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January 5, 2024

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.

Low-flying airplanes will soon be visible to residents in parts eastern and central Alabama, northwestern Florida, and western Georgia. The survey will begin in early January and continue through spring 2024, weather permitting.

The flights are being coordinated by the U.S. Geological Survey, Geological Survey of Alabama, and the Florida Geological Survey. Their goal is to image geology at the surface and below ground using airborne geophysical technology, with applications to hurricane resiliency and critical mineral resource evaluation. The data collected will be made freely available to the public once complete.

The airplane will fly along pre-planned fight paths relatively low to the ground at about 300 feet (100 meters) above the surface. The ground clearance will be increased to 1,000 feet (300+ meters) over populated areas in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. The scientific instruments on the airplane are completely passive with no emissions that pose a risk to humans, animals, or plant life. No photography or video data will be collected. 

A single-engine fixed-winged aircraft with a tail stinger.
A Sander Geophysics aircraft used for the geophysical surveys. 

Instruments on the airplane will measure variations in the Earth’s magnetic field and natural low-level radiation created by different rock types. This information will help researchers develop geologic maps in three dimensions, which can provide scientists with the framework needed to better evaluate natural resources, groundwater, or geologic hazards.

The effort is part of the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI); a nationwide collaboration between the USGS and state geologists to modernize our understanding of the nation’s fundamental geologic framework through new geologic maps, geophysical and topographic surveys, and geochemical sampling. Funding by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has facilitated coverage of such a large area.

This survey will be flown by contractor Sander Geophysics Ltd. via a subcontract to Dewberry. Experienced pilots who are 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 survey will cover parts of the following counties in Alabama: Autauga, Barbour, Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Chambers, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Conecuh, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Dallas, Elmore, Escambia, Geneva, Hale, Henry, Houston, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pike, Randolph, Russell, Shelby, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, and Wilcox.  The survey will cover parts of the following counties in Florida:  Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Leon, Liberty, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Wakulla, Walton, and Washington.  The survey will cover parts of the following counties in Georgia:  Carroll, Chattahoochee, Clay, Decatur, Early, Haralson, Harris, Heard, Miller, Muscogee, Quitman, Randolph, Seminole, Stewart, and Troup.

 A map of the survey area shown in a black polygon over a map of Alabama and Florida.
A map of a survey area outlined in a black polygon over a map of Alabama and Florida. 

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