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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.

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 survey data will be collected using an airplane and will fly over parts of southwestern New Mexico weather permitting. The survey will begin in early April and be completed in about eight months.

Image shows a satellite map of southwestern New Mexico with the survey area marked in a red boundary
New Mexico survey area 

Covering more than 10,000 square miles, data collected from the survey is part of a national-scale effort to acquire modern high-resolution airborne magnetic and radiometric 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 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 USGS in collaboration with scientists at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources to guide more detailed geologic mapping at local scales. 

The airplane will fly along pre-planned flight paths relatively low to the ground at 120 meters above the surface. The ground clearance will be increased to 150 meters overpopulated areas in order to comply with FAA regulations and to 200 meters in the mountainous portions of the survey. Flight line separation will be 200 meters throughout the survey area. The survey boundary will be kept 2.5 kilometers from the Mexican border so that turning aircraft do not have to cross the border.

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 in turn will provide scientists with the framework needed to better evaluate earthquake hazards, natural resources, landslides, etc.

The USGS is contracting with EDCON-PRJ, Inc. under NV5 Geospatial to collect data.

Image shows a small fixed-wing aircraft with a stinger in the air
A geophysical survey airplane with a tail stinger magnetometer. Courtesy EDCON-PRJ

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. 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.

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

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