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Low-flying Helicopter Scanning Great Sand Dunes National Park for Scientific Clues to Past, Future
Released: 10/7/2011 5:42:32 PM

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communications and Publishing
12201 Sunrise Valley Dr, MS 119
Reston, VA 20192
Marisa Lubeck 1-click interview
Phone: 303-202-4765

Citizens and visitors should not be alarmed if they witness a low-flying helicopter, with a large wire-loop contraption hanging from a cable underneath, flying over the Great Sand Dunes National Park in the next couple of weeks. 

Starting on or about Monday, Oct. 10, and lasting for one to two weeks, a low-flying helicopter under contract to the U.S. Geological Survey will begin collecting and recording geophysical measurements over the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colo., for scientific research purposes. This is the first in a series of airborne geophysical surveys to be conducted in San Luis Valley this fall. 

The helicopter will collect measurements over the Great Sand Dunes National Park located northeast of Alamosa and will also include a 13-mile-wide by 18-mile-long area south of the Park. The helicopter will fly low to the ground in a back and forth pattern to measure the electrical properties of the Earth’s crust. This effort is part of a larger study of the geology of the San Luis Valley that has been active since 2005. The National Park Service is a cooperator in the project. 

This particular study should answer some basic scientific questions about the subsurface of this area, such as, how deep is the layer of clay below the ground’s surface? How far does the clay extend under the dunes? Where are ancient faults buried? These answers could potentially refine existing knowledge on how much water is in the aquifers beneath the Great Sand Dunes. 

The company conducting the geophysical survey under contract to the USGS is SkyTEM Surveys ApS, headquartered in Denmark. The helicopter is controlled by experienced pilots from Abitibi Helicopters, Ltd., based out of Calgary, Canada, who are specially trained for low-level flying. The companies are working with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure flights are in accordance with U.S. law. 

Editor: In the public interest and in accordance with FAA regulations, the USGS is announcing this low-level airborne project. Your assistance in informing the local communities is appreciated.

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