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Seeking Water from Above: Low-Level Helicopter to Fly Southern Portion of Mississippi Alluvial Plain

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Editor:  In the public interest and in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the USGS is announcing this low-level airborne project.  Your assistance informing the local communities is appreciated.  

In mid-December a low-level helicopter will begin flying over the southern portion of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, or MAP, near Monroe, Louisiana, to acquire a more robust picture of aquifers in the area.

This high-resolution, airborne geophysical survey, coordinated by U.S. Geological Survey scientists in partnership with local agencies, will provide critical data for the evaluation and management of groundwater resources in the region. The survey will allow the USGS to develop a high-resolution, three-dimensional representation for one of the most important irrigated agricultural regions in the U.S.

Initial flights and data acquisition over the MAP started in February using the same helicopter system, and resumed in November. The flight path can be found here.

The helicopter and geophysical instrumentation arrived in Monroe, Louisiana on December 12. The helicopter and device it tows beneath will be visible as soon as December 13 or 14. Once testing is completed, daily production flights in the region will begin, with flights operating out of Monroe for approximately three weeks.

CGG Airborne of Ontario, Canada, under contract to the USGS, will make the daytime, low-level flights over more than 20 million acres within the MAP, including a buffer around the entire area. Experienced pilots who are specially trained and approved for low-level flying will operate the aircraft. All flights are coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure accordance with U.S. law.

The MAP is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the nation and depends on groundwater for irrigation. It constitutes the third largest area of irrigated cropland in the U.S., consisting of approximately 29,000 square miles, or 19 million acres, and includes parts of Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky and Illinois.

Instruments on the helicopter will collect information about the geology in shallow aquifers of the region. When the data analysis is complete, resulting state-of-the-art maps will help USGS researchers understand the aquifer system that supports groundwater resources at depths up to about 300 feet underground.

This survey will be flown along mainly east-west lines at about 200 feet above the ground. The helicopter will have an attached electromagnetic instrument housed in a cylinder called a bird that is towed about 100 feet beneath the aircraft.

The helicopter will also carry scientific instruments including a magnetometer and a gamma-ray spectrometer. None of the instruments pose a health risk to people or animals.

The survey is being conducted by the USGS Water Availability and Use Program as part of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain Regional Water Availability Study. More information about this project can be found online.

CGG RESOLVE in flight

CGG RESOLVE helicopter system in Greenwood, Mississippi. The USGS is working with CGG and other partners to gather geophysical information related to the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. The helicopter will be deployed in several smaller focus areas of interest where a series of high-resolution survey grids will be acquired.

(Credit: Burke Minsley, USGS. Public domain.)

Map of Mississippi Alluvial Plain flight line plan

Map of Mississippi Alluvial Plain flight line plan, December 13, 2018. Green denotes upcoming Louisiana flight lines, orange shows completed lines and grey represents planned lines. Access most updated version here

(Public domain.)