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Rock fall at Roosevelt Lake 2020

AZGS Newsletter Winter 2020-2021


Table of Contents

    State of the AZGS by Phil A. Pearthree
    AZGS Project Notes 2021
        STATEMAP 2020-2021
        Earth Mapping Research Initiative
        Fault Studies
        Earth Mapping Research Initiative
        Fault Studies
    Geologic Hazard Projects
        Post-Wildfire Debris Flows
    Ongoing Projects
        Web & Social Media
    Recent & Pending Publications
    AZGS Staff
        New Staff Winter 2020-2021

The State of the AZGS as 2021 Dawns
Philip A. Pearthree, Director and State Geologist
      The turning of the calendar from 2020 to 2021 marked the end of a very difficult year for the world, our nation, the State of Arizona, and the University of Arizona (UA), with challenges few would have foreseen when 2020 began. The AZGS has not been immune to these difficulties. We were forced to transition abruptly to remote work in mid-March; this was done remarkably seamlessly due to the high-quality work of our IT, GIS, and administrative staff, and the flexibility and resilience of our geologists. Due to the financial impacts of the pandemic on the UA, we had to participate in a furlough program for part of the year; this resulted in reduced pay for our staff members and difficult logistical challenges in keeping our organization functioning efficiently. All staff members were negatively affected by the pandemic; some had Covid-19, others were touched by personal loss, all had aspects of their lives curtailed and their work environments rearranged.  

      With all these challenges the AZGS came through 2020 remarkably well. There were a few hiccups, but overall AZGS staff were able to continue functioning quite efficiently under dramatically different working conditions. We retained our base appropriation from the state and took advantage of enhanced federal funding opportunities to increase our external funding levels; this allowed us to add 2 research scientists late in the year. We successfully made a case for continued fieldwork throughout the year because our geologists were willing to camp and abide by social-distancing protocols. We completed or made substantial progress on all our projects, released numerous new products to the public, and continued to advocate for the importance of geology for the safety and economic well-being of the citizens of Arizona.

      The AZGS is a small organization, but our expertise is quite broad; our research scientists are not particularly specialized and thus can fill different roles as new projects possibilities develop. This makes our organization agile and responsive to funding opportunities – if we have the capability to take on a funding opportunity for research and investigations that will benefit the State of Arizona, we will do it. Like other geological surveys, we are increasingly involved in communicating the benefits/applications of our research to decision makers, our stakeholders, and the public. In the remainder of this article, I will summarize issues concerning the AZGS and highlight some areas of our current research.

AZGS funding and legislation. Our financial model is built on a mix of state and external funding. Our base funding is provided by a state appropriation as a line item in the UA budget. Since this appropriation was re-established in FY 2017-18 the AZGS has received $941,000 annually – the exact amount we received when we were a separate state agency in FY 2015-16. The proposed AZGS budget for FY 21-22 presented by Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning & Budgeting is the same as our current appropriation. Our other primary funding source is external grants and contracts, most of which come from various federal agencies. We have been able to increase our external funding over the past two years, a trend that we aim to continue.

      Federal funding opportunities available to state geological surveys have increased substantially in the past few years, and we have seized opportunities as they have arisen. Funding for the STATEMAP program (part of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program administered by the US Geological Survey) increased dramatically in the FY 20 federal budget. This increase is a product of many factors, but most important is a collaborative effort between state geologists, the USGS, and important stakeholders to build a case in Congress for the value of geologic mapping. These groups have argued that quality geologic mapping is fundamental to understanding the natural resources and geologic hazards of the U.S. Because of the funding increase, a well-written proposal, and an excellent track record of producing high-quality geologic maps, we were able to nearly double our STATEMAP funding in 2020. In addition, we began a new 2-year project focused on a critical mineral (lithium) with funding from the USGS Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (MRI). We received a mix of federal and state funding to conduct research and investigations of geologic hazards, with many projects addressing post-wildfire hazards, earthquake hazards, and landslide hazards. We received funding from the U.S. Dept. of Energy to enhance the National Geothermal Data System and to participate in the Carbon Utilization and Storage Project, a consortium of state surveys, academic institutions and national laboratories in the western U.S. that is gathering data to support carbon sequestration projects.

