MBMG in the News

MBMG people and projects in the news!

This page features news about MBMG projects and people. Some of the articles are in PDF format and some are direct links to other sites.

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Montana geology creates unusual earthquake risk that isn't fully understood
Jul 6, 2017 JAYME FRASER jayme.fraser@lee.net

The earthquake south of Lincoln that shook people from Spokane to Billings occurred along a fault not previously mapped by seismologists, which is not surprising in a region less studied than the seismically MBMG geologist Petr Yakovlev at Stemple Passactive West Coast.

Montana's quake risk is unique, although the exact causes of it remain in debate, said Mike Stickney, seismologist at the Earthquake Studies Office of the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology on the Montana Tech campus in Butte.

"If you look globally, it is interesting and unusual to have a seismic belt such as we have form far from an active plate tectonic boundary," he said.

photo by Tom Bauer, Missoulian

Did an 'earthquake sky' on Wednesday signal a temblor on the way? Not likely, seismologist says

photo by
Tracy Thorton, Montana Standard

Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Seismologist Mike Stickney said he wasn't aware of an "earthquake sky," but he said there are some fairly credible reports of lights in the sky around the time an earthquake hits. Stickney said most rock has grains of quartz in it, and quartz has electrical properties. When rocks are under pressure and squeezed in the right way, they may give off energy.

But Stickney added that such earthquake lights have been reported when earthquakes are above a 7.0 magnitude and cause a surface rupture. Thursday's early-morning quake was centered deep within the earth and was not big enough to cause a surface rupture.

Stickney said that while the phenomenon spotted close to sunset in Butte didn't seem likely to be connected to the earthquake that hit hours later, he wouldn't entirely rule it out. "I've tried to learn to say 'nothing is impossible,'" Stickney said.

Drying out: When streams don't flow, the problem may be deeper than it seems

Cam Carstarphen, MBMG hydrogeologist, That's one of the reasons an environmental studies major at the University of Montana joined about a half-dozen people who spent their Sunday learning about the Lolo Watershed Study, which is part of a pilot research partnership between the Montana Department Natural Resources and Conservation Service and the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology. 

Carmen Carstarphen, a hydrologist with the bureau's ground water project, showing the group of interested Lolo residents a graph demonstrating the association between ground water and surface water.That's one of the reasons an environmental studies major at the University of Montana joined about a half-dozen people who spent their Sunday learning about the Lolo Watershed Study, which is part of a pilot research partnership between the Montana Department Natural Resources and Conservation and the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology.

Carmen Carstarphen, a hydrologist with the bureau's ground water project, showed the group of interested Lolo residents a graph showing the association between ground water and surface water. June 21, 2017  


Taking first-place honors at the 2016 Denver Gem and Mineral Show, this past September, were two museums. The Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., won the Donna Chirnside Memorial Award for best educational display by a museum with its exhibit of African minerals, and Montana Tech Mineral Museum, in Butte, received the Friends of Mineralogy Award for best educational exhibit by an institution with its display documenting Montana sapphire deposits.

Rocks and Minerals March-April 2017 — by Marie Huizing

Lolo Creek's hitting rock bottom and the state wants to find out why

Photo by Rob Chaney, The MissoulianLolo Creek

Lolo Creek has barely a trickle of water as it pases Traveler's Rest State Park in early September. Lolo residents will soon have lots of research explaning how its watershed works and what steps the community might take to keep the creek flowing year round.

So the state of Montana, through its Groundwater Investigation Program, decided to invest in finding an answer.

“This is a fairly robust perennial stream and then in certain years in some parts it goes dry,” senior research hydrogeologist John Wheaton said. “That’s not common.

“There’s no smoking gun.”

•February 21, 2017

Maps Made With Light Show the Way

The topic, officially, was water. But during a scientific conference in Butte, Montana, earthquake expert Michael Stickney glimpsed something unexpected in a three-dimensional lidar image of the Bitterroot Valley in nearby Missoula.

In a bare-earth lidar image, with the land surface portrayed in detail, Stickney saw what no one knew existed: an active seismic fault with the potential to trigger a magnitude 6.5 to 7.5 earthquake.

“People have always thought the area was relatively immune to large earthquakes,” he said. No large quakes have ever been recorded there. “We knew the fault existed, but the best available evidence was that it was not active.”

Release Date: January 23, 2017
by Heather Dewar

All that glitters is not gold: Montana's sapphire riches

“Jake Hoover was a gold miner,” says Bozeman businessman Don Baide. “And in the process of mining for gold, his sluice boxes started filling up with these blue pebbles. All his great expectations for that claim never came to pass, for Jake Hoover never struck that rich vein of gold he was seeking in central Montana.

