With both engines dead due to bird strikes, Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger had to act fast. Four minutes later, he safely landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. Crash investigators quickly delivered bird remains found in the engines to the Smithsonian Feather Identification Laboratory, which handles nearly 4,500 bird-strike cases annually for the FAA and the military. The identification: Canada goose (Branta canadensis). Isotopic analysis of the feathers by our Migratory Bird Center determined that the geese were migratory. Such details help design improved strategies to reduce bird strikes. Smithsonian scientists are often called upon for help by the FBI and other government agencies. Our physical anthropologists regularly identify crime and disaster victims, such as those from the 9/11 Pentagon attack and the Bosnian conflict. Smithsonian entomologists, working with our collection of 12 million beetles, are helping the Agriculture Department combat a "pine bark" beetle disease killing America's conifers. At the National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center, reproductive biologists recently celebrated the births of two critically endangered clouded leopards, 38 black-footed ferrets and the hatching of North America's most genetically valuable white-naped crane.
The Smithsonian also plays key roles in long-term monitoring initiatives addressing global warming, invasive species, loss of biological and cultural diversity and deteriorating art. Annually a thousand scientists and students conduct research at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's observational sites. The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) offers researchers and conservation officials an invaluable 30-year database on fish and invertebrate population dynamics in the upper Chesapeake Bay. SERC is also the home of the National Ballast Information Clearinghouse and works with University of Maryland scientists to reduce the introduction of invasive species into U.S. waters through ballast water on incoming ships.
At the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!) program has enlisted local volunteers to document the history and condition of outdoor sculptures across the country. More than half of the 32,000 sculptures surveyed need conservation or maintenance. After Hurricane Katrina, the program provided lists of sculptures to five Gulf states' historic preservation offices to help them assess damage. In these and many other ways, the Smithsonian serves our nation—and our world.
G. Wayne Clough is Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution