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October 28, 2022

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

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Utah Geological Survey are partnering to image geology using airborne geophysical technology as part of the USGS Earth Mapping Resource Initiative (Earth MRI) project. Earth MRI is a cooperative effort between the USGS, the Association of American State Geologists, and other Federal, State, and private sector organizations to improve our knowledge of the geologic framework in the United States.  

The USGS is contracting with Merrick-Surdex Joint Venture, who is subcontracting the work to New-Sense Geophysics Limited, to collect data which will be gathered using both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft and fly over or parts of eight counties in western and southwestern Utah. Counties include Beaver, Iron, Juab, Millard, Piute, Sevier, Tooele, and Utah County. Weather permitting, the survey will begin in late October 2022 and be completed in the Summer of 2023.  

Utah geophysical survey area map
Utah geophysical survey area map. Survey will cover western and southwestern portions of the state.

Data collected as part of the western/southwestern Utah survey is part of a national-scale effort to acquire modern high-resolutiuon airborne magnetic and radiometric data. The survey will replace existing low-quality geophysical data, collected mostly in the 1980s, that is of limited use for geologic mapping. The new geophysical survey will use the latest technological developments that will allow scientists to develop high-resolution 3D representations of geology to depths several miles below the surface. The 3D models and maps produced from the survey will aid in understanding the distribution of groundwater, mineral, and energy resources as well as the potential for natural hazards. Data collected as part of this effort will be made public and used by USGS in collaboration with Utah Geological Survey scientists to guide more detailed geologic mapping at local scales.  

AS350 helicopters and Piper Navajo fixed-wing aircraft will be actively collecting data in different parts of the survey area. The aircraft will be equipped with passive sensors that measure variations in the Earth’s natural magnetic field created by different rock types up to several miles beneath the surface. The magnetic sensor will be inside a skid-mounted stinger off the front of a helicopter, or a tail-mounted stinger on the back of a fixed wing aircraft. Aircraft will also carry sensors inside the cabins that measure soil and rock chemistry at the surface. None of the instruments carried on the aircraft pose a health risk to people or animals. The aircraft will be flown by experienced pilots that 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. 

The western/southwestern Utah survey will be flown at elevations approximately 80 to 300 meters, or about 260 to 1000 feet, above ground in a grid pattern along east-west flight lines spaced approximately 200 meters, or approximately 650 feet, apart. North-south flight lines will be spaced 2000 meters, or 6500 feet, apart. All survey flights will occur during daylight hours.  

For more information related to this survey see

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


Piper Navajo fixed-wing aircraft with rear facing stinger magnetometer
A Piper Navajo fixed-wing aircraft with rear facing stinger magnetometer. Credit: New-Sense Geophysics Limited 


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