Geoscience BC starts mapping groundwater in the North Peace

In order to map the water flowing underneath the Earth northwest of Fort St. John, a specially equipped helicopter will have to fly high above it this summer.

On Thursday, GeoScience B.C., a provincial scientific agency, had its first test flight using a helicopter hooked up with special electromagnetic technology to map out groundwater aquifers. These flights will eventually cover over 8,000 square kilometers of land, going northwest of Fort St. John from Halfway River First Nation to Pink Mountain.

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About four daily trips are scheduled throughout the summer during daylight hours.

The helicopter will fly at about 80 to 150 kilometres per hour, at about 70 to 100 feet above ground level. Attached to the helicopter will be a special technology created by the SkyTEM company, which looks like a giant hoop attached to a string.

“Like a CAT scan, the [SkyTEM] system transmits an electromagnetic field into the ground, and measures the response,” GeoScience B.C. said in a release. “Various rocks and soil types have different electrical characteristics and each responds differently to the transmitted signal, telling us something about the type of technology.” 

“[Using the technology] we can more or less ... see groundwater down to a depth of about 350 metres,” said Carlos Salas, GeoScience B.C.’s vice-president of energy. "We’re actually trying to induce a current into the earth and what happens is you get information back which is electromagnetic energy that we can sense and that’s what we’re recording.”

The province is funding the $2 million project, and Salas said it would provide needed groundwater information that would help groups monitor it for safety.

 “We don’t understand where these aquifers are [north of the Peace River], so it’s very hard to protect and regulate groundwater if you don’t know where it is,” he said. “We’re trying to put a framework of scientific data for First Nations, communities, and the energy sector so they can know exactly where the groundwater is, and so they can use it for their own purposes.”

The spark for this study was the Water Sustainability Act announced in March 2014. The act will regulate groundwater usage in response to growing public and First Nations concerns.

Salas said that there is no health risk to people on the ground from the radiation.

“The current that is emitted is a direct current that will not affect any humans or animals below or close to the frame,” GeoScience materials stated.

— With files from David Dyck

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