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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Scientists in Wyoming are wrapping up a banner year for geologic data acquisition for the state with three large airborne geophysical surveys covering an area of roughly 7,000 square miles. For comparison, that area is larger than the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.

The surveys, conducted by the Wyoming State Geological Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey, are part of a broader effort to study the geologic foundations of Wyoming to better understand the potential for natural resources like critical minerals and groundwater, as well as the potential for geologic hazards like earthquakes and landslides.

“These surveys will provide data critical for geologic understanding that will in turn help drive investment in the state for years to come,” says Erin Campbell, Wyoming State Geologist and director of the WSGS.

Understanding the geology of Wyoming in places that may contain mineral resources is a key step in securing a reliable and sustainable supply of minerals that are essential to modern society to power everything from household appliances and electronics to clean energy technologies like batteries and wind turbines.  

“What we have accomplished in Wyoming is truly impressive,” says USGS scientist Ben Drenth, who represented the USGS in the surveys. “The amount of data that has been collected gives us the potential for understanding Wyoming’s geological foundations like never before. I’m very pleased we were able to collaborate with the WSGS to achieve so much.”

Image shows a map of the survey area in Wyoming
The survey area for the joint WSGS-USGS airborne geophysical survey.

The first of the airborne geophysical surveys focused on the area near South Pass at the southern end of the Wind River Range and on the Granite Mountains west of Pathfinder Reservoir. This region is known for historic and current mineral exploration, and there are several areas that are of high interest for their mineral potential. This region also contains earthquake hazards that are not yet fully understood.

Image shows a map of south-central Wyoming with the survey area marked in a blue polygon
A map of the airborne geophysical survey area in the Medicine Mountains region of Wyoming

The next flights surveyed most of the Medicine Bow Mountains of south-central Wyoming. The area has seen mineral exploration and mining in the past, and there are several known mineral systems that are of high interest for their critical-mineral potential. 

Image shows a map of the border area of Wyoming and Colorado with the survey area marked with a colored polygon
Colorado-Wyoming Border Earth MRI Survey Area.

The final survey, which is still ongoing, includes border areas of Wyoming and Colorado, focusing on the Sierra Madre-Elkhorn Mountains and covering the rest of the Medicine Bow Mountains.

The surveys collected a combination of magnetic and radiometric data from a helicopter with information retrieved from up to several miles below the surface. Magnetic data can be used to identify ancient faults, compositional differences in adjacent rocks, and other geologic features. The radiometric data indicate the relative amounts of potassium, uranium and thorium in shallow rocks and soil.

These types of geophysical investigations are an efficient way to detect anomalous rocks and trends to help understand the geology and mineral resources in the region. The data also provide valuable information for energy and groundwater resources as well as potential geologic hazards.

The data that has been collected will first be processed in preparation for publication. Once the data are ready, they will be made public and used for further studies.

Funding for these surveys comes from the WSGS as well as the USGS through the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative, which received $320 million over five years from the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to advance scientific innovation and map critical minerals vital to the Nation’s supply chains, economy and national defense.

For more information on ongoing WSGS minerals-related projects, see the WSGS current projects webpage or follow the WSGS on Twitter.  For more information on USGS mineral research, see the USGS Mineral Resources Program website or follow the USGS on Twitter.

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