Providing Geological Information for National Defense and Homeland Security

A thorough knowledge of our subsurface geology in urban and suburban areas is, as has been in all modern wars, critical to our ability to respond to threats in appropriate ways. Three-dimensional (3D) geological mapping of the Great Lakes states has defense applications that have come into sharp focus since the events of September 2001. It is known that our antagonists have studied a wide range of strategies for disrupting our urban societies.

Defense of water supplies—A critical task of the Coalition is using 3D geological mapping to identify shallow groundwater resources since a large percentage of the Coalition state's population relies on groundwater for drinking. This is a more difficult task in the Great Lakes states than in other areas of the U.S. because glacial deposits containing groundwater resources are so thick, and therefore aquifers are difficult to locate and characterize. The information is critical to protect current water supplies and identify potential emergency supplies, should large population segments be displaced by natural or accidental urban contamination. This should be a major consideration for national defense planning associated with nuclear, biological, or chemical warfare (NBC). A major military tactic during our civil war involved contaminating water supplies to restrict military (and civilian) mobility. Modern-day concern about the ease with which terrorists could destroy our water supply or tax it through massive population dislocations, makes it critical that we understand the geological setting of our water supplies. Providing information on alternate, naturally protected groundwater sources will greatly decrease response time in the event of attacks on our citizens.

Potential for Population Dislocation and Relocation—Shifting and relocated populations should be considered in long-term anti-terrorist defense. If a large population segment was relocated due to a NBC, only certain portions of the Great Lakes states could accommodate and support relocation efforts, while at the same time maintain a population density necessary to conduct commerce in the face of a prolonged cleanup of impacted areas. Sites must be available that satisfy several geologically important criteria. There must be (1) adequate and well-protected groundwater resources for drinking, (2) safe areas for disposal of human and other wastes, (3) nearby resources of sand and gravel that can support infrastructure construction, and (4) absence of land uses that could conflict with relocation. All of these concerns can be addressed via the Coalition's 3-D mapping program.

Other military and/or defense issues:

Emergency response to major earthquakes and other hazards—The National Guard and several military bases in the mid continent have sole responsibility for providing personnel to rescue and restore power in the event of a major earthquake in the New Madrid-Wabash Valley Seismic Zone. The largest earthquake ever to strike the continental U.S. occurred at New Madrid, Missouri in 1811–1812, changing the course of the Mississippi River among many other severe effects. Three of the Coalition states would be severely impacted by a recurrence of such an event, and the effects on infrastructure would be closely related to geological conditions. The logistics of transporting military troops to affected areas over transportation systems, partially disrupted where geological conditions are unfavorable, provides justification for enhanced geological information. Even during the 1993 Mississippi River floods, military personnel were impeded by lack of even simple topographic maps at a useful scale. In addition, the potential of seismic affects on Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) facilities would be more clearly delineated by systematic 3D geological mapping.

Operation and closure of military bases—Most active and decommissioned military bases are within high-priority mapping areas of the Coalition. Sound geological interpretation of subsurface data is very important for determining contamination potential from spilled fuels and other waste-disposal operations, particularly where bases have been decommissioned and land now is being used for civilian purposes. Several research themes of the ACE—carrying capacity of earth materials, land management, land restoration, and land-use planning—can best be addressed when the subsurface geology is delineated.

Other support for ACE programs—The ACE mission provides quality, responsive engineering services for (1) planning, designing, building, and operating water resource and other civil works projects, (2) designing and managing the construction of military facilities, and (3) providing design and construction management support for other Defense and Federal agencies.

Several of the ACE divisions can benefit by the Coalition's 3D mapping program:

  • Mapping along the Great Lakes shorelines will show areas susceptibility to erosion. This is important for the Coastal and Hydraulics Lab, particularly to the National Shoreline Erosion Control Development and Demonstration Program and the Regional Sediment Management Program.

  • Mapping will assist the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, which controls coastal structures, groundwater modeling, and dredging, and is concerned with wetlands hydrology and ecology, focusing on remediation of contaminated wetlands. It also assesses and remediates military firing ranges, and it evaluates soil erosion and land management of military training areas.

  • Mapping will delineate wetland areas and evaluate groundwater conditions at wetlands. The Waterways Experiment Station, Wetlands Research Program (WRP) focuses on (1) hydraulics, hydrology, sedimentation, erosion, water quality, and soils processes that affect wetlands, (2) methods defining wetland boundaries by soil characteristics, hydrology, and vegetation, and assessing the ecological value of wetlands. The Ecosystem Management and Restoration Research Program helps evaluate and mitigate the environmental impacts of ACE water resource development activities at the ecosystem level.

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Coalition in Action