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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 helicopter flights are planned over a broad region in western Nevada to image geology using airborne geophysical technology. The survey will begin in Nov 2023 and is to be completed by April 2024, weather, wildlife and wildfire restrictions permitting.

Flights will cover an area of more than 15,000 square miles (39,000 square kilometers) and will include areas Churchill, Douglas, Humboldt, Lander, Lyon, Mineral, Nye, Pershing, Storey, Washoe and Carson City County in Nevada.   

Image shows a map of western Nevada with the survey area marked with black lines
The survey area for the 2023 part of the Earth MRI airborne geophysical surveys of Nevada.

Initial survey flights will be based out of Hawthorne, NV.  The survey base and flight locations are subject to change with little warning to other parts of the survey area as necessary to minimize ferrying distances and avoid adverse flying conditions.  

The purpose of the survey is to provide images that expand the fundamental knowledge of geology underpinning the Basin and Range province of Nevada. These flights are a continuation of a project that began in 2022. The survey area hosts brines and evaporation-based mineral systems that might contain lithium resources, as well as rock formations that may contain significant amounts of copper, molybdenum and gold.

Data collected as part of this Nevada survey is part of a national-scale effort to acquire modern high-resolution airborne electromagnetic data. 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 1000 feet below the surface. The 3D models and maps produced from the survey will help understand the distribution of ground-water, 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 scientists at the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology to guide more detailed geologic mapping at local scales. 

Image shows a helicopter towing a hoop with mountains in the background
A low-flying helicopter towing a geophysical device collects scientific data on groundwater and geology. Information collected during these surveys can help with studying critical mineral resources, natural hazards and groundwater potential. Credit: Xcalibur Multiphysics

The helicopter and towed equipment will fly along pre-planned flight paths relatively low to the ground at 100-200 feet above the surface. A sensor that resembles a large hula-hoop will be towed beneath the helicopter to measure small electromagnetic signals that can be used to map geologic features below Earth’s surface.   Flight line separation will vary depending on location, typically separated by about 3300 feet in detail survey areas or 3 miles in more regional survey areas. The USGS is contracting with Xcalibur Multiphysics under Fugro Earthdata, Inc. to collect data.

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. The survey 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. Surveys do not occur over- populated areas and the helicopter will not directly overfly buildings at low altitude. 

The survey fits into a broader effort by the USGS, the NBMG 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 can be found here. To learn more about how the USGS is investing the resources from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, visit our website. To learn more about USGS mineral-resource and commodity information, please visit our website and follow us onTwitter

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