Pull out a map and you’ll find the Great Lakes area holds resources that no other place can claim. The region is rich in lakes and forests and scenic views. But a road map just covers the surface. We know much less about what’s under the earth. Now, a team of geologists is working to map the resources under the ground. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Pull out a map and you’ll find the Great Lakes area holds resources that no other
place can claim.
The region is rich in lakes and forests and scenic views. But a road map just
covers the surface.
We know much less about what’s under the earth. Now, a team of geologists from the
Lakes states is working to map the resources under the ground. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Look outside – look out your car window or into your backyard and try to erase
see. Take away the playgrounds and the concrete parking lots. Strip away the trees
and the grass
and the topsoil in your garden.
This is the way Kevin Kincare imagines the world. A picture of nothing except naked
– massive hills and cavernous valleys. All created by gigantic pieces of ice that
ground their way down the globe from Canada. This would be the picture of Great
about 15-thousand years ago. It’s the picture Kincare is slowly putting down on paper.
“This is a big chunk of granite and you can see this one side is flat and looks
glacier was moving across. There’s grooves right here. So this is the direction
the ice was
Kincare is a glacial geologist with the Michigan Department of Environmental
Quality. Six years
ago, he helped start the Central Great Lakes Geologic Mapping Coalition. It’s a
geologists from four states – Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio – and the U.S.
Survey. They’re working to put together a 3-D digital map of the region’s glacial
They’ll map everything down to the bedrock, which can be hundreds of feet below the
The first step in geologic mapping is compiling information from local maps. After
that it’s out
to the field.
At Tacy Brother’s Gravel Pit, a massive machine is sorting big scoops of earth into
piles of sand,
gravel and rocks.
Kincare is now working on mapping a small county on Lake Michigan. He says looking
gravel pit is like looking at nature’s record of thousands of years of changes to
“That starts to pull the whole story together. How the ice retreated across the
county from east to
west and where all the rivers that were carrying the melting glacier ice and
sections of sand, and where the glacial lakes were, where all the silt and clay was
Geologists say one of the most important uses for the maps is locating water
Nationally, Michigan ranks first in the number of people who use household wells to
drinking water. Illinois, Ohio and Indiana rank among the top 15 in the nation for
water well use.
Gary Witkowski’s job is to protect the environment in his county in southwest
Michigan. He says
the first step in protecting groundwater is knowing exactly where it is.
“It’d be a tremendous help for us if we could just go to a resource like this and
information. Not only to us, but, I mean, even to the developer, it would be a
major plus that they
could look at.”
Knowing exactly what’s under the ground also helps planners build in the right
places. And it
helps them avoid building in the wrong places. For example, planners can put
close to supplies of groundwater. They can discourage development on land rich in
construction materials, such as sand and gravel. And they can make sure they don’t
industrial plants in places that are especially vulnerable to pollution.
Dennis O’Leary is with the U.S. Geological Survey. He’s helping Kevin Kincare with
“Those kinds of decisions that involve competing interests really can’t be made
there’s a body of knowledge, of fact, that relates to just what the question’s all
about and that’s
what these maps provide.”
But it could be awhile before people have access to maps this detailed. The four
states in the
mapping coalition and the Geological Survey all have to share 500-thousand dollars a
year for the
project. That means Kevin Kincare can map only one county every three years. It
two centuries just to finish his state.
“We’d have to have a lot of medical breakthroughs for me to finish this project.”
Kincare says the maps are too important to wait that long. He says they need
year from Congress. With that money, they could put together a complete geologic
map of the
Great Lakes region in about 16 years. Kincare says he’s not optimistic they’ll get
that kind of
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.