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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 flights are planned over a broad region in parts of the southern Midcontinent to image geology using airborne geophysical technology. The survey will be conducted from early October for approximately 6 months, weather and wildfire restrictions permitting.

Flights will cover areas within southeast Missouri, northeast Arkansas, north Tennessee, western to central Kentucky, eastern Illinois and southern Indiana.

Image shows a map of the central United States with the survey area marked with blue fill in
The survey area for the Kentucky-Tennessee Anomaly Earth MRI Survey.

Up to 5 aircraft may be active at one time over the course of the survey.  The flights will be based out of Paducah, KY; Jonesboro, AR; Gallatin, TN; and Sellersburg, IN. The flights could shift with little warning to other parts of the survey area as necessitated by adverse flying conditions.

This effort will feature airborne geophysical surveys to map parts of the midcontinent along the Kentucky-Tennessee magnetic anomaly. This anomaly, first identified by satellite in the 1980s, has numerous mineral resource deposits around its edges. In addition, the survey will cover parts of areas related to the New Madrid and Wabash Valley seismic zones. We expect the geophysical data will help to shed light on potential natural hazards in the region.

The new geophysical data will be processed to develop high-resolution three-dimensional representations of bedrock composition and structure to depths more than 3,280 feet (1 kilometer) below the surface.

Image shows a small, twin-engine aircraft on the airport tarmac with the sun overhead
One of the aircraft that may be participating in the surveys. Image Credit: EON Geosciences

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 airplanes 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 and will comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. Flights will follow flight lines spaced about 1,300 feet (400 meters) apart.

The USGS is contracting with EON Geosciences to collect data.

The survey will use Piper Navajo aircrafts equipped with an elongated “stinger” mounted to the back of the aircraft. 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.

Image shows a small, twin-engine aircraft with labels for the scientific equipment on it
An example aircraft equipped for an airborne geophysical survey. The magnetic sensor (magnetometer) is located at the tip of the "stinger" attached to the rear of the airplane. The survey is designed to measure the magnetic field of the earth, which is related to rock formations that lie below the land surface. Base photo courtesy of EON Geoscience.

The scientific instruments on the planes 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 Geological Surveys in Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois and Indiana and many other state geological surveys and other partners, including private companies, academics and State and Federal agencies to modernize our understanding of the Nations’ 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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