Montana fancy sapphiresThe consolation? That blue chatter of pebbles in his sluice box was trying to tell him something else – an even richer secret from ages ago that would come to light only in that year, 1895.

Marissa Lambert/Courtesy of the Gem Gallery
— Uncut, rough sapphires from Rock Creek

Richard Berg, a retired geology professor from the Montana Bureau of Mines at Montana Tech in Butte, said the story is not just legend.

Ordinary rocks could be future of mining

Montana Resources haul truck dumps over 200 tons of waste rock on the top of the Yankee Doodle tailings pondThe Treasure State’s current — and possibly future — treasure lies with ordinary rock mining, a state official said Thursday at a mining symposium in Butte.

Ordinary rocks are the predominant mining commodity for the state.

Rock quarries and rock picking take up nearly half of the land Montana Department of Environmental Quality permits for mining, said DEQ geochemist Garrett Smith in a presentation
                                                                                                 Walter Hinick, The Montana Standard
to about 40 people at the Minerals and Mining Symposium sponsored by the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology at Montana Tech.

Leverich Mystery: Digging into the history of a one-time mining claim

South of Bozeman, up a rutted trail access road, perched on a ridge reaching into the Gallatin National Forest, is a mining cabin — or, rather, the remnants of one. Its history? —A mystery, with the primary clue a metal plaque grown into a broken tree trunk. “AOMC MINING CLAIM,” reads lettering between bullet holes. “NE BOUNDARY.”

A first attempt at sussing out that history was a call to the Gallatin History Museum. There, a staff member suggested looking at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management land patents database, a registry of land grants from the federal government to individuals, — didn’t return a direct hit, however. Continuing the search for other sources we cooresponded with a geologist at the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Phyllis Hargrave, who was kind enough to look at some photos from the mine site and pass on her thoughts.

“In the grand scheme of things this would be considered a small mine,” she wrote in an email, pointing to the comparatively small amount of mine waste and saying the shaft appeared to be shored up with trees instead of shaped timbers. “I bet they didn’t explore too much,” she said. “The iron rails may have never been used.” A piece of rusting equipment near the cabin looks like it may have been a portable saw mill, she noted.

Bozeman Daily ChronicleStory and photos by Eric Dietrich
Chronicle Staff Writer, • Aug 11, 2016

Worries Run Deep as Creston Water Bottling Plant Seeks Approval

Last week nearly 300 people gathered at Flathead Valley Community College for a presentation that was unrelated but coincidentally about the valley’s deep aquifer. Scientists from the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, the agency thatJames Rose speaking at Flathad Valley Community College researches geologic, groundwater and mineral resources across the state, presented the initial findings of a two-year study of the valley’s key water source. The event, scheduled months before news of the water bottling plant surfaced, was intended as an educational presentation about the critical role the aquifer plays in the region and was not in any way connected to the water bottling controversy, according to organizers.

“The deep aquifer is a phenomenal resource that can both be used and conserved,” said John Wheaton, senior research hydrogeologist with the MBMG.

Flathead BeaconPublished Apr 11, 2016

This 3D model details the complex network of more than 2,000 miles of irrigation ditches in the Gallatin Valley, as well as how the groundwater flows in the area. Much of the groundwater in the valley is replenished by the unlined ditches, which are largely credited for maintaining groundwater levels in the area despite rapid urban and suburban development and irrigation practice changes. Groundwater in the valley flows north and west toward Nixon Gulch. The Ground Water Investigation Program at the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology (GWIP) seeks to provide answers to communities about the status of local groundwater. GWIP researches pressing groundwater issues selected by the Montana Ground Water Assessment Steering Committee, which was legislatively authorized by the Montana State Legislature. GWIP examines such questions as groundwater/surface-water interactions and stream depletion, changing aquifer recharge by improved efficiency in irrigation methods, hydrologic effects of land-use changes, and water-quality impacts from septic tank density.

Published on Sunday, 21 February 2016,

Track Parrot pollutionDeep in the heart of Butte: A special report — Parrot Plume: What you should know

Below the center of Butte flows water tainted with poisons drawn from a mass of mining and smelting waste that has been a pollution problem for more than a century.

The deadly bright-blue plume “is the most contaminated mine water in the state of Montana,” hydrogeologist Joe Griffin says.

No one argues that point. But a raging dispute centers on what to do about it — and about the tailings from the Parrot mine and smelter that are feeding the deadly brew of metals-laced water.

Monitoring Gallatin Valley's goundwater

Monitoring the Gallatin Valley's ground water

Research hydrologist Tom Michalek describes test wells and water table monitoring at a site near Bozeman. Data from the test wells are used to model the interaction between land use, surface water and ground water in the Gallatin Basin.

