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January 6, 2021

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.  

The U.S. Geological Survey will conduct an airborne survey to study the rock layers under a region of southeast Missouri and southern Illinois starting in mid-January and lasting approximately through the spring of 2021. Results will provide state-of-the-art, subsurface maps that will contribute to a wide range of 3D representations of the nation’s surface and underground geology.

As part of this research, a low flying airplane with auxiliary instrumentation will be used. Residents and visitors should not be alarmed to witness the aircraft flying low to the ground near the Carbondale, Illinois, and the Cape Girardeau, Missouri, regions. 

The airplane is under contract to the USGS through TerraQuest Ltd. The aircraft will be operated by experienced pilots who are specially trained and approved for low-level flying. All flights are coordinated with the FAA to ensure flights are in accordance with U.S. law. 

USGS scientists plan to use the new geophysical data to help determine the 3D geologic framework surrounding known and potentially undiscovered mineral systems that provide commodities important to many green technologies. In addition, this research is meant to map the soil and rock chemistry at the surface. 

The survey is being supported by the USGS Earth Mapping Resource Initiative, with additional funding provided by the Missouri Geological Survey and the USGS National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program. The survey will fill a gap between other high-quality geophysical surveys in parts of Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky acquired by the USGS from 2014 to 2019.

The airplane will carry magnetic sensors mounted on the wing tips and tail stinger of the aircraft that will map changes in the amounts of magnetic minerals in rocks. A gamma spectrometer inside the aircraft will measure low, background levels of natural radioactivity that will be used to map different types of surface rocks and soils. None of the instruments carried on the aircraft pose a health risk to people or animals.

This survey will be flown at elevations approximately 80 to 140 meters, or about 260 to 450 feet, above ground in a grid pattern along east-west flight lines spaced approximately 250 meters, or 820 feet, apart and north-south flight lines that will be spaced 3,000 meters, or 9,800 feet, apart. All survey flights will occur during daylight hours. 

Location of the 2021 airborne magnetic and radiometric Gap survey Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky.


Piper Navajo modified with a tail stinger and wingtip pods
Piper Navajo modified with a tail stinger and wingtip pods that contain magnetometers to passively measure the Earth’s magnetic field for geologic research. Photo credit: TerraQuest, Ltd


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