USGS flying low to study New Madrid fault zone

Cessna-180 (Source: USGS)
Cessna-180 (Source: USGS)

Posted by Jessi Turnure

BLYTHEVILLE, AR (KAIT) – Flights from the U.S. Geological Survey will start Wednesday over parts of northeast Arkansas and southeast Missouri.

According to a news release from the USGS, the low-level flights over a 1,800-square-mile area will include Blytheville, AR, Piggott, AR, Kennett, MO and Qulin, MO.

"This is the first high-resolution aero-magnetic survey. This is one piece of the puzzle that geological survey scientists did not have in the past," Michael Hobbs, EDCON-PRJ VP of Airborne Acquisition, said.

A magnetometer on board the aircraft will measure the magnetic field of the earth and help find hidden faults below the surface. They will also be researching the geology and hydrology of the area.

The plane will fly twice a day, once early in the morning and once late at night.

"We need to figure out how to look below the surface and figure out and map and characterize these faults and this is a method to do that."

The reason for the flights is to find clues about earthquakes along the New Madrid Seismic Zone. The Region 8 area is part of the New Madrid Seismic Zone, the most active seismic zone east of the Rocky Mountains. It is most known for a string of devastating earthquakes in 1811 and 1812

"If this happened again, with all of the population and urban development, it would be a very serious matter," USGS geophysicist Rick Blakely said.

The USGS stated there is no knowledge of an imminent large earthquake right now and Blakely agreed. He said they are not in Blytheville because they believe this will happen again in the near future, but he said it is always a concern. "As geologists, we believe what happened in the past is going to happen in the future. And trying to understand how these earthquakes happen and what they bode is important to understanding how to protect for that."

When the survey is complete, they will have more than two million data points to better understand where the earthquake faults are in the Region 8 area. "We will be able to learn a lot more about the New Madrid Seismic Zone than we have ever known in the past," Hobbs said.

Blakely said they are also looking toward the future. "We're never going to be able to predict the day an earthquake can happen. But we can determine the percent probability that the ground will shake a certain amount, let's say, in the next 50 years. Armed with that knowledge, you can build your hospitals and your schools properly in order to avoid that."

A red and white Cessna-180 will be making the low-level flights. Those operating the plane are trained in low-level flying and work with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure safety.

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