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August 11, 2023

Scientists with the Wyoming State Geological Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey are partnering to image geology using airborne geophysical technology.

The survey data will be collected using a helicopter and will fly over parts of south-central Wyoming, weather permitting. The survey will begin as early as mid-August and hopes to be completed in about two to three months.

The survey will focus on the Medicine Bow Mountains and will complement an additional WSGS-USGS airborne geophysical survey of the Sierra Madre-Elkhorn Mountains and the southern 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 currently are not well mapped. 

Image shows a map of south-central Wyoming with the survey area marked in a blue polygon
A map of the airborne geophysical survey area in the Medicine Mountains region of Wyoming.

Covering more than 1,050 square miles (2700 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 WSGS and the USGS to guide more detailed geologic mapping at local scales. 

Image shows a helicopter sitting on an airport tarmac with a stinger sticking out the front
Helicopter with front-mounted stinger containing equipment for conducting airborne geophysical surveys. Helicopter operated by EON Geosciences. 

The helicopter will fly along pre-planned flight paths relatively low to the ground at about 260-300 feet (80-100 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 range from 330 to 600 feet (100-200 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.

The USGS is contracting with EON Geosciences and Woolpert to collect data.

Image shows a helicopter sitting on an airport tarmac with a front-mounted stinger
Helicopter with front-mounted stinger containing equipment for conducting airborne geophysical surveys. Helicopter operated by EON Geosciences. 

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 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 and geologic mapping projects.

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