      At the state level, our primary issues are continuation of our base appropriation and an effort to correct some contradictory language in our enabling legislation. As mentioned above, the Governor’s Office has proposed level funding for the AZGS in FY21-22. Representative Gail Griffin introduced a bill in the current legislative session (HB 2037) to modify inconsistent language in the state statutes that enable the Arizona Geological Survey. When the AZGS was moved back into the University of Arizona in 2016, our duties and status were described by legislation in two places; unfortunately, the language was changed to reflect the new administrative structure in only one of those places. HB 2037 cleans up the language in the statutes, recognizing the AZGS as an entity situated in the University of Arizona with funding provided by annual appropriation from the state general fund. The bill adds language that says the State Geologist must be either a registered geologist or a trained geologist with a degree in geology and at least 4 years of experience outside of an educational institution. Finally, HB 2037 repeals the requirement for sunset review of the AZGS. These are all positive changes for the AZGS.

Staffing levels. Because our state funding remained stable and our external funding increased in 2020, we were able to maintain and ultimately increase our staffing level. We employed 6 undergraduate and graduate students to assist part-time on various mapping, mineral resource, and database projects. Although the UA instituted a general hiring freeze for most of the year, we were able to justify opening two new Research Scientist positions in the latter part of 2020 due to our robust external funding. After a very competitive hiring process, we were delighted that Lisa Thompson and Victor Garcia accepted our employment offers and started working for the AZGS in early November. Their expertise will augment and complement our mapping, mineral resources, and basin studies, as well as our educational and outreach activities; we look forward to seeing what innovative ideas they bring to our group.

Landslide block on Miocene basin-fill
Landslide block on Miocene Basin Fill, Burro Wash, Mohave County (B. Gootee)

Geologic Mapping. The AZGS has prioritized geologic mapping and sustained a high-quality, productive mapping program dating to the hiring of Steve Reynolds and Jon Spencer in the early 1980s. Since that time, many dedicated field geologists have contributed to maintaining these high standards. Our mapping program integrates bedrock and surficial geologic mapping as well as any in the U.S. We are sensitive to the needs of our various public and private stakeholders as we develop our mapping plans, working closely with the members of our State Mapping Advisory Committee (SMAC) to shape our long-term mapping strategy and prioritize areas to be mapped. Private-sector members have expertise in rock products, metallic minerals, hydrogeology, environmental geology, and geologic hazards; public-sector members represent state and federal agencies and academia. Advice and feedback from these dedicated geologists are critical to our mapping program. The areas we propose to map each year have been prioritized by our SMAC because of geologic hazard issues, mineralization, interesting geology, and how they fit into regional priorities for mapping. (Image: Big Sandy Valley, Mohave County by C. Richardson.)

      Our current STATEMAP award that began in September 2020 is by far the largest the AZGS has ever received and is about twice as much funding as we received in the previous year. This increase occurred because of the substantial increase in funding for STATEMAP, a well-crafted proposal, and an excellent track record of producing high-quality geologic maps. STATEMAP requires an equal match of state funds, so we are currently devoting a substantial fraction of our state funding to geologic mapping. As part of the new nationwide mapping vision, we are continuing the detailed mapping that has been the staple of our efforts for the past 25 years but will also devote substantial effort to develop intermediate-scale compilation map databases. We have submitted an ambitious proposal for STATEMAP funding beginning in September 2021, which will continue our detailed and compilation mapping efforts.

      We have utilized the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program for the past several years to update and re-release nearly all our early digital geologic maps (DGMs) from the 2000s. Although these maps were originally produced in a GIS format, many of their geodatabases were in poor shape and none conformed to modern standards. In all cases, we updated unit nomenclature to conform with our current usage; for some of the maps, we did more substantial revisions and released new versions of the maps.

