Great Lakes Geologic Mapping Coalition: 19 years of mapping glacial sediments in the Great Lakes Region

Three-dimensional image of the western part of Lake County, Illinois, as viewed from the southeast.

Three-dimensional image of the western part of Lake County, Illinois, as viewed from the southeast. A network of geologic cross sections was derived from the geologic model layers. Not all geologic model layers are shown. The lowermost layer, shaded gray, is the bedrock surface. The model layer, shaded brown, is a glacial lake deposit and is a major aquifer that supplies water to northern communities. From Berg et al. (2016). Copyright © University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

In May of 2000, Escherichia coli bacteria contaminated the drinking water of the rural community of Walkerton, Ontario. Seven people died and nearly half of the population of 5,000 fell ill. That event resulted in the province of Ontario allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars to conduct detailed three-dimensional (3-D) mapping of regional municipalities to prevent similar disasters from happening in the future. The Great Lakes Geologic Mapping Coalition—an organization that includes the state geological surveys of all eight Great Lake states, the United States Geological Survey, and the Ontario Geological Survey—has the goal of preventing disasters like the one in Walkerton by using information about the Earth’s subsurface acquired through 3-D geologic mapping.

In a newly published book chapter titled “Multiagency and multijurisdictional approach to mapping the glacial deposits of the Great Lakes region in three dimensions” (in Geoscience for the Public Good and Global Development: Toward a Sustainable Future, Geological Society of America), the authors assess the results and significance to date of addressing societal needs in the Great Lakes region with solutions driven by mapping geologic features of the earth’s subsurface in 3-D. These maps act like an insurance policy for the way resources are identified, protected, and used.

“It’s really like an HMO for the land,” said Richard Berg, lead author of the chapter and Director of the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), “You’re trying to prevent something from happening by having knowledge of what’s there. So land use can then reflect the vulnerability of aquifers and the situation that exists.”

Formed in 1997, the Coalition responded to a need to provide accurate scientific information to stakeholders in the Great Lakes region, including municipalities, federal and state agencies, and private landowners. Over the last 19 years, the Coalition has made remarkable advances in portraying geologic information in 3-D and conveying the importance of that information to municipal, state, and federal officials for land and water use and for balancing economic development with environmental protection.

When the Coalition began, less than 10 percent of the subsurface in the Great Lakes region had been mapped. The individual agencies that are now part of the Coalition lacked the necessary financial and personnel resources to conduct massive geological mapping efforts. As they identified the critical needs of municipal and state officials, they recognized that the only way to address those needs was to combine resources. As a Coalition, they created a strategy and set long-term goals to generate financial and stakeholder support for 3-D mapping, pool physical and personnel resources, and share their mapping and technological expertise. To date, the Coalition has conducted detailed surficial and 3-D geologic mapping within all of the members’ jurisdictions, and they have made significant advances in understanding the glacial history and geologic processes of the Great Lakes region.

The Coalition’s work in Will County, Illinois, is an example of how they have cooperated closely with municipal, county, state, and federal officials, and where other ISGS scientists, Oliver Caron (Associate Quaternary Geologist, ISGS) and Steven Brown (Chief Scientist, ISGS), have also contributed to the Coalition’s work. The Coalition has talked with every local agency and state and federal representative in Will County to explain what the Coalition is doing and get the input of officials, Berg said, to make sure that the Coalition’s products—maps of available potential groundwater resources and limestone aggregate, as examples—address the priorities of the County. “We want to make sure that the products that are designed for them suit their needs.”

by Dan Klen

 

Source of image: Berg, R.C., S.E. Brown, J.F. Thomason, N.R. Hasenmueller, S.L. Letsinger, K.A. Kincare, J.M. Esch, A.E. Kehew, L.H. Thorleifson, A.L. Kozlowski, B.C. Bird, R.R. Pavey, A.F. Bajc, A.K. Burt, G.M. Fleeger, and E.C. Carson, 2016, A multiagency and multijurisdictional approach to mapping the glacial deposits of the Great Lakes region in three dimensions, in G.R. Wessel and J.K. Greenberg, eds., Geoscience for the Public Good and Global Development: Toward a Sustainable Future: Geological Society of America, Special Paper 520, http://specialpapers.gsapubs.org/content/early/2016/04/01/2016.2520_37.full.pdf+html.