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December 1, 2023

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, Vir. — A low-flying airplane will soon be visible to residents in parts of northeastern and central Florida and southeastern Georgia. The survey will begin in late November and last potentially through February 2024, weather permitting.

The survey will cover parts of the following counties in Florida: Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Flagler, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Harde, Hillsborough, Levi, Manatee, Marion, Nassau, Pol, Putnam, St. Johns, Suwanee, Union, and Volusia; and the following counties in Georgia: Camden, Charlton, Echols, and Lowndes. 

a map of Florida with the specific survey areas in black polygons
The airplane survey will take place within the solid-line polygons shown on the map and may be extended to the area within the dashed lines. 

The flights are being coordinated by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Florida Geological Survey. Their goal is to image geology at the surface and below ground using airborne geophysical technology, with applications to hurricane resiliency and critical mineral resource evaluation. The data collected will be made freely available to the public once complete.

Single-engine fixed-wing aircraft with tail stinger sits on runway.
Photo of one of the airplanes that will be used in the survey.  The “boom” at the back of the airplane contains a magnetic sensor. It is placed in the boom to reduce the effects of the airplane’s own magnetic field. Photo by Xcalibur Multiphysics.

The airplane 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 in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. The scientific instruments on the airplane are completely passive with no emissions that pose a risk to humans, animals, or plant life. No photography or video data will be collected.

Instruments on the airplane will measure variations in the Earth’s magnetic field and natural low-level radiation created by different rock types. 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 geologic hazards. This is the first time in more than 45 years a public high-resolution survey has been flown in these areas.

The effort is 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. Funding by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and 2022 Disaster Relief Supplemental has facilitated coverage of such a large area.

This survey will be flown by contractor Xcalibur Multiphysics via a subcontract to Fugro. 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.

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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