Frequently Asked Questions
   

This page provides answers to the questions we are asked most frequently. Click on the links in the following list to jump to a specific section on the webpage. You can also search for a specific word by pressing the 'Ctrl' key and the 'F' key on your keyboard at the same time to bring up your web browser's 'Find' tool.

 

Most Common Questions

Do I have a meteorite?

Meteorites are rare. The combination of how rare these are and the fact that we have basalt in Washington State that looks like a meteor and is weakly magnetic, means the chances are slim that your rock is a meteorite. There are resources from the Cascadia Meteorite Laboratory at Portland State University that will help you further explore if you have one or not. If after going through the list of questions you still think you might have one, you can contact the lab and they can potentially test it for you.

Can you identify my rock/fossil?

Yes. Send an email to geology@dnr.wa.gov or call the Washington Geology Library at (360) 902-1473 to find out how to get your rock identified. You can send us photos of your rock with the email. You can also have the UW Burke Museum identify your rock/fossil.

How can I find information about the geologic hazards that might affect my property?

Visit our Geologic Information Portal to view our hazard maps and search for your specific address. Contact the Washington Geology Library for help or questions with the Portal: geology@dnr.wa.gov or (360) 902-1473. Note that you can also contact your local jurisdiction's planning office for information about how geologic hazards might affect your property.

I am interested in rockhounding or panning for gold. What are the rules around that?

Authorization is needed from the land owner in order to pan for gold or go rockhounding. Before you set out, determine land ownership of your area of interest, learn the permissible collection activities and the owner's rules governing where you can collect, what you can and cannot collect, and how it may legally be collected. You can read more about this at our Rockhounding webpage. For gold panning information, also consult Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s most recent Gold and Fish pamphlet (Gold and Fish: Rules for Mineral Prospecting and Placer Mining (2021)).

I think there is a sinkhole forming in my yard. What is causing it and what do I do?

First of all, if you have any safety concerns relating to the sinkhole, contact your local Emergency Manager for assistance. If there is no immediate safety concern, you can hire a geotechnical consulting firm to come out and assess the hole to understand what is causing it. True sinkholes are very rare in Washington. Read on to learn why.

Many use the word sinkhole as a casual term to refer to depressions or holes in the ground that are actively forming or have recently formed. However, a sinkhole is a geologic term that in some states can have a legal meaning. In the strictest sense, a geologic sinkhole forms when infiltrating water carries soil or rock into an underground void. In the most dramatic cases, the weakened cover may collapse into the void below. These features are most common when the underlying bedrock slowly dissolves, such as limestone, leaving behind caves. In Washington, areas of limestone are not common. As such, geologic sinkholes are rare in this state.

There are many natural features that may look like a sinkhole. For example, recently melted glaciers in the Cascades and Puget Lowlands may leave deposits of sediment separated by depressions that may or may not fill with water. In another example from central and eastern Washington, the great Missoula floods scoured potholes in the landscape. In both cases, one constructional and the other erosional, these are not actual sinkholes. They are static features not related to active formation.

Importantly, not all cases where the ground subsides are from sinkhole formation. For example, cracked foundations, walls, and floors may be from building settling. That settling may be natural as a building ages, but may also be from soils that expand when wet and contract when dry or from decaying organic material buried under artificial fill. Man-made causes can also cause sinkhole-like features to form. Broken utility pipes, storm drains, or sewers may cause overlying soils to ravel or fall. Old septic tanks can collapse, leaving a surface depression. Underground coal mines can also collapse and cause surface subsidence and fracturing.

Where can I get information on historical mines?

You can find information on our Coal, Metallic, and Mineral Resource webpage. You can also search the Washington Geology Library Catalog. You are also welcome to contact the Washington Geology Library: geology@dnr.wa.gov or (360) 902-1473.

Can you recommend a geotechnical firm for a site assessment?

