About the Survey

The Washington Geological Survey is a team of more than 40 people committed to providing geologic information to the people of Washington.

Who we are and what we do

We are a team of more than 40 people who combine diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and skills to produce and publish geologic information about Washington for the benefit of everyone in our state. Our team includes geologic mappers, geophysicists, tsunami scientists, landslide geologists, mine inspectors, mine reclamation geologists, hydrogeologists, editors, GIS and data specialists, cartographers, web developers, administrative staff, and program managers.

The Survey is involved in a wide variety of projects. As part of our mission, we:

The Washington Geological Survey team
learning about the geology of Washington.

To read more about us, visit our Contact Us page. Explore our website to learn more about the important work we do.

Our Vision and Mission

Our work is governed by almost 20 regulations (WACs and RCWs) set out by the Washington Legislature. These laws guide the mission of the Survey, geology professional licensing, hazards assessments, surface mining, mineral rights, geothermal energy, and oil and gas extraction.

VISION The vision of the Washington Geological Survey is to foster a safer, more productive and resilient society that incorporates geology into its regular thought and decision-making processes.
MISSION Our mission is to collect, develop, use, distribute, and preserve geologic information to promote the safety, health, and welfare of the citizens of Washington, protect the environment, and support its economy.

In 1890 the Washington legislature recognized the need for an effective state geological survey and enacted RCW 43.92, establishing the Washington Geological Survey and its State Geologist under the direction of the Commissioner of Public Lands.

RCW 43.92 mandates several objectives for the Survey, including the examination and study of economic products, soils, water resources, building materials, and physical landforms, the conduction of hazard assessments, and the production of maps and reports. In fulfilling its mission, the Survey must compile data, acquire and process new data, and maintain publicly available databases that represent the best-available science.

Bulldozers excavate a surface mine in Skagit County, Washington.

Surface mine regulation is an important function of the Washington Geological Survey. The laws governing surface mining and reclamation are set out in WAC 332-18 (Surface Mine Reclamation) and RCW 78.44 (Washington Surface Mining Act). Our mining staff work with permit holders to ensure that the permitting process and mine reclamation are carried out in accordance with Washington law.

About our State Geologist

Casey Hanell, our current State Geologist, joined our team in October 2019. Casey is a long-term employee of the Washington Department of Natural Resources and has extensive expertise in the geology of Washington, engineering geology, and team management. Read Casey's profile to learn more about him.

The State Geologist has many official functions, ranging from day-to-day tasks such as supervision, coaching, and mentoring of staff, to leading the Survey in the development and implementation of a strategic plan. The State Geologist advocates on behalf of the Survey and the people of Washington to promote important issues and gain support for critical work. They work with their agency, the legislature, and stakeholders to make sure the needs of all parties are met.

The State Geologist is also the Survey’s Oil and Gas Supervisor, responsible for authorizing oil and gas exploration and ensuring responsible abandonment of oil and gas wells. In addition, the State Geologist is responsible for ensuring surface mines in Washington are reclaimed in accordance with an approved permit plan and all governing rules and laws.

Oil and gas drilling in Grays Harbor County, Washington.

The State Geologist also has a permanent seat on the State’s Geologist Licensing Board, which licenses geologists, investigates violations of regulations related to the practice of geology, and recommends rules and regulations for administering licensing and regulatory laws.

Former State Geologist Dave Norman joins the tsunami team in the field at Copalis Ghost Forest.

In partnership with the Department of Emergency Management, the State Geologist is co-chair of the Seismic Safety Committee, a sub-group of the Resilient Washington initiative. This committee prepares statewide strategies, policies, and recommendations that address the threat of earthquakes through preparedness, response, and recovery activities. The State Geologist also serves on the Emergency Management Council, a group that works to minimize the impact of disasters.

The State Geologist has long been a member of the Association of American State Geologists (AASG), a network of U.S. state geologists that aims to provide mutual support and advocacy for common interests.

