GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 75-5
Presentation Time: 9:15 AM


SNOW, Eleanour, National Youth and Education in Science, Office of Science Quality and Integrity, U.S. Geological Survey, 12201 Sunrise Valley Dr, MS 911, Reston, VA 20192, SCOTT, Anne M., U.S. Geological Survey, Youth and Education in Science, 911 National Center, Reston, VA 20192 and HAMILTON, Kristen, National Science Foundation, Office of the General Council, 2415 Eisenhower Ave, Alexandria, VA 22314

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the first scientific expedition of the Green and Colorado rivers, led by John Wesley Powell. His plan was to enter the “Great Unknown” make scientific measurements and observations, and map the rivers's course. In his words, he wished “to make collections in geology, natural history, antiquities and ethnology” and “to add a mite to the great sum of human knowledge.”1 Powell and his nine-man crew departed from Green River, Wyoming, on May 24, 1869, and six of the original ten reached the mouth of the Virgin River on August 30th. The challenges of the journey limited the scientific contributions of this first expedition, but Powell repeated the journey two years later to finish what he had started. Powell’s work led to the establishment of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1879, and he served as director from 1881 through 1894. As USGS Director, Powell backed a nationwide program of topographic mapping, promoted systematic studies and data collection in hydrography, and advocated informed planning in the use of Western lands and waters.

This year’s sesquicentennial provides an opportunity to communicate USGS science through the lens and the legacy of John Wesley Powell. USGS scientists joined the Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition (SCREE) on a journey that mirrored Powell’s. Like Powell, USGS scientists collected data to help illustrate the modern conditions of the river. Daily sampling included: sediment collection to study the lithology, trace metals, and microplastics, emerging aquatic insects and concurrent bat activity, recordings of bird and bat calls, plant surveys, and water quality indicators for the entire river length. These data will be used in USGS science and to create citizen science projects and educational resources emphasizing data interpretation. USGS scientists also participated in fireside discussions of the modern role of USGS science to inform decision-makers along the river corridor.

The Powell150 project also includes community outreach events, a social media campaign, a series of articles, and educational resources for K-12 classrooms. USGS’ Youth and Education in Science hopes to encourage students to follow in Powell’s footsteps by exploring the great unknowns of the world around them.

1Dispatch from J.W. Powell, May 24, 1869.