Residents in Santa Ynez and Lompoc Valleys may have noticed an unusual sight lately: a low-flying helicopter carrying a large, hexagon-shaped frame.
It's a project put on by Santa Barbara County and the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District — in cooperation with water agencies in the Santa Ynez River Valley Groundwater Basin — to map local aquifers in order to better understand groundwater in the area.
The frame is used for a Aerial Electromagnetic Method survey (AEM), taken roughly 100 feet above the ground using an electromagnetic signal.
The signal interacts with materials below the ground and a response from those materials is picked up by receivers. From there, data helps generate a three-dimensional map of the sands, gravels and clays that make up the aquifers of the regional groundwater system.
The helicopter carrying the frame will not fly over businesses, homes, inhabitable structures or confined animal feeding operations.
The magnetic field generated by the AEM is 60 hertz, the same field as standing one foot away from a toaster. Similar surveys have been conducted throughout California with no reported effects to humans or animals.