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January 24, 2023

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology are partnering to image geology using airborne geophysical technology as part of the USGS Earth Mapping Resource Initiative (Earth MRI) project.

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 a helicopter and will fly over parts Nye and Lincoln counties in central Nevada. Weather permitting, the survey will begin in mid-January 2023 and be completed in April 2023. 

Image shows a map of the survey area in Nevada
Map of the airborne geophysical survey area of interest in Nevada. 

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.   

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.  

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.

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 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.   

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