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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 in informing the local communities is appreciated.

A low-flying helicopter or airplane will soon be visible to residents in parts of northern Maryland, southern Pennsylvania, northeastern West Virginia and northernmost Virginia beginning in mid-August and lasting potentially through December 2022.

Image shows a single-engine fixed-wing aircraft in flight
Photo of one the airplanes that will be used. The “boom” that extends behind the aircraft contains a magnetic sensor. Photo by Sander Geophysical Laboratories, used with permission.

The low-level flights are being coordinated by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Maryland Geological Survey, the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey and the Virginia Department of Energy. Their goal is to image geology at the surface and below ground using airborne geophysical technology as 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. Recent funding by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has facilitated coverage of such a large area. This is the first time in 45 years a public high-resolution survey was flown in these areas.

Image shows a helicopter with a boom sticking out front
Photo of one of the helicopters that will be used.  The “boom” in front of the helicopter contains a magnetic sensor. It is placed in the boom to reduce the effects of the helicopter’s own magnetic field. Photo by Sander Geophysical Laboratories, used with permission.

Instruments on the airplane will measure variations in the Earth’s magnetic field and natural low-level radiation created by different rock types up to several miles beneath the surface. 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 earthquake hazards. The scientific instruments on the airplane are completely passive with no emissions that pose a risk to humans, animals, or plant life. No photographic or video data will be collected.

This survey will be flown at an altitude of 300 to 1,000 feet above ground by contractor . 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 flights will be based out of Cumberland, Maryland.

Image shows a map of the eastern United States with a green polygon on it
The airplane survey will take place within the polygon on the map, which covers parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

The survey will cover parts of the following counties:

Maryland: Allegany, Baltimore County, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Washington

Pennsylvania: Adams, Armstrong, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Cambria, Chester, Clearfield, Cumberland, Dauphin, Fayette, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Lancaster, Lebanon, Somerset, Westmoreland, York

Virginia: Clarke, Frederick, Loudoun

West Virginia:  Barbour, Berkeley, Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, Lewis, Marion, Mineral, Monongalia, Morgan, Preston, Randolph, Taylor, Tucker, Upshur

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