Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Flights Above Parts of South Carolina to Map Geology

March 10, 2020

New Phase of USGS Low-level Airplane Surveys Begins in March

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


A low-flying airplane will soon be visible to residents in 17 counties of South Carolina including the city of Columbia.

Coordinated by USGS scientists to image geology from Earth's surface down to several miles underground, the low-level flights are part of the USGS Earth MRI project and will assist in better understanding the geology and natural resources in the area.

Beginning in March and lasting through April, an airplane under contract to Terraquest Inc. will be flying over Columbia, Orangeburg and portions of Aiken, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun, Clarendon, Colleton, Dorchester, Edgefield, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lee, Lexington, Orangeburg, Richland, Saluda, Sumter and Williamsburg counties.

Instruments on the airplane will passively detect the Earth’s naturally occurring magnetic field and radiation. The surveys will be adjacent to those flown in 2019 to help evaluate earthquake hazards in the Charleston-Summerville area and will use the same technology. While earthquakes have been less common in the 2020 survey area, the new information will help researchers develop geologic maps of the area and better evaluate natural resources.

Flights will occur at an altitude of 300 to 500 feet above ground. Experienced pilots specially trained and approved for low-level flying will operate the aircraft. All flights will occur during daylight hours and are coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure accordance with U.S. law. The flights will be based out of the Santee-Cooper Regional Airport in Manning.

Terraquest Airplane in Flight
Terraquest airplane in flight.
Terraquest Pilot Preparing the Airplane
Terraquest pilot preparing airplane for flight. 
Map of USGS Low-Level Flights in South Carolina, 2019 and 2020
Map of low-level flight areas. Dashed box indicates area for completed 2019 flights; bold box shows 2020 intended flights.