If you need the services of a geotechnical firm to assess your property, we offer a list you can use to find somebody in your area. Note that this list does not represent an endorsement of any particular firm on the part of WGS or DNR. You can read more and see the list at our Surface Mining and Reclamation webpage.

How do I get copies of aerial photos?

The Washington Geological Survey does not manage DNR's collection of aerial photos. You can request photos through a DNR public disclosure request. You can select which photos you want to request by viewing the UW Aerial Photo Finder. Be as specific as possible with your requests. Include the following information: location, year(s), and flights of interest. There may be a fee associated with physical copies and mailing of photos.

 

Questions about Geologic Hazards

What do I do if there is a landslide on my property?

If you feel like you are in immediate danger, evacuate and call 911. Not all landslides are an immediate emergency. If you or your property are not in immediate danger contact your emergency manager or public works department. For a landslide assessment, contact a licensed geotechnical engineer or engineering geologist. We provide a list of geotechnical consultants on our website. You can also find more information in our Homeowner’s Guide to Landslides.

Is my house or workplace in a tsunami hazard zone?

To determine if your house, workplace, or any other area that you visit is in a tsunami hazard zone, please visit our interactive Geologic Information Portal. On the Portal you can see the many data layers we have available in the Table of Contents. Click on the Tsunami layer to view our statewide tsunami inundation zone (colored in yellow). The Portal also allows you to search for a specific address and view tsunami map products that cover your area of interest.

How should I evacuate from within a tsunami hazard zone?

To view evacuation information and designated evacuation routes, please view our published tsunami evacuation maps. If your area is not covered in one of our maps, please contact your local Emergency Manager for their recommendation. We recommend on-foot evacuation from the tsunami inundation zone in case roadways become impassible by vehicle due to damage, closures, or traffic jams.

What are the chances of a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and tsunami happening?

The Cascadia subduction zone, off the coast in the Pacific Ocean is the biggest tsunami hazard for Washington State. Experts estimate that there is a 10–17 percent chance that Washington experiences a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake within the next 50 years.

How should I prepare for a tsunami?

To prepare for a tsunami, it is important to know the warning signs of a tsunami. Some include: (1) Hearing a tsunami warning siren or receiving a tsunami alert, (2) Feeling a strong earthquake near the ocean or a large lake, (3) Noticing a very large wave approaching, (4) Seeing coastal waters recede, (5) Noticing an unusually rapid rise in sea level, and (6) Noticing a landslide that falls or slides into the ocean, a large lake, or a river.

To prepare for a tsunami, ensure that you have multiple ways to receive warnings and prepare a portable disaster supply kit(s) with items you may need in an emergency. Washington State Emergency Management recommends that each person prepare to be 2-weeks ready. These kits can be stored in places like your car, office, and home. Additionally, make an emergency plan that includes plans for family communication and evacuation. Your plan should also include routes to safe places on high ground or inland. Practice your plan by walking your routes and keep it up to date. For more information, please visit the Preparation and Evacuation page on our website.

How can I sign up to receive tsunami alert messages?

There are a few options available to receive tsunami alert messages. If you have a Twitter account, you can follow @NWS_NTWC. Make sure to click the account notifications button so you get a notification from the Twitter app any time that account tweets out a bulletin. Another option is to download the NVS Tsunami Evacuation app, which pushes notifications directly to your phone. Lastly, you can consider obtaining a NOAA weather radio to get important weather alerts of all kinds.

Additionally, the ‘MyShake’ earthquake early warning app developed by the United States Geological Survey is available on all mobile phones in Washington and may provide seconds of warning to protect yourself before earthquake shaking arrives. Please visit this alerts page for more information. This link explains how the MyShake app works, along with how to opt into receiving earthquake alerts on your phone’s built-in software.

Who can help me understand land-use issues associated with geologic hazards?

