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Explore & Download Users

USGS Water Data for the Nation products have many users. Explore & Download users want to check out different sites and download data from some of them. They have a few favorite USGS products they use; read on to find out what they are...

Date Posted December 29, 2021 Last Updated May 10, 2024
Author Shawna Gregory
Candice Hopkins
Rachel Bryan
Brad Garner
Nicole Felts
Reading Time 7 minutes Share

Here at WDFN, we employ user-centered design to build better products and reduce risk. This blog is one of a five-part series on users of WDFN: Are You a USGS Water Data User? | Water Data For The Nation Blog .

As described in the WDFN user blog, we discovered four key user groups which we use to design our delivery of USGS water information. Here is a quick recap of the four user groups:

  • Operationalized Pull : These users pull data from multiple sources, including USGS API services, to use via custom dashboards and tools optimized for their location and needs. Operationalized Pull users, on average, use the most USGS water information, returning repeatedly for refreshed data to pull into their own systems.

  • Explore & Download: These users find nearby sites, exploring what data they collect. Users make ad-hoc or targeted queries to download, then alter the data as they need in their preferred tool (R, Excel, Python). Explore and Download users usually take their time exploring the data visually (maps, hydrographs, etc.) before finally downloading the data they find useful.

  • Check Status : These users perform routine checks of a few parameters for specific sites, primarily using the hydrographs. Check Status users are our largest user type by number of unique users. Each user generally looks at a handful of sites for the latest water conditions.

  • Advanced Check Status : These users perform routine checks of a few data types at more than one monitoring location at a time, primarily using hydrographs of multiple monitoring locations, either as a single graph or a scrollable page. They desire “at-a-glance” information that is more information-dense than the Check Status user needs.

This post will discuss what we know about our Explore & Download users right now. As we research, we learn more about our users’ needs, identifying patterns that can be used to update our understanding.

Who Are These Users?

Explore & Download users are exploring our data, hoping to find something they can use. Does that sound like you? The way these users approach our data is diverse, but we can broadly categorize them into three sub-groups:

  • Scientific data seekers who access USGS water information at the beginning of a new project, such as a research topic or experimental model

  • Professionals who must respond to requests from the public, policymakers, business clients, reporters, or other stakeholders on water conditions

  • People new to USGS water data, exploring what we have to offer

Each user is unique in their data use and workflow. These user stories help us keep you - our user - in mind as we design our services.

Cynthia, the Environmental Restoration Biologist

Cynthia (she/her) is a biologist at the USGS Washington Water Science Center . She is seeking grant funding for a project studying how the lifecycle of aquatic insects, such as mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies, is related to the number of metals and chemicals in the water from mine discharge. Her project hopes to show that the insect lifecycles increase as an indicator of metal and chemical clean-up efforts, showing that environmental restoration is achievable after mine contamination. For her project, she needs historical records of the river area to compare historical metal and chemical amounts along with her insect data. She uses USGS dataRetrieval to pull the data from NWIS and analyze in R. Her research provides water quality criteria for chemical and metal conditions that can be present in stream and river ecosystems. Cynthis says, “Ecosystems are complex, and you need to consider all possible data available when assessing the health of an ecosystem. I’m lucky the USGS publicly provides data from as far back as 1970. This gives me insight into how healthy the ecosystem was then and how that may affect our environment now.”

Roberto, the Geochemist

Roberto (he/him) works for a large environmental consultant in California. The state has asked his company to determine how much groundwater can be used for the water supply. His reporting could have long-term impacts on California water use, and he needs accurate and comprehensive data. This is a big job! He uses NWISweb and the Water Quality Portal to search for historical data from all wells located in his region. He moves those data into an Excel Spreadsheet and then imports data into Geochemist’s Workbench to analyze the geochemical signature of each sample. Sometimes Roberto is asked by his colleagues to use geochemical data to validate their conceptual models. Roberto thinks “geochemistry is a bit like the forensics you see on TV. Instead of analyzing crime scene artifacts, we use the chemicals in water to understand its unique fingerprint. Thanks to USGS serving stable isotope data, we can age-date water. It’s pretty cool to be able to tell someone they’re drinking 15,000-year-old water put there during a different climate.”

Dania, the Climate Modeler

Dania (she/her) is a third year PhD candidate at University of West Florida. Her dissertation centers on how climate-change induced sea level rise affects groundwater salinity in coastal areas. She wants to help forecast how the public supply of drinking water sourced from groundwater will be affected by increasing sea levels. Dania started looking for groundwater data by using a search engine and found the National Groundwater Monitoring Network . The National Groundwater Monitoring Network (NGWMN) helped Dania realize there were many groundwater sites monitored by the USGS and chose a few sites to add to her research dataset. Dania downloaded observations from NGWMN and imported those into Excel so she could correlate water-level observations with sea-level observations. Dania says “there’s so much we don’t know about how sea level rise will affect real people on the ground. We need to start thinking about our water resources now so we can plan for mitigation.” USGS data allows her to understand how groundwater has behaved historically and is integrated into her forecasts.

Each user story does not represent a real person. The stories reflect real user experiences and are based on our decades-long experience with our users.

How Do Explore & Download Users Interact with USGS Water Information?

Explore & Download users seek to answer a question with USGS data and leave our website with useful water data. They tend to explore our maps and data types, making targeted queries into the data until they find data useful to answer their question(s). Through user research, we’ve found that our users approach filtering through our data in many ways. Common filters for our users include geography, time, parameters, and site type. For data with extensive metadata, such as water quality, we have found that our users use this metadata as nuanced filters to sift through the data.

“I use NWIS Mapper to see where old/inactive sites are. I never search by county, I just use the map or ask others in the center about unfamiliar locations.” - a Water Science Center staff member

As Explore & Download users evaluate USGS data, they are primarily looking at the summary of the data collected before making the decision to download the data for a closer look. Very rarely do these users access visualizations on our USGS sites to look at the data provided in more detail. In most cases, these users have post-processing that they do on the data including potentially cleaning out unwanted records or reformatting it to match their custom tools. Many users pull the downloaded data into scientific software suites made in R or Python. They may then put downloaded data into context by graphically plotting it, using it in models, comparing it to benchmarks, or interpreting it in other ways.

The key distinction between Operationalized Pull and Explore & Download users is that Operationalized Pull users have used scripts or software to repeatedly access USGS API services to refresh their data sources as new data comes in. Many Operationalized Pull users start out as Explore & Download users as they familiarize themselves with USGS water information. Once they know exactly what they want to download from USGS, many find the programmatic APIs helpful so they transition into purely Operationalized Pull users .

Key USGS Products

Explore & Download users gravitate toward tools they can use to explore our data. If you think you’re an explore and download user, you might be interested in


Connect with us! Connect with us! Follow us on Twitter and Instagram . We are learning more about Explore & Download users as we continue our work improving the user experience with accessing USGS water data. If you want to share your own workflow and feedback on the process, email , or if you’d be interested in participating in our user research process, please email .

Subscribe to the new Water Data for the Nation newsletter to stay up to date with our product offerings, events, and other ways to connect with us.

Quotes in this blog post have been lightly edited for grammar and clarity only.


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