Geo survey focuses on Central Wyo.

By Sarah Elmquist Squires

Managing Editor

If you see helicopters flying low in Wind River Country over the next few months, never fear. The crafts are part of a partnership between the Wyoming State Geological Survey (WSGS) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on work to image the geology of the region – a peak a kilometer deep into the areas mineral composition and potential earthquake hazards. 

“This is an area with really complicated geology,” explained Patty Webber, WSGS economic geologist. Stretching from South Pass at the southern end of the Wind River Range and to the Granite Mountains west of Pathfinder Reservoir, it’s the first spot in Wyoming that will be detailed as part of this study. Using instruments that measure variations in the Earth’s magnetic field and natural low-level radiation created by different rock types, the survey will produced detailed 3D maps of the 3,300 square-mile area. 

WSGS Energy and Mineral Resources Manager Rainie Lynds explained that the region has been studied for its mineral resources for decades, from gold to copper and other elements, but this will be a first public look at much higher resolution imaging. The survey will measure the magnetic fields with a device that looks like a big, red q-tip, and another that reads radiation levels. “So we’re getting two very different types of information,” she shared. 

Once collected, the data will be processed by contractor New Sense Geophysics Ltd and Merrick-Surdex Joint Venture and mapped, then released to the public on the USGS Earth MRI website. It’s complicated for the layman, but incredibly thrilling for geologists to get a look under the surface at this resolution. “We may be spending the rest of our careers trying to interpret the results,” explained Webber. 

In addition to mineral and water resources data, the survey will also help scientists understand earthquake risks in the region. “Being able to map them accurately will be helpful for understanding the [earthquake] risk,” Lynds said. 

The helicopters will fly at at least 300 feet up for the survey, and increase to at least 600 feet in high population areas. The measurement instruments are “completely passive” and pose no emissions or risks to humans, plants, or animals, and no photography or video will be recorded. The pilots are specially trained for low-level flying and the contractors work closely with the FAA to ensure for safe surveying, according to WSGS. 

The survey work is expected to be completed over the next four months, with the data mapped and made available by early next year.