How to Volunteer for the U.S. Geological Survey

With more than 400 research centers across the country, the U.S. Geological Survey offers hundreds of volunteer opportunities.
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From collecting native plant seeds in Alaska's Denali National Park to digging for fossils in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Geological Survey offers hundreds of volunteer opportunities to those wanting to donate time to natural science.

With more than 400 research centers across the country, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) monitors volcanoes, earthquakes, glacier melting, soil contamination, oil reserves levels and water quality in groundwater, rivers and lakes across the country.


It's also the nation's largest mapping agency, best known for its topographic maps -- those that show land contours like mountains -- as well as aerial photos taken by satellite [source: USGS].

A bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the USGS employs 10,000 scientists and support staff who study the topography of the U.S, its natural resources and environmental hazards like earthquakes, wildfires, floods and climate change.

Headquartered in Reston, Virginia, the agency was created by an act of Congress in 1879 to inventory the vast lands acquired by the U.S. in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. The agency's mission was -- and remains -- to classify public lands, examine their geological structures and inventory their mineral resources [source: USGS].

Its scientists work in all 50 U.S. states, including major offices in Lakewood, Colo. and Menlo Park, Calif. For volunteers, the USGS offers dozens, if not hundreds of opportunities to help the scientists perform their research.

To find one, simply click on the state you want on a map on the USGS Web site and it will list what's available, including a description of the position, time requirement, qualifications and benefits [source: USGS]. In some cases, you even get a free USGS hat.

Read on to learn how to become part of the USGS's National Maps Corps.


The National Map Corps

Want to put your town on the map? Joining the USGS's National Map Corps is a good place to start.

Originally founded as the Earth Science Corps, the National Map Corps is a group of volunteers who use GPS receivers to get latitude and longitude coordinates for structures in their communities. Those structures include hospitals, airports, universities, fire stations, churches, water towers and landmark buildings. The volunteers submit the coordinates for these structures to the USGS, which incorporates them into future revisions to the National Map [source: USGS].


The National Map is a collaboration between the USGS and other government agencies to create an up-to-date topographical map of the country that includes elevation, bodies of water, boundaries, transportation systems, man-made structures and land cover like grass, asphalt and trees. It's available for free on the Web and is used for scientific analysis, as well as emergency response [source: USGS].

In July 2008, the USGS announced it was suspending the National Maps Corps for budgetary reasons until the agency could evaluate how best to use volunteers to continue creating the National Map. Volunteers who were collecting data via GPS were asked stop, and to submit all the information they'd collected up to that point by August 2008.

Since then, the USGS has stopped accepting volunteer applications until it is finished evaluating how to restructure the program. However, National Map Corps members, as well as the general public, are invited to input the locations of map-worthy features in their community through its Web-based collection program on USGS's Web site [source: USGS].

After filling out a registration form, volunteers can type in the names and locations of high schools, courthouses, railroad stations and radio towers into the Web program for consideration of being incorporated into The National Map.

All that's required is an internet connection and a knowledge of your area. Read on to find out more ways to volunteer for the USGS.


Other Volunteer Opportunities with USGS

Are you a closet botanist? An amateur geologist? Aspiring astrologist? Well then, you've come to the right place. The USGS offers hundreds of opportunities in almost every U.S. state for those interested in volunteer jobs in the natural sciences.

On the agency's Web site, you can find dozens of openings for volunteer work in practically every state [source: USGS].


The opportunities range from maintaining campgrounds in places like Olympic National Park in Washington and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan to answering phones at a Mississippi wildlife refuge and cataloging books in the Point Reyes National Seashore library in California.

The listings include the dates of service, difficulty level, contact information and a link to applying online. There are opportunities for all ages, from children to senior citizens.

Fancy yourself a bird watcher? Then you may be interested in helping monitor Cerulean Warblers and other feathered natives at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia [source: USGS]. Love gazing at the stars? Why not apply to lead stargazing and telescope tours, including full moon hikes at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah [source: USGS]. Fancy yourself Rachel Ray? Then volunteer to spend the summer cooking for the backcountry trail crews in San Pedro Parks Wilderness in New Mexico [source: USGS]. If you're handy on the computer, you can help USGS develop a software tool to record and report data at Glacier National Park in the northwest corner of Montana [source: USGS].

Some volunteer programs require a resume, references and a background check.

For more information on volunteering at the U.S. Geological Survey, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • U.S. Geological Survey. "History." (Accessed 5/22/09)
  • U.S. Geological Survey. "Maps, Imagery & Publications." (Accessed 5/22/09)
  • U.S. Geological Survey. "The National Map." (Accessed 5/22/09)
  • U.S. Geological Survey. "The National Map Corps." (Accessed 5/22/09)
  • "" (Accessed 5/22/09).
  • VolunteerInfo. "Federally Sponsored Volunteer Opportunities." (Accessed 5/22/2009)