United States Geological Survey takes flight in Milton

DELAWARE – If you live in the First State and see a helicopter flying through the skies carrying a strange looking piece of equipment, don’t be alarmed. Scientists are using it to collect some important information about water in Delaware.

Studying the Delaware Bay

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) wants to figure out where fresh water and salt water meet in the Delaware Bay. Plus, they are studying how far inland that salt water might be reaching. “There’s salt water out in the Delaware Bay, and there’s fresh water here. At some point, the two meet. There’s an interface, and we’re interested in mapping and defining that interface,” said project coordinator Douglas Burns.

Burns says this data is important not just for USGS, but for the average Delawarean, as well. “You need to know where it’s safe to drill a well for one thing. And, we’re interested in the way things are changing over time. We want to get a picture of how things look today,” he said. “A lot of people either irrigate their crops or get water supply from wells. They want fresh water in their wells. So, when we’re done, we’ll have a picture of that salt water fresh water interface.”

Plus, sea levels are expected to rise one to three feet by the end of the decade, and storms are only getting stronger and more frequent, according to Burns. He says the data collected in the project could help scientists to better understand those trends, and their impacts.

“That’s a real concern, because if the sea level rises by three feet, the salt water is going to migrate further inland. There’s that pressure,” said Burns. “It’s the big storms that bring the salt water through waves further inland. So, there’s a potential to move salt water inland just through big storms, as well.”

How It Works

The helicopter will spend the next three to four week collecting that data by towing along a specialized piece of equipment through the air. The rig houses an airborne electromagnetic sensor, which can scan to depths as far as 300 feet.

“It works a lot like a metal detector that people use on the beach to detect coins and things like that, but on a much bigger scale, and with subtle measurements that allow us to map subsurface geology,” said USGS Research Geophysicist Burke Minsley. “That sets up a magnetic field in the Earth, and when we turn off the current, it creates a changing magnetic field that induces little currents in the ground. The Earth’s electrical properties determine how those currents move underground. As they do that, they generate secondary fields that we can measure in a receiver coil mounted in the white frame on the back of the instrument.”

After the data is collected, USGS will process and analyze it over the course of several months. That data will also be made into a 3D model of the Delaware Bay and surrounding areas. Once USGS is done with that, they will release it to the public.

USGS officials tell 47ABC this kind of work has been done for the past four decades. Wednesday’s lift off was just one of several studies they’ll be doing across the country this year.

Categories: Delaware, Local News