WGS has a Geologic Planning Liaison (Tricia Sears, tricia.sears@dnr.wa.gov) who helps jurisdictions use our scientific products to make sound land-use decisions. You can read more about our geologic planning information and activities on our Geologic Planning webpage (coming soon). You can read more about land-use regulations and the Growth Management Act on the Department of Commerce website. To learn more about your city's, county's, or tribe's land-use regulations and available resources, contact them directly.

 

Questions about Surface Mining

Who can help me understand who has mineral rights on my property?

This information is usually found on the deed of the property. If you are considering buying a piece of property and want to know about the mineral rights prior to purchase, your real estate agent can usually request this from the seller. If you still have questions, contact your local County Assessor, County Clerk, or a real estate attorney. You can also request a title report from a private title company.

If someone else owns the mineral rights on my property, what rights do I have?

This will depend on your specific situation. If you wish to better understand the mineral rights on your property, you will need to consult a land-use attorney. DNR’s Title and Records Office (TRO) only keeps records about DNR-managed lands. If you would like to request information from TRO, you will need to submit a public disclosure request.

Where can I find information about active surface mines in Washington?

You can find a map of all the active permitted surface mines in Washington on our Geologic Information Portal. When you go to the Portal, find the Table of Contents on the left side of the screen and scroll down to the layer called ‘Active Surface Mine Permit Locations’. Click on the circle at the left side of the layer to turn it on. The Portal will give you access to information including the location of each mine, the name of the mine, the permit number, the owner of the permit, and the commodity being mined. If you want more information about a particular mine, contact the Reclamation Specialist responsible for your county.

Where can I find more information about mineral and mining claims?

The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has an online system called the Mineral & Land Records System (MLRS) that “provides reports on BLM land and mineral use authorizations for oil, gas, and geothermal leasing, rights-of-way, coal and other mineral development, land and mineral title, mining claims, withdrawals, classifications, and more on federal lands or on federal mineral estates.” You can access the system here.

Where can I find more information about mineral leases on DNR-managed land?

Contact DNR’s Product Sales and Leasing Division. They can be reached at mld@dnr.wa.gov or (360) 902-1600.

Where can I find more information on land transactions on DNR-managed land?

Contact DNR’s Conservation, Recreation, and Transactions Division. They can be reached at ampd@dnr.wa.gov or 360-902-1600.

What activities does DNR have jurisdiction on at mine sites?

DNR regulates the reclamation of surface mines, whereas local jurisdictions (counties, cities, and towns) regulate operations and land use. Your first step in developing a surface mine is to contact your local jurisdiction for information about land use at the proposed site.

How long are surface mine reclamation permits valid?

Surface mine reclamation permits do not have a predetermined lifespan. Permits are valid until reclamation is complete, although mining operations may not be continuously active over the life of the permit.

Who do I call to report potential violations related to surface mines?

The Surface Mine Reclamation Program has reclamation specialists assigned to each of Washington’s counties. Call the Reclamation Specialist for the county the mine is located in to report any violations. You can find out who your specialist is on our webpage.

Where do surface mine reclamation fees go to? What do they pay for?

Annual mining fees are deposited into the surface mine reclamation account. This account is used by the Department to administer its regulatory program; undertake research relating to surface mine regulation, reclamation of surface mine lands, and related issues; cover costs arising from appeals from determinations made under this chapter; surveying and mapping sand and gravel sites in the state; and reclaiming surface mines abandoned prior to 1971 (see RCW 78.44.045).

What if I’m delinquent on submitting my operator’s report and (or) my annual mining fees?

Contact the Reclamation Specialist assigned to your county and submit them as soon as possible. Operator’s reports can be accepted via email or mail. You can find out who your specialist is on our webpage.

How do I obtain a current aerial photo of my mine site to submit with my operator’s report?

Google Earth or other publicly available satellite imagery sources are generally adequate for this purpose. DNR imagery may be obtained through public disclosure.

How can I obtain a copy of permit documents?

