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

The survey data will be collected using a helicopter and will fly over parts of the central Colorado-Wyoming border, weather permitting. The survey will begin in mid-July and be completed in about four months.

The surveys will focus on the Sierra Madre-Elkhorn Mountains, and the southern Medicine Bow Mountains and will complement an additional USGS-WSGS airborne geophysical survey of the Medicine Bow Mountains. The area has seen mineral exploration and mining in the past, and there are several known mineral systems that are of high interest for their critical-mineral potential. This region was chosen in collaboration with the state geological surveys due to several known areas of mineral interest that are not well-mapped. 

Image shows a map of the border area of Wyoming and Colorado with the survey area marked with a colored polygon
Colorado-Wyoming Border Earth MRI Survey Area

Covering more than 5000 square miles (13,000 square kilometers), the new geophysical survey will use the latest technological developments that will allow scientists to develop high-resolution three-dimensional representations of geology to depths over 3280 feet (1 kilometer) below the surface.

The 3D models and maps produced from the survey will help understand 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 the CGS, WSGS, and the USGS to guide more detailed geologic mapping at local scales. 

The 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 about 1,000 feet (300+ meters) over populated areas in order to comply with FAA regulations. Flight line separation will be more than 600 feet (200 meters) throughout the survey area.

Instruments on the helicopter will measure variations in the Earth’s natural magnetic field and natural low-level radiation created by different rock types. This information will help researchers develop geologic maps in three dimensions.

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

The USGS is contracting with New Sense Geophysics Ltd. and Merrick-Surdex Joint Venture to collect data.

The scientific instruments on the helicopter 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 that 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.

This survey fits into a broader effort by the USGS, the CGS, and WSGS 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, hyperspectral surveys and geologic mapping projects.

For more information related to this survey see the project announcement.

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