Mineral Resources. Our mineral resources program has been ramping up since we hired Carson Richardson in early 2019. Efforts to better understand the mineral resources of Arizona are closely connected with our geologic mapping program, and potential mineral resources are typically an important factor considered by our SMAC. In 2020 we began a 2-year mapping project to understand the genesis of lithium-rich deposits in west-central Arizona, funded by the USGS Earth MRI Program. We received this funding in part because it leverages our current STATEMAP project in Big Sandy Valley. We are assessing the core samples in our possession and considering ways to make it more accessible to the public. As mandated by state legislation, the AZGS is responsible for maintaining and updating annually a map of active mines in Arizona, based on data provided by the Office of the State Mine Inspector. This map, which is available on our website, was updated in December 2020. We participate in the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources at the UA and have been involved with the working group scoping out the development of a UA School of Mining Engineering & Mineral Resources.

Geologic Hazards. In the past year, AZGS staff under the supervision of Ann Youberg conducted many research projects and investigations into various aspects of landslide hazards in Arizona. Post-wildfire hazards are of particular importance given the size and frequency of wildfires in Arizona in the past few decades. Collaborative research with colleagues in the Department of Geosciences in the UA and in the USGS has focused on understanding thresholds for generating post-wildfire debris flows (slopes, rainfall intensity, changes in runoff parameters). In addition, we are cooperating with local emergency managers to model how runoff from forested areas may change after future wildfires, with the focus on identifying areas that may be subject to flooding and debris flows when wildfires occur. State funding provided by the Arizona Division of Emergency Management (DEMA) was utilized to more accurately map landslides in the I-17 corridor from Anthem to Flagstaff. This will be particularly useful as ADOT is planning road-widening / modification in part of this corridor. The results of this project were shared with ADOT, DEMA, and the professional geologic community via several on-line presentations, and an AZGS Special Paper will be released in the coming months.

SR88 blocked by landslide
Arizona SR 88 near Theodore Roosevelt Lake blocked by rock fall. (B. Gootee)

The AZGS continues to play an integral part in understanding potential seismic hazards in Arizona, operating a network of broadband seismometers, conducting investigations of potentially active faults, and leading efforts to communicate the risk of damaging earthquakes across the state. Our seismic network feeds data into the national seismic network operated by the USGS; these data are used to locate and estimate the magnitudes of earthquakes in and near Arizona. We are also able to gather more high-quality seismic data to understand larger earthquakes in Arizona when they occur. In the past several years we have studied 3 potentially active fault zones in northern Arizona with funding from the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program, and we will work with the Bureau of Reclamation to study 2 fault zones northeast of Phoenix in the coming year. Outreach efforts include organizing the Arizona Council for Earthquake Safety to promote awareness of seismic hazards in Arizona and organizing the Great Arizona Shakeout in October to do the same in schools across the state.

Digital Geology. The AZGS has been at or near the forefront of digital geologic mapping techniques and organization and analysis of large geologic datasets for several decades, but our program was re-vitalized with the hiring of Andrew Zaffos in 2017. This past year we worked on an update of the National Geothermal Data System, following on the crucial role the AZGS played in its development in the early 2010s. We continue to release our new and revised map products in a variety of digital formats and archive our digital products internally and at the UA Science Library. We are working to conform with the latest national standards for geodatabases, which is currently a major point of emphasis in the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program. Our GIS specialists provide critical technical support for our geologists as they produce our geologic maps and other digital products. We are working on the development of tools that will assist our geologists with entering their data in formats consistent with the national geodatabase standards, and which will work with the latest GIS software programs. Andrew is part of an NSF-funded team developing an integrative paleobotany database, which will bring together informally and formally-named fossil through geologic history and world-wide. Last but definitely not least, our team is consistently maintaining and improving the AZGS website, through which we attempt to engage the public regarding the importance of geologic information to the functioning of our modern society, and where we deliver the vast majority of our geologic products.