History of the Survey

The Washington Geological Survey has been around for more than 130 years, beginning with its establishment on February 25, 1890, the year after Washington officially became a state. At that time, the population of Washington was just a fraction of what it is today. The original focus of the Survey was on mining and mineral extraction, important industries during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Northport copper, lead, and silver ore smelter in Stevens County, WA, in 1920.

Over time, the focus of the Survey has shifted to put more emphasis on hazards assessments. As our population grows and new science makes us more aware of our vulnerability to natural disasters, hazard mapping is becoming ever more important. A new landslides program was established in 2017 to fill this missing gap in our expertise.

The Survey has also taken advantage of improvements in technology to provide geologic information to a wider audience. We revamped our website in 2015 and developed an online Geologic Information Portal in 2017. A new Lidar Program was launched in 2016.

You can take a deeper dive into Survey history by reading select issues of Washington Geology, a quarterly magazine produced by the Survey from 1973 to 2001:

Some of the magazine issues relevant to Survey history are:

And take a look at some of our past blog posts:

Poster celebrating the 130th anniversary of the Washington Geological Survey.

Who we work with

The Survey collaborates with a number of federal, state, and other external partners on a range of projects. Some of our key collaborators and the projects we collaborate on are listed below:

Key Federal Partners
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Partnerships include STATEMAP (geologic mapping), Data Preservation, 3D Elevation Program (lidar), and EarthMRI (critical minerals). We also work closely with USGS on earthquake, landslide, and volcano research and emergency response, including Earthquake Early Warning. A key partner is the Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO), who we collaborate with on volcanic hazard preparedness efforts.
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) We partner with DOE on geothermal resource exploration. They have continuously funded our geothermal research for more than 10 years, including significant funding in the 1980s.
U.S. Forest Service (USFS) We partner with the Forest Service on lidar acquisition, and communicate regularly regarding Surface Mine applications on forest service land. WGS geologists occasionally assist the USFS on or adjacent to federal lands by joining their Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) We receive grant funding from FEMA to perform outreach about natural hazards, and work with them to improve hazard mitigation for the state. Occasionally, we participate in scenario exercises to ensure effective planning, communication, and data sharing prior to a large geologic event.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) We partner with NOAA to conduct tsunami modeling and mapping, tsunami alerting, and tsunami science outreach and mitigation.
Key State Partners
Department of Ecology (ECY) WGS has recently begun partnering with ECY to characterize and visualize groundwater resources. As we respond to landslides that affect local waterways, we report them to ECY.
Department of Transportation (DOT) We partner and communicate frequently with DOT in response to landslides that affect transportation corridors. We provide data and technical information about how geologic hazards may affect transportation infrastructure.
Emergency Management Division (EMD) EMD is an integral partner in response, mitigation, and preparedness for geologic hazard events. During emergencies, WGS staff serve as technical advisors and data providers to EMD. We also work in tandem on geologic hazard projects, including communication and outreach.
Department of Commerce (COM) WGS assists in the development of planning tools and other projects initiated by COM, and we provide data to COM in support of growth management decision-making by counties and cities.
Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) WGS works closely with OSPI to improve the seismic resilience of K-12 schools by assessing site conditions and school buildings, as well as providing geologic hazard data for use in OSPI data systems.
Other Key Partners
Counties, Cities, and Tribes As WGS projects kick off and again when they are completed, we try as much as possible to alert the local communities to our activities, communicate the appropriate uses of our data, and answer any questions they may have.
Industry Stakeholders WGS works with industry partners to better understand the needs of surface mine operators with respect to surface mine reclamation and regulatory requirements.
Universities We collaborate with several universities to share information, perform research, and publish key findings.
The Public We always try our best to provide the best available science, to answer questions, and respond to feedback to better meet your needs.

Survey staff at work

Our staff can be found in the field, in the office, at conferences, at outreach events, and in meetings with our stakeholders, collaborators, and the public. Here are some photographs of our dedicated staff at work!

Modeling and mapping tsunami inundation.


Surveying landslides with a UAV.


Searching for evidence of past tsunamis at the Copalis Ghost Forest.


Mapping landslides.


Mapping surface geology in eastern Washington.


Monitoring groundwater levels.


Installing seismometers to understand the types of rocks found in the subsurface.