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Geology Programs

The survey’s Nashville office covers Middle and West Tennessee. A regional office in Knoxville serves East Tennessee.

Survey activities includes geologic hazards research, public service, education programs, basic and applied research on geology and mineral resources, and publication of geologic information. The survey maintains a well cuttings and core sample library and researches subsurface stratigraphy and structural geology to provide basic geologic information. It also publishes the resulting maps, charts, and cross sections, and makes them available through a maps and publications sales office.

Geologic mapping is an important function of the survey. The mapping section performs basic geologic mapping, and mineral resources identification, evaluation, and mapping. Mineral resources information is published in a mineral resources summary that accompanies each published geologic quadrangle map. Also included is information about geologic hazards such as caves, landslides, and sinkholes. There are 804 7.5-minute quadrangles covering Tennessee. These map units are at a scale of 1" = 2,000' and cover an area of about 60 square miles. Since 1960 the survey has mapped and published or released in open-file format as PDF files or print-on-demand products 517 quadrangles, placing Tennessee among the top states in the nation in terms of percentage of quadrangles mapped (over 64 percent) at this scale. These efforts have been enhanced since 1994 through cooperative efforts with the U.S. Geological Survey through the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program as summarized in the STATEMAP Fact Sheet.

The survey also devotes considerable effort to coal-related research. Geologic mapping in the coal field region, collection of reserve data, collection of samples for analysis, publication of reports, and processing data for entry into the National Coal Resources Data System computerized data base make up most of the coal-related program. A large amount of unpublished coal data is also available to the public.

Since 2007 the survey has been participating in the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program in order to preserve the survey’s data collections. Nearly all of the survey’s coal mining and zinc mining maps and reports collections are unpublished and in paper/mylar form. As a result, companies, government agencies, and the general public have been unaware of the abundant site specific data available. Preparing metadata records for uploading into the internet-based National Digital Catalog is the first step towards providing the public with a method to search for, locate, and evaluate the type of information that is available in these collections. The coal and zinc mining collections are a valuable source of information that can be used to improve estimates of the state’s remaining coal and zinc reserves and for companies to evaluate potential areas for future exploration. Some of the items in these collections are 50 to 100 years old and rapidly deteriorating. It is therefore imperative that every effort be made to preserve the information contained in them.

Tennessee’s undeveloped energy resources, including lignite in West Tennessee and oil shale (also a potential low-grade source of uranium) in Middle and East Tennessee, have also been given some attention in recent years. Surface mining of lignite has potential impact on ground water resources, so the survey has been working with the U.S. Geological Survey to assess problems that might arise. If mining the black shale for oil and/or uranium becomes feasible, the survey will be able to make use of a large file of existing outcrop maps and subsurface data.

The survey recently completed a three-year, U.S. Department of Energy-funded project to evaluate geothermal potential in the U.S. Under the auspices of the Association of American State Geologists, the survey partnered with 45 other state geological surveys and compiled nearly 5,000 Tennessee-specific records that were uploaded into the National Geothermal Data System, which includes more than 30 major types of data resulting in the availability of more than 7 million interoperable data points that are now available online.

The survey’s effort in support of the construction materials industry is mostly in the form of the mineral resources summaries that accompany individual geologic quadrangle maps. However, individual commodities are occasionally the subject of statewide studies.

Traditionally, mineral resources work has had top priority among the survey’s activities. However, increases in public awareness of the importance of protecting the environment and of dangers posed by geologic processes has required modifying priorities in recent years. Earthquakes, floods, landslides, and sinkhole collapse pose threats, and weathering and erosion produce unstable materials that complicate excavation and construction, and threaten completed structures. Part of the survey’s public service activity involves responding to requests for field inspection of these various types of geologic hazards. These average about 40 per year.

The survey has also been cooperating recently with the U.S. Geological Survey and other Central United States Earthquake Consortium State Geologists to produce 1:250,000-scale seismic hazard maps of West Tennessee. In addition, the Survey maintains a seismic station at its core storage and research facility at Waverly, Tennessee. This station is part of a national seismic network designed to improve earthquake monitoring in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, the most active seismic area in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. Additional information about this seismic zone is available from the Center for Earthquake Research and Information.

The survey’s seismic station is operated under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey National Earthquake Information Center and St. Louis University. The station has three broadband sensors and a secondary broadband sensor. These sensors are recording on 26-bit channels of high resolution digitizers. There is also a strong-motion sensor that is recorded on three 24-bit digitizer channels. In addition, the station has a satellite transmitter with digital processing unit for transmitting data to Golden, Colorado.

The survey maintains active educational and public outreach by furnishing speakers on Tennessee geology, mineral resources, and geologic hazards to schools, civic groups, and other interested organizations. These typically number about 40 per year, and affect nearly 5,000 individuals. The survey also participates in the annual Earth Science Week by providing free Earth Science Week Toolkits from the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) to Earth science teachers across the state. AGI also sponsors a Comprehensive Clearinghouse for Earth and Space Science Education with thousands of resources from nearly 700 organizations that provides the geoscience community, schools, and the general public with an extensive collection of resources and research from reliable science and education organizations. Additional information about the geology of Tennessee and surrounding states is available from the Teacher Friendly Guide to the Geology of the Southeastern U.S. The U.S. Department of Energy also provides a Toolkit for Teachers and Parents with study guides and activities emphasizing the importance of coal, natural gas, and petroleum to our everyday lives.


Ron Zurawski

(615) 532-1502