A geophysical survey of 1,200 square miles in Lemhi County is expected to yield results that should help mining companies and officials at the Idaho Geological Survey.

Helicopter surveys were conducted in September west of Salmon by the U.S. Geological Survey and Idaho Geological Survey. It was the largest such survey ever of the region, according to State Geologist and Idaho Geological Survey Director Claudio Berti.

Helicopters flew at low levels over the Idaho cobalt belt using equipment to detect the magnetic and radiometric signature of the region to determine how much cobalt and other mineral resources are contained in the ancient rock layers of the region. Several mining companies are conducting exploratory drilling in the area.

The survey will give Berti and his team “a fingerprint of metals and structures,” to review.

“We have historic and regional data from the region,” Berti said. “This study will provide high resolution geophysical information to add to what we already know about the structures and subsurface geometry of the rocks that contain the minerals.”

The USGS has data showing a coarse resolution of magnetic resources of the entire United States, Berti said, but “this detail of a survey is a first here in Idaho.” Some of the companies doing business in the region may have conducted their own surveys of smaller areas, he said, but the scope of the September survey was significantly larger than what any of those firms have done.

The new data should be especially beneficial, he said, because it was collected by a helicopter. Some airborne surveys are done from planes and others from drones. But a helicopter allows for higher resolution images to be prepared, he said. Helicopters can hover while the sensors collect data, which boosts quality.

“A helicopter makes your interpretation more reliable and comparable because it takes photos from the same distance above the ground,” Berti said. The rough terrain in Lemhi County made using a helicopter the smart choice for this survey, he said.

Berti said personnel with the Idaho Geological Survey wanted to conduct the survey, so they “passed the hat” to round up funding to survey a large region. Funding came from Revival Gold, Idaho Cobalt Company and the New Jersey Mining Company.

Besides data that mining companies will likely use, the survey will benefit general geology in Idaho, he said.

“We want to learn about general rock structure and gain general science knowledge,” Berti said. For example, he said the data can help firm up things like the specific location of fault lines that are now estimates. It will also allow geologists to determine the characteristics of rocks that are not visible on the surface. The equipment carried on the helicopters collected data emitted from those rocks “so we know they are there.”

“It will be incredibly valuable data for science and the industry,” he said. “We are looking for elements and minerals that we dearly need.”

The United States needs to decide whether it wants to invest in renewable energy and lithium batteries and wind turbines, Berti said. If so, the resources available in the cobalt belt are vital, he said. Cobalt has been deemed a critical mineral in the United States. The Idaho cobalt belt contains the largest undeveloped cobalt resources in the U.S., according to the USGS.

Berti said it will take about a year to compile the data and prepare a report of the results. Once that’s finished, the information will be made public. The data will also be incorporated into the data files of the Idaho Geological Survey, he said.

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