Low-Level Helicopter Flights to Map Geology in Idaho and Montana

Survey Aims to Uncover Critical Minerals and Expand Geologic Knowledge

In a groundbreaking initiative, low-level helicopter flights are set to take place over a vast region spanning Idaho and Montana. The purpose of these flights is to conduct an airborne geophysical survey, using cutting-edge technology to image the geology of the area. The survey, scheduled to begin on September 25, 2023, will cover an area of more than 3,000 square miles and is expected to last for approximately two months. The project will then resume in the mid to late Spring of 2024, depending on weather conditions and wildfire restrictions.

Unveiling the Geology Beneath Idaho and Montana

The survey will focus on the Idaho Cobalt Belt and the Montana-Idaho Porphyry Belt, two geological formations with the potential to host critical minerals such as cobalt, niobium, rare earth elements, and titanium. By providing high-resolution three-dimensional representations of bedrock composition and structure, the survey aims to expand our fundamental knowledge of these formations. The data collected will enable a deeper understanding of critical mineral resource potential, water resources, groundwater pathways near legacy mining areas, infrastructure planning, land use, and the potential risks of naturally occurring radon.

Survey Details and Methodology

The flights will be based out of Lemhi County Airport and will cover portions of Beaverhead, Custer, Idaho, Lemhi, and Ravalli counties. The helicopter will fly along pre-planned flight paths at a relatively low altitude of approximately 300 feet above the surface. In populated areas, the ground clearance will be increased to 1,000 feet to comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. The flight line separation will be approximately 200 meters, with 2,000-meter tie-line spacing throughout the survey area.

Collaborative Efforts and Partnerships

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is spearheading this survey in collaboration with the Idaho Geological Survey, the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, and numerous other state geological surveys, private companies, academics, and state and federal agencies. This joint effort, known as the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative, aims to modernize our understanding of the nation’s geologic framework and mineral resources. The initiative encompasses various projects, including airborne geophysical surveys, geochemical reconnaissance surveys, topographic mapping using LiDAR technology, hyperspectral surveys, and geologic mapping projects.

Safety and Data Accessibility

The scientific instruments onboard the helicopter are entirely passive, posing no risk to humans, animals, or plant life. The data collected during the survey will be made freely available to the public once the project is complete. The flights will be conducted by experienced pilots who have received specialized training and approval for low-level flying. The survey will strictly adhere to FAA regulations and will only take place during daylight hours.

The upcoming low-level helicopter flights over Idaho and Montana mark a significant step forward in our understanding of the region’s geology. By utilizing airborne geophysical technology, scientists aim to uncover critical minerals and expand our knowledge of the Idaho Cobalt Belt and the Montana-Idaho Porphyry Belt. This survey, part of the broader Earth Mapping Resources Initiative, exemplifies the collaborative efforts of various agencies and organizations to enhance our understanding of the nation’s geologic framework and mineral resources. As the survey progresses, the data collected will provide valuable insights into the region’s geology, benefiting resource exploration, infrastructure planning, and environmental management.

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