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Low-Level Aircraft Part Of USGS Earthquake Hazards Research
Released: 6/16/1997

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Pat Jorgenson 1-click interview
Phone: 415-329-4000

Editors: In the public interest and in accordance with FAA regulations, the USGS is announcing this low-level flight project in advance. Your assistance in publicizing this information is appreciated.

Residents of the Puget Sound area should not be alarmed when they see a small airplane flying low, back and forth over their communities during the next few weeks, according to scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey.

A twin-engine scientific research airplane, operated under contract to the USGS, Department of the Interior, will be making low-altitude flights over the Puget Lowlands, for a period of two to three months, beginning June 20, 1997.

The aeromagnetic survey will cover an area extending north-south from the Canadian border to south of Olympia, Wash., and extending east-west from the western slopes of the Cascade Range to the Olympic Peninsula, an area of about 12,000 square miles. The flight patterns include the air space over the cities of Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Olympia, Bellingham, Everett, Oak Harbor, Port Orchard, Bremerton and all neighboring communities.

The airplane will survey the area by flying back and forth along lines spaced one-quarter of a mile apart. The total distance of about 43,000 miles is equivalent in distance to about nine round trips between Seattle and New York City. The flights will be conducted during daylight hours, seven days a week.

The aerial survey is designed to remotely study geologic units that lie below the earth’s surface, according to the project’s chief scientists, USGS geophysicist, Richard Blakely, in Menlo Park, Calif. "The airplane will carry an instrument that measures the magnetic field of the earth, which is related in part to the kinds of rocks that lie below the earth’s surface." Blakely said similar surveys in other parts of the United States have proven useful for identifying faults that may pose earthquake hazards. Data collected from the surveys help to locate and characterize these faults in places where they are concealed by sediments, vegetation, water, and urban development.

The flights will be conducted by Sander Geophysics Limited, a Canadian company with a great deal of experience in conducting these kinds of investigations. The pilot and crew are specially trained for low-level flight, and anyone observing the aircraft should not be alarmed if they see it fly low or pass below the horizon.

The aircraft making the low-altitude flights over the Puget Lowlands will be either a Cessna 402B or a Britten-Norman Islander. In either case, it will have twin engines and be painted white with red and blue stripes. The geophysical instrument is located inside a "stinger" that extends from the tail of the aircraft. The airplane will emit no magnetic or electrical fields of its own, but will only measure the existing magnetic field of the earth.

The aerial survey is part of ongoing USGS investigations designed to map the sub-surface geology of areas of the United States where earthquakes or other natural hazards might occur. Similar studies have been conducted over the greater San Francisco Bay Area, including the site of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, over the Los Angeles basin, including the site of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and over the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area, including the site of the 1993 Scotts Mills earthquake.

The Puget Lowlands survey is being coordinated with geoscientists at the University of Washington and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

Editors: For additional information or interviews with the scientists working on this project, call Richard J. Blakely at 415-329-5316, or Craig Weaver at 206-553-0627.

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