Airborne Geophysical Surveys

The USGS began airborne geophysical surveys in support of Afghanistan’s reconstruction in 2004; such surveys are a widely accepted and cost-effective method for remotely gathering certain types of geological information. Initial efforts, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and carried out in cooperation with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GoA) through its Afghanistan Geological Survey (AGS), led to the recovery, reprocessing, and publication of historical airborne geophysical data collected in the 1960s and 1970s.

Much more accurate and up-to-date information was needed, however. With funding from the GoA, USGS partnered with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to conduct airborne magnetic, gravity, and photographic surveys of Afghanistan during 2006 and 2008. A research-modified Lockheed NP-3D “Orion” aircraft, outfitted with a suite of geophysical instruments, served as the survey platform. Base stations, many of which were operated by Afghan scientists, were established throughout the country to provide correctional data in support of these surveys. The resulting datasets provided vital and reliable information for mineral and petroleum exploration studies important to the country’s economic development, and for water and agricultural resource assessments, seismic hazard analyses, inventory and planning of civil infrastructure, and the production of detailed maps.

In 2011, USGS partnered with the U.S. Department of Defense Task Force for Business Stabilization Operations (TFBSO) to collect high-resolution geophysical surveys of selected mineral provinces utilizing magnetic, gravity, radiometric, and electromagnetic technologies. As with previous airborne geophysical surveys, the goal of these activities was to assist AGS in making available high-quality datasets that have the potential to help stimulate investment and business development, which in turn will improve economic conditions in Afghanistan.


 A list of all USGS Airborne Geophysical Surveys Project publications is available here.