't come up high enough to where they could get stunned. Then we got help from a local walleye club. They knew some good spots for catching walleyes so we just tried the hook and line technique.

MOC KIM: I also collect water quality samples.

MOC KIM YELLING: Sometimes I wade into the stream to get them.

V.O. KIM: Other times we need to get a sample from the middle of the stream and we can use a special bridge rig. You have to take samples from a variety of places in the stream, not just along the shore where it's easy to reach.

MOC KIM: I enjoy the field work probably more than being in the office. If I could do about 50/50 it would be perfect.

V.O. KIM: But there were times when I was working in Washington State that we had to go out and collect samples to check for contaminants when there was what we called "an event" like if it had been raining non-stop for days. So we had to go out there and we all got soaked.


MOC HOST: I can identify with that. Occasionally my job requires that I work under extreme weather conditions, too. If we had time, I could tell you some stories.

MOC KYMM AKERS: I remember the first time I ever wore chest waders. They didn't have any in my size so the ones I had on fit me more like clown pants. We were out in a pasture and we had TO cross a little stream running through it. Well, I wasn't watching the person in front of me cross the stream so when it got TO be my turn, I thought it would be about 5 or 6 inches deep but when I stepped down, I fell into the stream because the water was up TO my hips and my waders, of course, got filled with water and other stuff from the pasture.

V.O. AKERS: Of course, I also spend a lot of time in a lab. I dissect fish and collect the liver samples, and then send them to the lab in Denver where they do tests to find out what kind of chemicals are in the fish livers. Sometimes we send them the whole fish and I think they put them into a blender or something TO analyze.

MOC AKERS: I went to college thinking, well, I like science so I'll be a doctor and I never even heard of the USGS. Then I saw a part time job while I was still going to school and they wanted someone who had a background in science and computers and I got this job and stayed after I graduated. After I started working here, I got more involved with earth science and it was really interesting.

MOC AKERS: In school you hear about projects and read about it but you don't always get to see the application. At the USGS you get the opportunity to do something that's meaningful…it's not just data collection…you get to see what it's used for.

MOC AKERS: And you get to travel a lot. I've had the chance to go to Denver, Atlanta, San Diego and one time I got to go to the Pacific North West for training. It was the first time I'd ever been to the Cascade Mountains. And it was beautiful.

V.O. HOST: There are USGS offices and field sites all over the world…and not just in remote places.

MOC Host: For instance, here we are on a site in downtown Chicago…[A BIT MIFFED] well actually I had to stay back at the studio, because they said there wasn't room for everyone so only the videographer and the sound guy get to go out in the boat.


We're collecting date using acoustic equipment, where we use pulses of sound to measure streamflow and water velocity. Then the data we collect are used to help cities like Chicago design locks and dams.


MOC JOHNSON: I knew I wanted to be an engineer of some sort and I heard about a job at the USGS and I wasn't really even sure what all they did. Why, did you?

Anyway, I like the fact that the research we do is important…that we're responsible for helping TO monitor the water resources of the United States. I can see application of where our data are used…like I'll hear them read data on the radio about what time a river will crest and how high it will get and I think, hey, that data comes from us…so I can see the larger picture.


MOC HOST: Keith Miles gets to go a lot of places in his work for the USGS…from Alaska to the Mojave Desert. In fact, he says that a big motivation for him TO go into a career in science was to get out of the city.

MOC MILES: I grew up in Southeast Washington D.C., the youngest of five children that my mom raised alone. I watched nature shows on TV like Jacques Cousteau and Marlin Perkins on the old Wild Kingdom show. (We didn't have the Discovery Channel back then.) And I wanted to get out of the city. We'd go on an occasional trip to a dairy farm or the National Zoo and I just loved all that stuff. I remember telling my mom that when I grew up I was going to be a vegetarian and I was trying to say "veterinarian". So then in college, where I went you either majored in pre-med or pre-law or nothing. By the third year, I knew that I wasn't interested in human medicine so I majored in Zoology... Now I specialize in the effects of contaminants on organisms, so I've studied things all the way from kelp to eagles. For instance, recently I've been doing some work up in the Aleutian Islands. It's really interesting. They discovered that there were high levels of the pesticide DDT in marine birds and otters and at first we thought it was old DDT that was left over after it was banned in the U.S. But now we've discovered that it's a new type of DDT. It's probably being manufactured and used on crops. The birds feed on those crops and then travel to the Aleutian Islands to breed. And we're seeing egg shell thinning and other reproductive problems. I'm also working on a project in the Mojave desert at the Edward's Air Force Base. The people at the base were noticing high levels of contaminants occurring naturally in the drinking water there…this is after decades of just dumping dry cleaning chemicals rather than disposing of them properly like is done today. I've had a lot of interesting experiences, too. Like one time up in Glacier Bay, we had an otter caught in a net and we were trying to help it get free and the guy I was working with told me to keep the otter occupied, so I had this bag stuffed with foam rubber and the otter was pulling on it and biting the boat we were in and all I'm thinking about is getting pulled into the water by a 90 pound crazed weasel. Otters are strong! One time we were fishing and there were four of us in this boat and we must have had a tremendously large fish because there were three of us pulling on the line and the fourth person was keeping the boat steady and all of a sudden the fish pulled hard and pulled the boat on end and the three of us jumped back all at once to keep the boat from tipping over. We must have hooked a 600-800 pound halibut.