Permit documents are available through DNR’s public disclosure process.

How do I report a potential landslide at a mine site?

Contact the Reclamation Specialist assigned to your county. You can find out who your specialist is on our webpage.

When is a surface mine reclamation permit transfer required?

A permit transfer is required when a permit holder sells a mine or when a business changes names. Contact the Reclamation Specialist assigned to your county to assist you in this process. You can find out who your specialist is on our webpage.

 

Questions about Publications, GIS Databases, and Portals

Where can I purchase one of your maps or publications in paper format?

We no longer offer our publications for purchase online in paper format. If you would like these printed you can download the files from our website and bring them to your local printing shop. You can search for publications through our Publications Catalog, Publications List, or through the Washington Geology Library Catalog.

Can I get a copy of the Washington State Geologic Map?

We have a limited number of printed copies of Geologic Map 53, the statewide geologic map at a scale of 1:500,000. The poster measures 55 x 26 inches. We are happy to mail you a copy as long as we have inventory. Send an email to geology@dnr.wa.gov or call the Washington Geology Library at (360) 902-1473.

Can I get a Fish and Gold pamphlet?

The Department of Fish and Wildlife produces a publication titled "Gold and Fish: Rules for Mineral Prospecting and Placer Mining (2021)", for those interested in mineral prospecting. You can download the pamphlet here.

I saw a cool poster and (or) postcard of geologic sites in Washington (Willapa Hills, Puget Lowland, Olympic Peninsula, North and South Cascades, Columbia Basin, Okanogan). How do a I get a printed copy of these materials?

In May 2021 we released a geotourism website called WA100, which contains tons of information about places to see cool geology in Washington. To accompany the website, we have postcards and posters of different parts of Washingon with colorful graphic designs. If you would like to receive some of these materials send us an email at wa100@dnr.wa.gov with your name, address, and which geographic areas you are interested in. Check out the WA100 website here.

Can I download lidar datasets?

Yes these are available to download on our Lidar Portal. If you have specific questions about lidar data, contact Guy McWethy (Guy.McWethy@dnr.wa.gov).

Can I get a copy of the Roadside Geology of Mount Rainier National Park?

Yes, we are happy to mail you a copy as long as we have inventory. Send an email to geology@dnr.wa.gov or call the Washington Geology Library at (360) 902-1473.

Can I use one of your photos or graphics?

All of our graphics content is free for you to use in any way you choose, for both commercial and non-commercial purposes, including modifying or adapting an image, as long as you cite us. You can do so by including the words ‘Image from the Washington Geological Survey (Washington Department of Natural Resources)’ near the image.

Can I get the original or higher-resolution version for one of your photos or graphics?

If you would like the original version or a higher-resolution version of a graphic, please contact our Graphics Editor, Daniel Coe (daniel.coe@dnr.wa.gov). In your message please clearly indicate what product/media you’re intending to use (for example, a powerpoint slide, an 8.5 x 11 flyer, a conference poster, or a large interpretive panel) and what the final size of the image should be (how big will it be on your finished product).

Can I have a paper copy of one of your hazard booklets (tsunami, landslide, earthquake, volcano)?

We can mail these to you as inventory allows. Please contact our librarian, Stephanie Earls (stephanie.earls@dnr.wa.gov), with your address and the number of booklets you’d like. The booklets are also available as PDFs on our website and you are welcome to have copies printed yourself.

Why isn't the Geologic Information Portal working?

Our Portal does go down from time to time so we appreciate hearing from you when it isn’t working. Please let the Publications Group Manager, Susan Schnur (susan.schnur@dnr.wa.gov) know as soon as possible. We also welcome any other feedback you might have on your experience using our Portal.

I’m looking for a publication but can’t find it in the Publications Catalog.

If the Publications Catalog isn’t working for you, try the Publications List instead. You can press the 'Ctrl' and 'F' buttons at the same time to search within the PDF document for your key word, or for the publication number.

