2007), a recent realignment of the USGS under “mission areas” and a vastly changed geopolitical scene. Global science issues such as climate and global change, invasive species, food shortages, emerging diseases, changing ecosystems, biodiversity energy and mineral resources, natural hazards, and water quantity and quality are all of great concern today, and are examples where USGS science is involved internationally. In addition, more than any time in recent memory, there exists at this time a heightened expectation of the potential for science diplomacy to inform foreign policy and contribute towards world peace and mutual understanding around the globe. It is increasingly important that global science issues be well understood before proceeding with foreign policy development, and the USGS is playing an increasing role in advising the Department of State about global science issues. This paper presents a historical summary of the USGS international activities and some of the critical issues the USGS is currently confronting. This background paper is intended to serves as a starting point in discussing ways that the USGS can become more effective in addressing its priority issues in the international arena.


Beginning 131 years ago, the USGS established itself as a world leader in international earth science, providing training, technical assistance and institution building on both a bilateral and a multilateral basis, to countries around the world. The results of these efforts can be seen in the earth science and hazard monitoring agencies in many Lesser Developed Countries (LDC’s).

The first international efforts of the USGS were quite modest and included:

  • 1882, Clarence Dutton conducted volcanic studies in the Kingdom of Hawaii.
  • 1884, the USGS began cooperative work on boundary waters with the Geological Survey of Canada.
  • 1890, Herbert Wilson studied irrigation in India.
  • 1897, Willard Hayes and Arthur Davis assisted the Canal Commission with geological and hydrogeological studies of proposed routes for what would become the Panama Canal.

Before and during World War II, USGS geologists, hydrologists and cartographers assisted in the war effort by identifying sources of water for military installations, identifying strategic mineral reserves, and compiling maps and charts of strategic international locations. In 1942, a Military Geology Unit (MGU) was started within the USGS, employing approximately 100 scientists fully funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This unit was later transformed into the Military Geology Branch. Much of this Branch’s work was

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