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More Money, More Mapping! AZGS Embarks on Ambitious Geologic Mapping Campaign

We are excited to announce that the AZGS award for the STATEMAP Program in Fiscal Year 20-21 is $324k – a 2-fold increase from our current level of funding and much more than we have ever received before. With the required 50/50 state match, we will be devoting unprecedented resources to geologic mapping in Arizona over the coming year.

This increase in funding results from several factors. The AZGS has a proven track record of producing high-quality geologic maps within the challenging time constraints of the STATEMAP Program – mapping must be completed in one year, with up to another year of fine-tuning before the maps are released to the public. The quality of our proposal(s) this year was excellent – many staff contributed, but kudos especially to Carson Richardson and Randi Bellassai for content and quality control. The most important factor, however, was an additional $5M allocated to state geological surveys through the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program administered by the US Geological Survey (USGS), a nearly two-fold increase from the $5.5M of funding available to the states in the previous year. This increase in funding was the result of cooperative efforts of the Association of American State Geologists (AASG) and the USGS to advocate for the role of geologic mapping in understanding natural resources, natural hazards, and the basic geologic framework upon which our communities and transportation networks are built.

The AZGS has participated in the STATEMAP Program every year since its inception in 1993 and has completed detailed (1:24,000-scale) geologic mapping in many parts of the state (Fig. 1).

AZGS StateMap
Figure 1. Footprints of AZGS' STATEMAP program mapping projects.

For the past ~20 years, AZGS staff have met with members of our Geologic Mapping Advisory Committee (now called the State Mapping Advisory Committee, or SMAC) in the early fall to determine geologic mapping priorities for the next proposal cycle. The SMAC consists of a diverse group of 15 geologists representing state and federal agencies, the metallic mineral and aggregate industries, environmental geology, geologic hazards and hydrogeology, and academia. These professionals provide invaluable input, feedback, and support for our mapping program, and they set the mapping priorities for our annual STATEMAP proposals in consultation with AZGS staff. Proposals are submitted to the USGS in the late fall, are peer-reviewed and anticipated funding amounts announced late winter,  for mapping that begins in the following fall.

The process for submitting proposals this past year was complicated by the fact that the Dept. of the Interior budget (with the budget increase) was not signed into law until December 2019, after the original STATEMAP proposals were due. We met with the SMAC in early October to identify priority mapping areas to include in our primary STATEMAP proposal:

  1. Detailed geologic mapping in southern Big Sandy Valley and surrounding mountain ranges, straddling the US Highway 93 / proposed I-11 corridor between Wickenburg and Kingman, to address a variety of mineral resource issues and provide basic data useful for engineering geology associated with the transportation corridor (Fig. 2).
  2. Detailed geologic mapping in the eastern San Pedro Valley, an area of known metallic mineral resources and water resource issues, between areas we have previously mapped in the Dragoon Mountains and San Pedro Valley.
  3. Compilation geologic mapping of the greater Tucson area, to address aggregate and metallic mineral resources, geologic hazards, and regional geologic relationships.
Big Sandy
Figure 2. Quadrangles of the Big Sandy Valley scheduled for STATEMAP mapping.

When we submitted our proposal in November 2019, we requested $300k of federal funding with the same amount of promised state match. We (and many other state surveys) have routinely requested funding up to the program limit ($300k), but the review process is rigorous and with limited funding available we would normally anticipate receiving ~ ½ of that amount. In the current year, for example, we received almost $158k in federal funding.  

When the additional $5M for state surveys was included in the Interior budget, the USGS worked with AASG representatives to craft guidelines for supplemental mapping proposals. This request for proposals was issued in late January 2020, due before the end of February. Language in the RFP required that proposals focus on intermediate-scale compilation geologic mapping, geologic map database upgrades, and assessments of the status of geologic mapping in each state. The overarching objective is to develop a reasonably uniform geologic map database for the entire U.S. by 2030, by getting all geologic mapping entities to use the same digital database format (Geologic Mapping Standards, or GeMS) and emphasizing intermediate-scale map compilations that cover lots of ground.

Given these constraints, the additional money could not simply be used to bolster our original STATEMAP proposal, rather it required a second proposal with different objectives and goals. We identified several regions where compilation mapping had been done in the 1990s or 2000s, but the mapping was not available in digital format (Fig. 3).  We proposed reviewing these map compilations, revising and improving them if possible, and releasing new maps compatible with the GeMS. We also proposed assessing the current state of geologic mapping across Arizona in order to assess mapping and data needs for the coming years.

Figure 3

Figure 3. Proposed areas for 2020-2021 STATEMAP program. Locations funded for mapping are: 1) southern Big Sandy Valley (1:24,000-scale); 2) Salome (1:100,000-scale); 3) Little Horn Mountains (1:100,000-scale); and 4) eastern half of Casa Grande (1:100,000-scale).

We received notification of our award amounts from the USGS in April and the news was excellent. The federal funding level for our original proposal is $171k – an increase of $13k from the current year – and our entire 2nd proposal was funded - $153k. Funding for our original proposal closely matches our request for mapping in Big Sandy Valley – the highest priority of our SMAC – so we plan to map 4.5 quadrangles at 1:24,000-scale covering the southern Big Sandy Valley and large parts of the surrounding mountain ranges.

With funds from the 2nd proposal we will produce new 1;100,000-scale map databases of the Salome and Little Horn Mountains 30’ x 60’ sheets – relatively remote areas with known metallic resources, and the eastern ½ of the Casa Grande 30’ x 60’ sheet – including the northwestern fringe of the Tucson metropolitan area and part of Picacho basin. Frankly, the primary motivation for choosing these areas is that much compilation mapping has already been done there and we can readily bring them into the modern map database schema with minor revisions. In addition, we will produce a map and report summarizing the current state of geologic mapping across the state – various scales of mapping available, sources of mapping, whether it is available digitally.

Additional federal funding for mapping and related activities. The AZGS will receive additional federal funding for mapping-related activities from the National Geologic and Geophysical Data Preservation Program ($110k with equal state match) and the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (MRI) is a two-year project with ($100k with $50k state match). The Earth MRI project is focused on understanding the geologic setting of lithium deposits (a critical mineral) in north-central Arizona and will complement the Big Sandy STATEMAP project. The NGGDPP project continues the modernization of our older digital geologic maps (DGMs), accompanied by the release of map data in a variety of digital formats to benefit the geosciences, mineral industries, and planning communities, and includes compilation and synthesis of data on critical minerals in Arizona.

To summarize, in 2020-21 AZGS will receive $484k in federal funding and provide $460k in state match for mapping and related activities, for a grand total of $944k allocated for mapping-related activities in Arizona.

None of this geologic mapping would be possible without the state appropriation allocated to the AZGS as a line-item in the University of Arizona budget, because all federal STATEMAP and Data Preservation funding requires a dollar-for-dollar match in state funds. In the coming fiscal year, almost 50% of our $941k appropriation will be used as match in mapping-related federal projects. We are extremely grateful that the State Legislature, the Governor’s Office, and our many stakeholders continue to value the work that the AZGS does and appreciate the importance of our geologic mapping program.

Phil Pearthree
Director and State Geologist