Science for a changing world

In light of the recent funding agreement reached by lawmakers early this month, I would like to talk a bit about why federal science funding matters. As a geologist and lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, I am particularly aware of the importance of the work done by the US Geological Survey in Washington state. USGS funding was potentially on the chopping block for the 2018 federal budget but the Survey was spared cuts, at least until September, when budget negotiations will resume. The necessity of science funding, or at least government-backed science funding, is often called into question but government science entities, like the USGS, provide critical knowledge about the world we live in and improve our quality of life.

Although federal science spending is decreasing, the federal government still accounts for almost halfof basic science funding in the US.  This basic science funding creates jobs,improves national security, bolsters local economies, and fuels new discoveriesthat improve our health and quality of life. I know that these benefits can seem abstract, but let me walk you through how you might benefit from federal investment in government entities like the USGS.

Coastal areas, alpine regions, rain forests, and deserts are all contained within the Pacific Northwest, and while this makes for an unbeatable playground, our coasts, glaciers, and rivers face a barrage of risks from changing climate and create a variety of geologic hazards. Through general USGS science and programs like the Cascade Volcano Observatory and the Washington Water Science Center, the USGS helps to address some of the following issues:
  • Washington state has over 3000 miles of coast line, which is susceptible to coastal erosion, flooding, and saltwater intrusion of coastal aquifers as sea levels continue to rise.
    Coastline of the aptly named Washaway Beach, WA in 1990.
    (USGS, via Google Maps) 

    Coastline of the aptly named Washaway Beach, WA in 2011 (1990 coastline in red).
    (Google Maps)
  • Our rivers are vital to Washington agriculture but require an intimate understanding in order to effectively manage dams and flow rates, and mitigate flooding risks.
    Grand Coulee Dam, WA
    (Gregg Erickson, Creative Commons)

The USGS garners much less media attention than other government science entities, but they still provide critical research on geologic hazards, pollution, water quality, and the effects of climate change. In a world of rapid changes in climate and abundant geologic hazards, the research completed by the USGS is indispensable. It’s not flashy but the Survey completes science for a rapidly changing world that helps to keep us safe and healthy. 

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