MOC Host: Well, so far we haven't met anyone at the U.S. Geological Survey who actually calls themselves a Geologist. Enter Faith Fitzpatrick. Faith is a Geomorphologist. She studies morphing geo or changes in the earth.


When I was little I always wanted to be a park ranger, you know I read Ranger Rick in grade school and I thought I'd do something with fisheries and wildlife, and then I kind of went into environmental science. Then I had to take a year of geology and I just loved it to death. I started getting into geomorphology and I liked it because I wanted to keep an environmental slant. What I like to do is study how rivers change with land use changes, like if a stream is next to a road; I look for signs of erosion. Sometimes I look at how fast the water is running through a river in order to calculate the potential for erosion. And people need to know that if they're planning on building a home or a business in an area near a river. They want to know if that land will still be there 15 year from now! So we may recommend building a retention pond, or some other technique to stabilize the river bank. I've even seen amateurs use something like a car or a log to reroute the water but the theory is the same. I help with navigation problems, too, like if there's a larger river that's used as a shipping channel and sediment has collected, I try to figure out why it's collecting and how fast it's accumulating and what contaminants are there, tracing the pollutants…it may be from an industrial leak upstream or something. So then I ask, how did the contaminants move and is it diluting as it moves downstream? Sometimes I'll hear from fisherman reporting lower numbers of trout in a certain stream, so then I try to look at whether it's something natural or of human cause. And if it's natural, then, is that ok or is there something that should be done to change that? I enjoy that kind of problem solving.


I'm always looking for people who have an interest in understanding the how and why of a problem. Science is a lot like detective work…you have a problem like contaminated water or erosion or flooding or whatever and you need to figure out how to solve the problem. One of my responsibilities at the USGS is hiring scientists, so I'm always looking for people like that. People who like finding answers to questions and who aren't afraid of a little adventure… like these two college students who have been working for the USGS part time while they are still in school.

MOC WALKER: I was always interested in science and math ever since I was a little girl. I love learning new things.

MOC SAHU: I was never into Barbies as a kid--I liked playing with Legos and my dad gave me a microscope kit one year and I just loved that thing.

MOC WALKER: I had a physics teacher in high school who encouraged me to go into science. I remember everyone telling me that physics was so hard and I said "I'm gonna get and A" and I did get an A.

MOC SAHU: If you like to work outdoors, a job in the sciences is for you. It can get really hot sometimes and really cold sometimes but at least you're not sitting behind a desk all day.

MOC WALKER: You need to be willing to do just about anything. Like even though I might not want to go into a sewer TO check for contaminants, it's part of the job and I think, hey, I might find something interesting down there.

MOC SAHU: It's a rewarding work, too because you're doing a public service…like studying pesticides and nitrates that could harm society….it's important that we study it. I have an interest in soil and water. I'd like to do research with tile drainage on farms. The nitrates that get added in fertilizers may eventually wind up in the ground water and could be harmful to people. So I'd like to do work in trying to find ways to reduce the nitrates in the ground water.

MOC HOST: So, now what do you say if someone asked you what they do at the U.S. Geological Survey?





This video provides an overview of several Earth Science career fields within the U.S. Geological Survey. After watching this program, viewers will have an understanding of the types of work experiences, environments, expertise, and education a typical USGS employee may have. Following a brief history of the USGS, the program features several interviews with USGS employees in which they relate how they became interested in their chosen Earth Science field and how they apply their education and background to their work at the USGS.

Location: Urbana, IL, USA

Date Taken: 1/1/2000

Length: 14:31

Video Producer: The Prairie Production Group

Note: This video has been released into the public domain by the U.S. Geological Survey for use in its entirety. Some videos may contain pieces of copyrighted material. If you wish to use a portion of the video for any purpose, other than for resharing/reposting the video in its entirety, please contact the Video Producer/Videographer listed with this video. Please refer to the USGS Copyright section for how to credit this video.

Additional Video Credits:
Additional video provided by the USGS EROS Data Center, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and NASA.

For more information visit: Illinois Water Science Center

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