Public Outreach and Publications. The AZGS works closely with emergency management community to share information that impacts their constituents (e.g., identifying mountain drainages with a predilection for damaging and life-threatening post-wildfire debris flows).  Also, select products provide city planners with tools for planning to conserve natural resources to the benefit of the community and to promote smart growth. The AZGS transitioned to delivering all our products digitally when we moved into the UA in 2016. Thus, we were well-positioned to continue more-or-less business as usual when the pandemic hit, because our geologic maps, reports, databases, and lots of other useful geologic information are available for free via our website. All of the in-person venues shut down, but we gave numerous remote presentations. Mike Conway continued vigorous efforts to notify geologic organizations, stakeholders, and the general public when our publications are released, as well as providing perspectives on current geologic issues.

Conclusions. The past year has been very difficult for the AZGS – a microcosm of the troubles in the world. AZGS staff have risen to the many challenges to remain very productive through this period, and our funding and staffing levels actually rose in 2020. We have continued to fulfill our mission to provide useful geologic data and information that contributes to the safety and economic well-being of Arizona. Our staff is eager to take on new opportunities, and the future of the AZGS is bright.  

AZGS Project Notes: 2021
Each year AZGS staff engage in projects funded in part by federal and state government. Listed below are major AZGS projects for 2021.  Our Arizona state allocation of $941,000 provides matching funds for external grants (e.g., USGS STATEMAP), staff remuneration, and supports in-house projects, e.g., operating the Arizona Broadband Seismic Network, among other things.  We continue to seek external funds to support the AZGS mission, ‘to provide geologic information to enhance public understanding of the state's geologic character, geologic hazards and limitations, and mineral resources’.

Carbon Utilization and Storage Partnership (CUSP) 2021 through 2024.  AZGS joins 13 states and three national laboratories to identify geologic repositories suitable for long-term carbon dioxide storage.  AZGS receives $226,395 to support lead geoscientist Brian Gootee and support staff including Lisa Thompson.
      For more see AZGS joins Carbon Utilization and Storage Partnership (20 Dec. 2020).

Geologic Mapping Projects

STATEMAP 2020-2021 Geologic Mapping in Arizona, U.S. Geological Survey, National Cooperative Geological Mapping Program; $324,016 federal, $324,016 state match, $648,032 total; 09/10/2020-09/09/2021; PI: Philip Pearthree; Co-PI: Carson Richardson; AZGS Geologists and Geoinformatics Staff: Joseph Cook, Charles Ferguson, Victor Garcia, Brian Gootee, Brad Johnson, Lisa Thompson, and Haley Snellen.

     AZGS is undertaking several STATEMAP mapping-related projects this cycle, including: 1) 1:24,000-scale mapping of 4.5 quadrangles in the southern Big Sandy Valley between the Hualapai and Aquarius Mountains near Wikieup in western Arizona; 2) 1:100,000-scale new mapping and compilation of existing mapping of the Little Horn Mountains, Salome, and the eastern half of the Casa Grande 30’ x 60’ quadrangles using the new USGS GeMS geodatabase standards; and 3) an updated synthesis of geologic mapping in Arizona, where future mapping should be directed, and the issues and barriers that will need to be addressed moving forward.
Read more.

Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (MRI)  Geologic Mapping in the Big Sandy Valley, Arizona Focus Area, U.S. Geological Survey, National Cooperative Geological Mapping Program and Earth Mapping Resources Initiative (Earth MRI); $100,000 federal, $50,322 state match, $150,322 total; 09/01/2020-08/31/2022; PI: Carson Richardson; AZGS Geologists and Geoinformatics Staff: Charles Ferguson, Victor Garcia, Brian Gootee, and Haley Snellen.

