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Media Alert: Flights Above the Mississippi Alluvial Plain to Continue Aquifer Mapping

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

Starting in late May 2021, a low-level helicopter will begin flying over parts of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, or MAP, between Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and New Orleans, Louisiana, to acquire a more robust picture of aquifers in the area. Additional flights will occur over the Chicot aquifer region in southwest Louisiana. Flights are expected to last about two months, depending on weather.


This high-resolution, airborne geophysical survey, coordinated by U.S. Geological Survey scientists in partnership with local agencies, will provide critical data for the evaluation and management of groundwater resources in the region. The survey will allow the USGS to develop a high-resolution, three-dimensional representation for one of the most important irrigated agricultural regions in the U.S.


Previous phases of airborne geophysical data acquisition over the MAP region have occurred in 2018-2020 using the same helicopter system. The flight path can be found here.


The helicopter and geophysical instrumentation are expected to arrive in Sikeston, Missouri, in late May, and the helicopter and instrument it tows beneath will be visible as soon as the end of the month. Once testing is completed, daily production flights in the region will begin, with flights operating out of the Sikeston Memorial Municipal Airport (KSIK) for approximately two weeks. Additional flights will continue from base airfields in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana as data collection progresses south.


CGG Airborne of Ontario, Canada, under contract to the USGS, will make the daytime, low-level flights over more than 20 million acres within the MAP region, including a buffer around the entire area. Experienced pilots who are specially trained and approved for low-level flying will operate the aircraft. All flights are coordinated with the FAA to ensure accordance with U.S. law.


The MAP is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the nation and depends on groundwater for irrigation. It constitutes the third-largest area of irrigated cropland in the U.S., consisting of approximately 29,000 square miles, or 19 million acres, and includes parts of Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky and Illinois.


Instruments on the helicopter will collect information about the geology in shallow aquifers of the region. When the data analysis is complete, resulting state-of-the-art maps will help USGS researchers understand the aquifer system that supports groundwater resources at depths up to about 300 feet underground. Examples of the products generated from the 2018-2020 surveys include the recently published interactive maps of the high-resolution survey near Shellmound, Mississippi, and of the regional, MAP-wide surveys.


This survey will be flown along river paths in the MAP and Chicot regions. The helicopter will have an attached electromagnetic instrument housed in a cylinder called a bird that is towed about 100 feet beneath the aircraft.


CGG Resolve Helicopter System
CGG RESOLVE helicopter system in Greenwood, Mississippi. The USGS is working with CGG and other partners to gather geophysical information related to the Mississippi Alluvial Plain.


The helicopter will also carry scientific instruments including a magnetometer and a gamma-ray spectrometer. None of the instruments pose a health risk to people or animals.

The survey is being conducted by the USGS Water Availability and Use Program as part of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain Regional Water Availability Study. More information about this project can be found online.

Map of Mississippi Alluvial Plain Flight Line Plan
Map of Mississippi Alluvial Plain flight line plan. Access most updated version here. 

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