Spotting a low-flying helicopter in the skies of Fremont and Custer counties? Don’t worry, it’s for science


Residents of Fremont and Custer counties may spot a low-flying helicopter in the sky this summer. The plane flies with a single data collection instrument attached to the bottom, extending forward like a long dart.

The helicopter works with the US Geological Survey and Colorado Geological Survey, collecting data on the Earth’s magnetic field and low-intensity natural radiation.

The research is part of a national project called Earth MRI, which aims to improve knowledge about the geology of the country and identify areas that may have critical natural resources.

Previous mining discoveries around Cañon City and Westcliffe have led to the study of this specific area of ​​southern Colorado, said Tien Grauch, a research geophysicist with the US Geological Survey. For Grauch, this is an opportunity to improve existing geological maps using new technologies.

Grauch said current geological maps of this area show rock formations caused by magma rising closer to the surface than usual long ago.

“This period is a bit confusing in terms of why these events came about and what was happening on Earth at the time,” she said. “And this concerns these mineral deposits. [We’re] trying to understand the framework of what was happening on Earth in this region at that time and why these interesting critical minerals were deposited around the same time. “

The helicopter survey will not be able to definitively find these essential minerals on its own, but the data it collects will be the basis for further exploration.

“If you understand geology and how it relates to minerals, you might be able to find something,” Grauch said. “We have basic knowledge of the geology there. “

For now, the only helicopter will collect its data potentially until the end of August. The on-board instruments are passive and do not emit any emissions presenting a risk to humans, animals or plant life. And since the data collection is intended to see huge geological formations deep underground, scientists won’t be able to see much human on the surface.

“We very rarely see buildings unless they have a lot of steel in them, like large commercial buildings and shopping malls,” Grauch said. “And even then, it’s like a blip on the map.”

The data will be released publicly at the end of the survey.

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