        AZGS is mapping the Kaiser Spring volcanic field, an area adjacent to the southern Big Sandy Valley, where silicic volcanic rocks are hypothesized as potential sources for lithium mineralization in Big Sandy and Burro Creek areas. We plan to use geochronology and geochemistry to constrain timing and other potential source rocks.

National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program. Preservation and Modernization of Arizona Digital Geologic Map Data, and Earth MRI Activities, U.S. Geological Survey, National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program; $110,256 federal, $110,256 state match, $220,512 total; 08/31/2020-08/30/2021; PI: Andrew Zaffos; Co-PI: Carson Richardson; AZGS Geologists and Geoinformatics Staff: Victor Garcia, Brad Johnson, Philip Pearthree, Haley Snellen, and Student Workers.

      AZGS data preservation work centers around three activities: 1) upgrading existing geodatabases of AZGS digital geologic maps (DGMs) to ensure their continued availability to the public; 2) inventorying several donated collections in preparation of future data preservation activities; and 3) developing a geographically-based mining district map and compiling mineral deposit/occurrence data from across the state that will be available through an interactive web viewer and serve as the basis for anticipated future county reports on mineral resources.

Fault Studies.  Collaborative Research with the Utah Geological Survey, funded by US Geological Survey ($10,725, ends 6/30/2021). “Detailed Mapping of Late Quaternary-Active Traces of Southwestern Utah and Northwestern Arizona Faults.
Geologic Hazard projects
National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP) – AZGS hosts Arizona’s earthquake program manager and will receive federal funds, ~$53,000 (with a 25% AZGS match) in 2020-21 from the FEMA-managed NEHRP program to inform Arizonans of earthquake hazard and mitigation strategies.  The AZGS works closely with the Arizona Dept. of Emergency and Military Affairs and coordinates the Arizona Council on Earthquake Safety (ACES) to minimize the impact of earthquakes on Arizona’s people, property and infrastructure.

Post-wildfire debris-flow
Modern post-wildfire debris-flow deposit by Olivia Hoch (29 July 2020)..

Post-Wildfire Debris Flow Research – Senior Research Geologist Ann Youberg continues her collaboration with Luke McGuire (UA Arizona Geosciences) and Francis Rengers (US Geological Survey) on monitoring and modelling post-wildfire debris flows in Arizona. Funding stems from DEMA and FEMA. (Image: Debris-flow snout with geologist Alex Gorr; photo by Olivia Hoch [July 29, 2020]).

      Joint Fire funding “Integrating post-wildfire debris-flow and flood risk assessments and value change metrics with QRA”, Joint Fire Science Program, $404,946, ends 2/28/2023.

  • Yavapai County (FEMA/Ann) “Advance Assistance: Pre-wildfire Assessment of Potential Post-wildfire Hazards”, FEMA, $194,793, ends 4/1/2022
  • HMGP Postfire (Ann/FEMA) “Emergency post-fire debris flow inundation hazards; identifying who is at risk in the immediate aftermath of a wildfire”, FEMA, $56,900, ends 9/19/2022
  • Pima County (Ann) “Estimating post-wildfire sediments yields in the Santa Catalina Mountains following the 2020 Bighorn Fire, a University of Arizona partnership with Pima County Regional Flood Control District”, Pima County Regional Flood Control District, $25,805, ends 6/30/2021.


National Geothermal Data System - AZGS continues its longstanding partnership with the Dept. of Energy Geothermal Research office to bring new geoscientific data to geothermal researchers. New advances in machine-learning allow millions of scientific documents to be automatically analyzed for geologic data such as a well-logs and chemical assay tables.

    PBOT Paleobotany Database - Developing a database for cryptic plant fossils in collaboration with an international network of paleobotanists, museum curators, and other major fossil databases.

