Low-flying Helicopter in Southern San Joaquin Valley Surveying Groundwater and Geology

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A low-flying helicopter under contract to the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the California State Water Resources Control Board, has begun collecting and recording geophysical measurements for purpose of groundwater salinity and aquifer mapping.

This effort is taking place in the Southern San Joaquin Valley, California with most activity focused near the town of Maricopa. The effort began on November 16th and will continue for two weeks. Residents of these areas should expect to see a low-flying helicopter towing a large hoop hanging from a cable in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Surveys will not occur directly over populated areas.

A low-flying helicopter towing a geophysical device collects scientific data for salinity and aquifer mapping.

A low-flying helicopter towing a geophysical device collects scientific data for salinity and aquifer mapping.

The helicopter-borne geophysical system will collect measurements in the southern San Joaquin Valley, with efforts focused just east of Maricopa. The survey entails flying relatively low to the ground (hundreds of feet above the surface) over pre-planned grids of flight lines. A sensor that resembles a large hula-hoop will be towed beneath the helicopter to measure tiny voltages that can be used to map properties of the Earth’s subsurface. Data collected during this survey will be analyzed by USGS scientists and used to map groundwater salinity and aquifer properties.

SkyTEM, a specialty airborne geophysical survey company, will conduct the operation. Experienced pilots, who are specially trained for low-level flying required for geophysical surveys, will be operating the helicopter. The company works with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure flights are in accordance with U.S. law.

This survey is a continuation efforts that began in 2016 near Lost Hills, Buttonwillow, and Cawelo. More information about this project is available from the USGS California Oil Gas and Groundwater (COGG) website and the California State Water Resources Control Board.