There is a broken link on your website, can you fix it?

Please send an email to our Publications Editor, Maria Furtney (maria.furtney@dnr.wa.gov) giving the URL for the broken link and explaining how you got to the link (which webpage you found it on, whether that was a DNR webpage or an external webpage).

How can I download and view data from the Geologic Information Portal on my own computer?

All the data shown on the Geologic Information Portal is also available for download as geodatabases than can be easily viewed in the GIS software ArcGIS. If you don’t have access to ArcGIS you can also download QGIS, which is a free GIS software. Unfortunately, we’re not able to provide guidance on how to use QGIS. There are many good tutorials on the internet to help you get the software set up and working.

 

Questions about Geologic Mapping

Where can I download your geologic maps?

We offer geologic maps at a variety of scales, including 1:24,000, 1:25,000-99,000, 1:100,000, 1:250,000, and 1:500,000. Our 24k mapping is most suited to local applications whereas the 500k dataset is suited for applications at a statewide scale. We have coverage of the entire state at 100k, 250k, and 500k, but only partial coverage at the 24k and 25-99k scales as we have not yet completed mapping the entire state at these scales.

Digital GIS versions of this mapping can be accessed and downloaded from several different locations on our website depending on your needs. The fastest way to download the data is from our GIS Data and Databases webpage. There you can download zip files that are compilations of all available mapping at each scale. The files contain a geodatabase and supplementary information. The geodatabase can be opened using GIS software. You can also visit our Geologic Information Portal to view and explore the data first before you choose to download it.

If you are interested in a geologic map designed for print rather than digital GIS data, you can download map plates from three different places: (1) Our Surface Geology webpage provides small interactive maps where you can filter by quadrangle or region name to access PDF or zip files for each published map; (2) Our Publications Catalog allows you to search by a keyword, such as a quadrangle or region name. The results provide a citation and link to a PDF or zip file for the geologic map; and (3) Our Publications List is a PDF containing a long list of all our publications. Once you’ve opened the PDF you can press the ‘Ctrl’ and ‘F’ keys at the same time to open a search box where you can search by the name of the quadrangle or mapping area. Clicking on the [ONLINE] link at the end of each entry will download the associated zip or PDF file.

Another good place to find geologic maps of Washington as well as the rest of the country is the National Geologic Map Database (NGMDB). You can search for geologic maps using the Map Catalog or Mapview buttons at the bottom of the page. Note that WGS's most recent geologic maps may not be available on NGMDB yet.

How can I find out whether a specific quadrangle has already been mapped at 1:24,000 scale?

You can find this information on our Geologic Information Portal or on the small interactive maps on our Surface Geology webpage. On the Portal, turn on the ‘24k Surface Geology’ layer, then scroll down to the ‘1:24,000 Geology Coverage’ sub-layer. Turn this on and you will see the outlines of all the quadrangles we already have mapping for. You can turn on labels for the quadrangle names by clicking the three stacked lines at the right of the sub-layer and choosing the option ‘Turn labels on’.

How do I download 1:24,000-scale geologic mapping for only a specific quadrangle on the Geologic Information Portal?

It is not possible to directly download 1:24,000-scale mapping GIS data for just one quadrangle from the Portal. On the Portal we provide a compilation where all available 24k mapping is merged into a single dataset. To extract mapping for a single quadrangle, you can download the dataset and use your GIS software to filter by the name of the quadrangle you are interested in.

Where can I find your most recent geologic mapping?

The GIS data for the most recent maps completed by our geologic mapping team become available on the Geologic Information Portal after the mapping is officially published, which usually happens in December. Note that we are currently working through a backlog of 1:24,000-scale data and it may take several months for the latest mapping to appear online. You can always access the published PDF map as opposed to the digital data by searching for the publication on our Publications Catalog, Publications List, or the interactive mini maps on our Surface Geology webpage.