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New Mexico Bureau of Geology receives largest mapping grant in Nation

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Field Geologists Daniel Koning (left) and Dr. Snir Attia (right) mapping at Little San Pascual Mountain south of Socorro, New Mexico.
(click for a larger version)
Courtesy of Jacob Thacker
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A section of the Geologic Map of the Cuchillo 7.5-Minute Quadrangle, Sierra County, New Mexico, produced with funding from the U.S. Geological Survey’s STATEMAP program.
(click for a larger version)

Socorro, NM
— May 16, 2022

The New Mexico Bureau of Geology’s Geologic Mapping Program was awarded $668,850 through the United States Geological Survey’s STATEMAP program to continue detailed geologic mapping in New Mexico, the largest award ever received and the most funds awarded to any program in the country this year. The award also vaulted the Bureau to the top of the list for the total amount of funds awarded to an individual agency during the 30-year history of the program, a total of over $6,681,600.

“I’m very proud of the Geologic Mapping Program staff. Their professionalism and expertise are at the heart of the program’s success,” said Bureau of Geology Interim Director Dr. J. Michael Timmons. “We have always had a strong field mapping team, and STATEMAP has given us more resources to accelerate our efforts. We are playing to our strengths.”

The primary focus of mapping at the Bureau shifted with the start of the STATEMAP program in 1993, away from mineral exploration and energy resources and towards water resource management and hazard mitigation. Although critical minerals required for technological and industrial development remain an important topic of research at the Bureau, geologic mapping under the STATEMAP program focuses on population centers reliant on limited water resources and undergoing land development as populations expand. Said Timmons, “In the modern era, the need for understanding the state’s natural resources has taken on more urgency as we face substantial pressures to understand, protect, and judiciously utilize very limited supplies.”

A committee comprised of representatives from federal, state, and private agencies met in 2021 to determine the focus areas for mapping during the next year. Projects in 2022 will focus on three key regions: the Rio Grande watershed, the lower Pecos River watershed, and along the Interstate-40 corridor near Gallup, New Mexico. Geologic mapping generates the fundamental data necessary to support policy decisions and targeted research projects, often conducted by other state and tribal agencies as well as the private sector.

The key to the modern STATEMAP program is the digital nature of today’s map products. No longer simply paper, geologic maps now consist of extensive databases built in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that have geologic and spatial data embedded in map features.

For example, one can open a digital map, click on a feature, such as a fault, and see who mapped that fault, what kind of fault it is, if it is visible on the surface or concealed underground, how confident the mapper is that the nature of the fault is classified correctly, and many more layers of information impossible to include in a simple paper document.

“The geodatabase allows us to code every geologic feature exactly as what it represents,” explained Phil Miller, Coordinator of Map Production at the Bureau of Geology. “It preserves the original science that is captured by the mapper at the time they were mapping, in a way that is impossible when a map is simplified cartographically for printing.”

Moving forward, Miller sees the STATEMAP products moving from two-dimensional lines representing three-dimensional geometries into the realm of 3D modeling, “Complex 3D geologic models built from robust geodatabases allow researchers to integrate a variety of data sets, like modern imagery and geophysics, that allow better 3D interpretations,” explained Miller, “Developments in software and developments in modeling techniques will be one of the things that will accelerate and improve interpretations.”

Map products produced by the Bureau, whether they represent geology in two dimensions or three, will remain responsive to the resource management concerns of the public and map users.

“I would like to see more utilization of our map products in derivative studies that model natural systems,” said Timmons. “We hope to increase the production of our map products so more communities will benefit from robust digital map products.”

For more information, contact Dr. J. Michael Timmons at mike.timmons@nmt.edu

The STATEMAP program is funded by the United States Geological Survey’s National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program with matching funds from the State of New Mexico.