State geologist and partners create new surface geology maps for Massachusetts


Map of the Mount Toby Quadrangle

AMHERST, Mass. – Anyone who digs in the earth needs a geological map, says state geologist Stephen Mabee of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. set of 189 surface geological maps of Massachusetts in 7.5-minute quadrangles, the same useful scale as topographic maps used by hikers.

Civil engineers, geotechnical companies, state, county, and city planners, transportation engineers, geologists, developers, “anyone who disturbs the ground for a project needs this resource,” Mabee says, “because they encounter an unexpected obstacle. can cost tens of thousands or even millions of dollars. This is the benefit of this information now Publicly available. It has been estimated that the benefit-cost ratio of these cards is 34/1, so every dollar spent on mapping saves the taxpayer $ 34.

The newly digitized maps available online this month provide details of what Mabee calls the “kitty litter” mixture of glacial tills, various sands and gravels on the earth’s surface. The uniform, portable maps use a unique standard color for each geological material, with supporting legends and notes, and are “not only more precise, but more practical,” he adds. “You can use GIS to overlay them on any number of layers of other information for all kinds of spatial analyzes. “

“These are very detailed for a statewide map,” he says. Another advantage is that the maps are in a layered vector format, which means that the superimposed geological units will be displayed in the correct place on the Earth’s surface.

The lecturer in geosciences collaborated with research geologists Janet and Byron Stone and Mary DiGiacomo-Cohen at the office of the US Geological Survey (USGS) in East Hartford, Connecticut and others at the Massachusetts Bureau of Geographic Information (MassGIS ) to resuscitate this project which began in 1938. It was abandoned for many years, with about half of the maps published in print, when the USGS reorganized in 1978.

Mabee recalls, “I became a state geologist in 2002 and the first thing I did was tell the USGS ‘Let’s start again’. All it took was someone to say we have to finish the job. Once upon a time, there was a great partnership between the USGS and the state and I’m really happy to have helped revive it. It’s a huge accomplishment and one of my main goals when I started.

At its peak, the project was producing up to 18 quadrangles per decade, Mabee says, and by 1980 the Massachusetts Department of Public Works and USGS partners had mapped the entire state, but only 105 maps. were published in print, just over half of what would be needed to cover the state. “We saw the last maps published in the 1980s, then nothing,” he notes.

When Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972, and the Superfund legislation in 1980, along with other environmental regulations, many environmental and advisory groups were in urgent need of surface geological maps. but couldn’t find them, said Mabee. “For 20 years we had next to nothing, and what we had was just on paper. I had worked in consulting, so I knew the frustration.

With the project relaunched in 2002 and supported by the USGS National Cooperative Geological Mapping Program, MassGIS digitized all available paper maps, while “squads” of geoscience students from Mabee UMass Amherst mapped each map. and created digital versions. USGS professionals used old field notes to fill in the gaps, scanned all unpublished maps, matching all areas where different materials met, and added captions and definitions.

“They had to match the work people did in the 1940s to what was produced by the next generation in the 1970s for the 189 quads,” he adds. “It was a huge undertaking, and finally, 17 years later, we did it. People have been screaming for this data that was once all on paper, and now it’s all digital and online. ”

The state geologist is located on the UMass Amherst campus, jointly appointed by the chancellor in consultation with the state executive office for energy and environmental affairs and the university’s geoscience department. The tasks include carrying out research on the land, mineral and water resources of the State; coordinate and facilitate research and communication between various organizations, researchers and stakeholders; the collection, compilation, analysis and conservation of data relating to the geological environment; to disseminate the results of this research to the public through maps, reports and other publications; and to conduct the Massachusetts Geological Survey. The state geologist also maintains relationships with federal and other state geological surveys and academic institutions.

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