History and Functions of USGS

The USGS, or United States Geological Survey, is a scientific agency of the United States government. The role of the USGS is to study the landscape and natural resources of the United States. There are four major disciplines contained within the United States Geological Survey: biology, geography, geology, and hydrology. The purpose of USGS findings is research, not regulations.

The USGS is a very large mapping agency, best known for its topographic maps of the United States, drawn at 1:24,000 scale. The USGS publishes many maps, charts, and related documents. These maps are sold by multiple business partners and used by commercial web mapping services.

Other functions of the USGS include monitoring worldwide earthquake activity, magnetic field activity, astrogeology research, and other scientific research programs. The USGS is also working to create a National Volcano Early Warning System throughout U.S. territory. The National Wildlife Health Center run by the USGS provides scientific support for wildlife and ecosystem projects; there are a total of 17 biological research centers from the USGS across the United States. The USGS is also involved in the Geographic Names Information Center, among many other organizations.

The motto of the USGS is “Science for a Changing World.” The USGS was created by Congress in 1879, cared with the “classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain.” Its first task was to inventory the lands added to United States territory through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803; as late as 1879, these lands had not yet been completely mapped.

Some of the most important early activities of the USGS were geological surveys. Early surveys had taken place throughout the 1800s, mostly in support of agriculture. These soon shifted to surveys for metal mining purposes. In the early 1830s a few individual states established state surveys to examine the geology and mineral resources of their land. In 1834 the Topographical Bureau of the U.S. Army began constructing a geological map of the United States, although it was soon discontinued. Throughout the 1830s there was growing awareness throughout the Federal government of the importance of science, culminating in the 1839 establishment of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, whose purpose was to explore and map the continent.

With the discovery of gold in California in 1848, these activities became even more important. In 1853, Congress appropriated $150,000 to the Corps of Topographical Engineers for surveys to determine the best route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. By 1867, Congress had authorized four major western explorations under the General Land Office, in which geology would be a main objective. These were conducted by both military and civilian parties, creating conflicts between the four surveys. In the end, Congress concluded tat additional surveys needed to be done. These surveys became the reason for the Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, which went on to become the USGS.

Today, the mission of the USGS has shifted more towards science, and the providing of scientific information to understand and describe the earth, particularly with regard to natural disasters and natural resources.