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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.

RESTON, Va. — Low-level airplane and helicopter flights are planned over a broad region in southwest Utah to image geology using airborne geophysical technology. The survey will be conducted from November 3, 2023, for approximately 11 months, weather and wildfire restrictions permitting.

Flights will cover areas within Washington, Iron and Beaver counties. The flights will not include the reservation lands of the Paiute Tribe of Utah.

Image shows a map of southwest Utah with the survey area marked with a dotted line and a tribal area marked with a hashed ploygon
The survey area for the Earth MRI airborne geophysical survey. The survey will not include lands of the Paiute Reservation, marked here as a square with slashed lines.

The flights will be based out of: Parowan Airport (1L9), Cedar City Regional Airport (KCDC), Hurricane Mesa – CCR Field Airport (UT27), St. George Regional Airport (KSGU) and Lincoln County Airport (1L1). The flights could shift with little warning to other parts of the survey area as necessitated by adverse flying conditions.

The survey will cover an area approximately 2,200 square miles (~ 5,800 square kilometers). The purpose of the survey is to provide images that expand the fundamental knowledge of geology underpinning important mineral-rich regions, including the Iron Axis and Tutsagubet mining districts. These areas are known to contain critical mineral resources, and the data will give a better understanding of those resources, as well as potential energy and groundwater resources and even potential geologic hazards like seismic faults.

The new geophysical data will aid in the development of three-dimensional representations of bedrock composition and structure to depths more than 3,280 feet (1 kilometer) below the surface.

Helicopter with forward facing stinger magnetometer
An AS350 helicopter with forward facing stinger magnetometer. Credit: New-Sense Geophysics Limited 

The 3D models and maps are important for improving our understanding of critical mineral resource potential, water resources, groundwater pathways near legacy mining areas, parameters for infrastructure and land use planning and potential risks of naturally occurring radon.

The airplane and helicopter will fly along pre-planned flight 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 and will comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. Flights will follow east-west lines spaced about 650 feet (200 meters) apart and north-south lines about 6500 feet (2 km) apart.

The USGS is contracting with Merrick-Surdex Joint Venture, who has subcontracted New-Sense Geophysics Ltd., to collect data.

Piper Navajo fixed-wing aircraft with rear facing stinger magnetometer
An example of the kind of aircraft with the rear-mounted stinger containing the data-collection instruments. Credit: New-Sense Geophysics Limited 

The survey will use a King Air A90 airplane and Bell 206L3/AS350 helicopter, or similar aircrafts. These aircrafts will be equipped with an elongated “stinger” mounted to the underside of the cabin extending forward/behind of the airplane and helicopter respectively. Instruments in the stinger and inside the cabin will measure variations in the Earth’s magnetic field and natural low-level gamma energy created by different rock types.

The scientific instruments on the aircrafts are completely passive with no emissions that pose a risk to humans, animals, or plant life. No photography or video data will be collected. The data collected will be made freely available to the public once complete. The aircraft will be flown by experienced pilots who are specially trained and approved for low-level flying. The company works with the FAA to ensure flights are safe and in accordance with U.S. law. The surveys will be conducted during daylight hours only.

The survey fits into a broader effort by the USGS, the Utah Geological Survey and many other state geological surveys and other partners, including private companies, academics and state and federal agencies to modernize our understanding of the Nation’s fundamental geologic framework and knowledge of mineral resources. This effort is known as the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative, and it includes airborne geophysical surveys like this one, geochemical reconnaissance surveys, topographic mapping using LiDAR technology, hyperspectral surveys and geologic mapping projects.

More information on USGS mineral resources research can be found here. To stay up to date on USGS mineral resources data and reports, follow us on Twitter.

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