    Machine Learning project - “A high-throughput computing infrastructure to generate custom, open community geothermal datasets”, DOE, $408,834, ends 8/31/2021

Ongoing AZGS projects supported by State Allocation funds

Arizona Broadband Seismic Network (2009-2021) operated by Jeri Y. Ben-Horin, with support from Howard ,  monitors earthquake activity in Arizona. Read more

Earth Fissure Mapping Project Managed by Joseph P. Cook to document and monitor earth fissure activity in Cochise, La Paz, Maricopa, Pima and Pinal Counties.  Read more.

Natural Hazards in Arizona Viewer - Provides up-to-date interactive themes for earthquakes, earth fissures, flooding, landslides, and wildfires.

AZGS Outreach & Education – In-person outreach in 2020 was stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic. We turned instead to digital outreach via our social media channels at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.  Follow us there for updates and topical news on Arizona geology.

Web & Social Media Outlets

    Arizona Geological Survey Web
    Arizona Geological Survey Document Repository
    Arizona Geological Survey Mining Data

 Social Media

    Arizona Geology on Twitter (~ 9,000 followers)
    Arizona Geology on Facebook (~21,600 followers)
    AZGS on Youtube (~1,450 followers)
    Arizona Geological Survey on LinkedIn (~1,650 followers)
    Arizona Geological Survey on Instagram (~300 followers)

Recent & Pending Publications

Publications of the Arizona Geological Survey and its predecessor agencies (e.g., Arizona Bureau of Mines) since 1915 are available for free download at the AZGS Online Document Repository.

    For a complete listing of recent publications.

AZGS Professional & Administrative Staff 2021
For details on AZGS staff expertise, e-mail addresses, and headshots, visit
Director & Assistant Director
Pearthree, Phil, A. –Director and Arizona State Geologist. Quaternary mapping & earthquake geology.
Bellassai, Randi – Assistant Director, chief administrator.
Core Staff & Expertise

  • Ben-Horin, Jeri, Y., Research Scientist. AZ Broadband Seismic Network, earthquake geology
  • Bookman, Laura, Research Scientist, GIS applications & programming
  • Conway, F. Michael, Senior Research Scientist. Outreach & science communication, AZ earthquake program manager
  • Cook, Joseph, P. – Research Scientist.Earth fissures, landslides, Quaternary mapping
  • Ferguson, Charles – Research Scientist.Bedrock mapping, structural geology, volcanology
  • Garcia, Victor – Research Scientist. Economic Geology, bedrock mapping
  • Gootee, Brian, F. – Research Scientist & Tribal Liaison. Quaternary & bedrock mapping, basin analysis
  • Hudman, G. - Senior Research Scientist. National Geothermal Data System.
  • Johnson, Brad – Research Scientist. Bedrock mapping, structural geology & mineral deposits
  • Meredith, Doug -Developer.GIS applications & programming
  • Peavey, Howard - Broadband seismometer technician
  • Richardson, Carson – Senior Research Scientist. Economic geology and bedrock mapping.
  • Snellen, Haley – GIS technician. GIS applications
  • Thompson, Lisa A.M. – Research Scientist.
  • Youberg, Ann – Senior Research Scientist. Mgr. Environmental Geology, Quaternary mapping, post-wildfire debris flows & geologic hazards.
  •  Zaffos, Andrew – Senior Research Scientist. GIS, Mgr. AZGS Geoinfomatics, paleontology

New Staff Winter 2020

    In Nov. 2020, Victor Garcia, Ph.D and Lisa Thompson M.S. joined the AZGS staff.  Victor (right below) has a background in geochemistry, geochronology, and economic geology. He joins Carson Richardson in AZGS’ burgeoning economic geology program.

     Lisa Thompson (left below) has a broad background with more than a decade of experience in geologic mapping, cartography, GIS, volcanology, sedimentology, and teaching & pedagogy. She joins AZGS STATEMAP geologic mapping team and will assist Brian Gootee on the CUSP project.

    For more on Victor and Lisa see the Arizona Geology Blog, “Two seasoned geologists join AZGS staff".

Lisa and Victor head shots
Lisa on the left, Victor on the right.