Geology and Earth Resources
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As Washington’s geological survey, the Division contributes to the safety and economic well-being of Washington’s citizens by educating the public, government, and industry about the geology and nature of the land around us, including the availability of important resources such as aquifers, sand and gravel, and energy. The Division has provided this information at very low cost to taxpayers, and studies have shown that providing geologic information to the public more than pays for itself over time. The Division of Geology is regarded as the primary source of geological products and services in support of decision-making by Washington’s government agencies, its businesses, and the public.


Geologic Hazards

Division geologists identify and assess geologic hazards using modern geotechnical and geophysical methods. Our hazard maps are critical for transportation, land-use, and emergency management planning, as well as disaster response and building-code implementation. As our population grows, there is increasing pressure to develop in hazardous areas. Delineation of these areas has never been more important. Our mapping program identifies geologic materials characteristics, areas of low and high water infiltration potential, and probable groundwater pathways, as well as areas subject to ground failure during earthquakes and large precipitation events. In the Puget Sound area, we work closely with other state and local agencies to help implement our findings. Additionally, we are mapping tsunami hazard zones and collateral earthquake-induced ground failures. We are partnering with the Washington Emergency Management Division to do the public outreach that fosters tsunami-resilient communities. This can contribute to good policy decisions, such as preserving the coastal habitats that serve as tsunami buffers.

In response to the Growth Management Act’s mandate to use the ‘best available science', our geologists meet with local governments and citizens in at-risk communities to educate them about geologic hazards and ensure that these hazards are considered in growth management and disaster planning.

Geologic Maps

Geologic maps show the types and ages of rocks found at or near the Earth’s surface. They show the locations of faults and folds, landslides, glacial deposits, and other regional or local features, depending on the scale of the map. Geologic maps are the most fundamental and important tool of earth scientists. Our job as the state survey is to produce maps that cover whole areas of the state at various scales. These maps are used for a broad range of practical applications, including growth-management planning, transportation, dam safety, hazard and risk assessment, Puget Sound cleanup and restoration, water resource appraisals, resource use and protection, education, recreation, and scientific research. Much of our current mapping focuses on 7.5-minute quadrangles at a scale of 1:24,000, and it is partially supported by grants from the U.S. Geological Survey STATEMAP Program.

Most geologic maps are constructed by gathering lots of surficial information and samples from outcrops, but information obtained from wells, geotechnical borings, and geophysical surveys are vital to understanding the subsurface and constructing cross sections. In recent years, the Division has put a lot of effort into gathering these data as well as using this data to create 3D visualization tools.

Energy, Mining and Minerals

Washington State has numerous natural resources, including sand and gravel and hard rock aggregate, minerals, as well as energy resources such as coal, oil and gas, and geothermal. Over its history, the Division has long-maintained inventories of many aspects of these resources and has assessed hazards related to mines no longer in use.

The Division is responsible for regulating surface mine reclamation. In addition, the oil and gas and geothermal regulatory program supervises exploration and drilling so that drilling is done in a manner that protects the environment and conserves resources, including ground-water resources.

Publications and Data

The Division has put a lot of effort over the past ten years in getting most of our data into digital GIS format. Most of these data are now available for download and for viewing on our Interactive Portal. Our standard publications are also primarily published digitally, although select publications may still be obtained in print format through the Department of Information Services myFulfillment.

Washington Geology Library

Geologic research is expensive and time-consuming. Fortunately, research reports retain their value and utility for many years, providing an economic return to society many times their original cost. To fully understand the geology of an area requires studies of its soils, surficial deposits, bedrock, stratigraphy, paleontology, mineralogy, geochemistry, geochronology, structural geology, hydrology, and geophysics (seismic, gravity, magnetic and other surveys), to name a few. The Washington Geology Library has the state’s largest collection of publications and theses about the geology of Washington, and more than 1,000 items are added each year. A full library catalog and geologic map index are available online.

Explore Popular Geology

Part of the mission of the Division is to provide information about Washington's geology and provide outreach to the public. We aim to make geologic concepts and issues we face tangible and accessible to non-geologists. We also want to share the excitement we have about some of Washington's amazing and complex geologic history, whether it be the voluminous Columbia River flood basalts, catastrophic ice-age floods, coastal processes, glacial landforms, the Cascadia subduction zone, our five stratovolcanoes, or accreted and exotic terranes.