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Planet Earth
The Future of Planet Earth: Scientific Challenges in the Coming Century
The following summary of a US Geological Survey press release gives what USGS scientists see as the 10 top scientific challenges for the next century. For the full text of the release, see the USGS web site at -- click on "News Releases". This particular release was issued Feb. 14 

Safe, Clean Water
Protecting drinking water sources:  Safe drinking water is vital to the health of citizens in every community. More information about newly identified contaminants in water is available at

Natural Hazards 
The year 1999 brought killer landslides to Venezuela and Mexico, devastating earthquakes to Turkey and Taiwan, and massive floods and coastal storm erosion along the East Coast of the United States that took lives, displaced families, disrupted communities and impacted economies. The cost of natural disasters, both in human and financial terms, has risen dramatically and may continue to skyrocket in the 21st century, as the world's population grows and moves into areas that are more vulnerable to earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, landslides, floods and other natural hazards. More information is available about USGS work in natural hazards at

Urban Growth 
With the population of the United States projected to increase nearly 60 percent in the next 50 years and an increasing percentage of the nation's population moving to urban areas, society is just beginning to experience the challenges associated with the sustainable growth and development of urban regions. More information is available about USGS urban growth studies at

Emerging Infectious Disease 
Vulnerability to disease -- for humans and wildlife -- increases as the human population expands and habitat for wildlife shrinks. Diseases become more easily transmissible in and between the two populations. Some diseases, such as Lyme disease, West Nile virus, plague, hantavirus and rabies are transmitted directly or indirectly to humans by wildlife. More information about wildlife research or epidemiological investigations is available at

Biological Invaders 
Invasive species, such as zebra mussels, fire ants and cheatgrass, are those plants and animals that have been introduced into habitats where they are not native. Considered "biological pollutants," they are a major cause of economic havoc and biological diversity loss throughout the world. More specific information on these invaders and color photos are available at

Global Change 
The planet is changing. Records show sea levels are rising at accelerated rates and levels of carbon dioxide have increased worldwide. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which contains enough water locked up as ice to raise global sea-level substantially, is vulnerable to the effects of global change. More information about global change is available at

Lifecycle of Earth's Natural Materials 
Materials extracted from the Earth are necessary for humankind's most fundamental needs -- food, clothing and shelter. Understanding the whole system of materials flow, from source to ultimate disposition, can help people better manage the use of natural resources and protect the environment. Materials flow is a systems approach to understanding what happens to the materials we use -- from geologic formation, extraction, use and reuse, to ultimate disposal. Future energy requirements, building supplies and the potential for pollution and waste are all issues that require sound scientific data and modeling. For more information about materials flow, contact USGS scientist Kate Johnson at 703-648-6110. 

The Nation's Water Infrastructur
The objectives for the nation's infrastructure of dams, levees, navigation systems and diversions for water were developed between 1930 and 1970, with an emphasis on water for agriculture, electric power, navigation, flood prevention, water for cities and industry and dilution of wastes. For more information about the nation's water infrastructure, contact USGS Chief Hydrologist Robert Hirsch at 703-648-5215. 

Coastal Waters -- Pristine or Polluted?
The earth's seemingly boundless oceans and scenic coastlines have limits. The oceans cannot provide unlimited fish to feed growing populations, nor can they absorb unlimited wastes from human activity. As population growth near and adjacent to the coasts increases water quality and ecosystems are impacted and vulnerable shorelines are eroded. More information about coastal water conditions is available at

Putting Information in Its Place
During the 21st century the nation will continue to face challenges such as overpopulation and urban growth, pollution, deforestation and natural disasters -- all of which have a critical geographic dimension. As a result, there will be an increase in the demand for geospatial data and information. This potential demand has raised the concern for how these data will be integrated, managed and made accessible to a multitude of users. For more information about the integration, management and accessibility of geospatial data, contact USGS Chief Geographer Richard Witmer at 703-648-5748.