Along the nearly 3,200 kilometers (almost 2,000 miles) of the United States–Mexican border, in an area known as the Borderlands, we are witnessing the expression of the challenges of the 21st century. This circular identifies several challenge themes and issues associated with life and the environment in the Borderlands, listed below. The challenges are not one-sided; they do not originate in one country only to become problems for the other. The issues and concerns of each challenge theme flow in both directions across the border, and both nations feel their effects throughout the Borderlands and beyond. The clear message is that our two nations, the United States and Mexico, face the issues in these challenge themes together, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) understands it must work with its counterparts, partners, and customers in both countries.
Though the mission of the USGS is not to serve as land manager, law enforcer, or code regulator, its innovation and creativity and the scientific and technical depth of its capabilities can be directly applied to monitoring the conditions of the landscape. The ability of USGS scientists to critically analyze the monitored data in search of signals and trends, whether they lead to negative or positive results, allows us to reach significant conclusions—from providing factual conclusions to decisionmakers, to estimating how much of a natural resource exists in a particular locale, to predicting how a natural hazard phenomenon will unfold, to forecasting on a scale from hours to millennia how ecosystems will behave.
None of these challenge themes can be addressed strictly by one or two science disciplines; all require well-integrated, cross-discipline thinking, data collection, and analyses. The multidisciplinary science themes that have become the focus of the USGS mission parallel the major challenges in the border region between Mexico and the United States. Because of this multidisciplinary approach, the USGS possesses a unique set of capabilities that can address these challenges. The USGS can apply geographical, geospatial, biological, hydrological, and geological sciences to these complex issues and thereby provide insight into the area’s natural systems and their relation to human activity.
As we come to better understand the complexities of the components of these challenge themes, we discover that each part is inextricably intertwined with other overarching issues. Because of the complex interactions of the human, ecological, political, and economic exigencies associated with this area, the status of the Borderlands has become an ever-present concern for most American citizens and for Mexican and United States Federal, State, and local governments. This circular is intended to provide you—citizen, local decisionmaker, government leader, or private entrepreneur—an overview of what the USGS considers the current and future challenges in the United States–Mexican border region and examples of how the USGS can make a difference in understanding and addressing these issues.