What is the USGS and what does it do?

Unless there is a major earthquake, you may not pay much attention to the United States Geological Survey.

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But when the earth shakes, it’s the USGS that provides important initial information on where the damage occurred and how big the quake was.

However, while that is a very important function of the agency, it's only part of the mission of the USGS, or the Survey, as it is commonly called.

The agency, a part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, also provides "reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life," according to the agency's website.

To study and catalog the country’s resources, the USGS employs a broad array of sciences, including biology, geography, geology and hydrology.

Created on March 3, 1879, the USGS’s original mission was "classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain.” The Survey was immediately tasked with the exploration and inventory of new lands the U.S. government had acquired through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Mexican–American War in 1848.

The agency also produces various publications in which its research is reported and runs the United States Geological Survey Library. The USGS employs more than 8,600 people across the United States.

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