Bozeman Daily ChronicleBy Troy Carter, Chronicle
• July 6,2015

Exempt well ruling hasn't starved development in the county – yet

Water is arguably Montana's most precious natural resource, and it is undeniably essential to the local economy.

But the rain and melting snows in the mountains that feed the state's streams and rivers are only half the story. The unseen groundwater aquifers below our feet are the other.

Gallatin County's aquifer level has been affected by the significant changes in how the land above is used. Key among those changes have been farmers' switch from flood irrigation to pivoting or wheel-line sprinklers and domestic housing and commercial real estate development.

Bozeman Daily Chronicle By Troy Carter,
Chronicle Staff Writer • July 5, 2015

Jurassic starfish Jurassic starfish discovery in south-central Montana wows researchers

“What you found is an extraordinary occurrence,” Tom Guensburg, interim dean of the Physical Science Division at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill., wrote to the MBMG's Jay Gunderson after investigating the site last month. “It could be the most diverse starfish fauna known from the Jurassic, a time when modern starfish orders make their earliest known appearances. This is good stuff.”Billings Gazette

July 05, 2015 6:00 am  •  By Brett French

Bitterroot study area

Groundwater study: State hydrogeologists continue research on Bitterroot Valley aquifer

The MBMG GWIP hydrogeologists have been working in the Hamilton area for the past year to gather information on the area's groundwater. Their findings are expected to be available in a public report released sometime in 2016.

Ravalli Republic newsFebruary 18, 2015  
• By Perry Backus

Hydrogeologists to conduct water study in Hamilton areameasuring Bitterrot River

Ravalli County commissioners gave the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology the OK to pursue how growth is affecting ground and surface water levels.

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com POSTED: 9:10 PM Feb 18 2015/UPDATED: 11:29 PM Feb 18 2015

State drilling to test Big Sky’s water supply

At the behest of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s Water Resource Division, the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology is leading a Big Sky study to determine the amount of groundwater available in the Meadow Village area by drilling andWell sites mapping out the complex bedrock geology that determines the groundwater flow system.

Part of MBMG, the Ground Water Investigation Program is overseeing 17 wells being drilled to monitor both water levels and water quality in the meadow’s alluvial aquifer, an underground natural water source that stores groundwater adjacent to the west fork of the Gallatin River.

Understanding this aquifer’s characteristics and capacity to hold water is imperative since it’s the primary water supply for residents and businesses in the Meadow Village and Town Center, according to Kirk Waren, Senior Hydrogeologist with MBMG.

“The geology here has limitations to the good, fresh water you can get out of the system,” Waren said. “That’s a fact.”

Exploring Big Sky
Posted November 4, 2014
By Joseph T. O’Connor
Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

Erwin Bridge fishing access site west of Belgrade

Groundwater model predicts less water in Gallatin River

The Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Groundwater Investigation Program has spent five years measuring and modeling the surface water and the behavior of groundwater beneath about 19 square miles surrounding Four Corners.

Bozeman ChronicleLAURA LUNDQUIST, Chronicle Staff Writer
Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2014

Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez/Chronicle

101 Grand Avenue, BillingsMBMG's new digs in Billings.

Montana Tech has purchased an office building in downtown Billings, Montana to house the Billing branch office of the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology (MBMG). The MBMG has rented office space on the campus of Montana State University-Billings for the past 15 years. The purchase of the new building was approved by the Montana Board of Regents at their November meeting.

The approximately 6,026 square foot building is located at 101 Grand Avenue, right next to Billings Senior High School. The office officialy opened on May 30th. The Billings office currently has nine professional staff members along with several students from MSU-Billings and Rocky Mountain College who will work in the building. MBMG currently has projects in every county in Montana; the Billings office typically addresses geologic ahd hydrogeologic issues throughout central and eastern Montana, including energy development, agriculture/irrigatin, and groundwater availability.

Zimmerman Park -the Rims rock slides"It's kind of like predicting an earthquake" The geology behind the Rims' rock slides

“Mother Nature always wants to flatten the Earth, to put it in layman’s terms,” said Jay Gunderson, a research geologist with the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology’s Billings office. “Erosion always takes over.”..

(May 13, 2014 8:00 pm  •  By Mike Ferguson. Billings Gazette)

MBMG announces a new Ground Water Investigation Program Leader

 Ginette in the fieldGinette Abdo has been selected to lead the Ground Water Investigation Program (GWIP). Ginette has been with the MBMG for quite some time–first as an Assistant Research Hydrogeologist and Assistant Curator of our Mineral Museum, and then as a Senior Research Hydrogeologist–and was one of the leaders in the original work that got GWIP started.

John Wheaton, her predecessor, has set the bar pretty high, but we know she will lead us to great new places.

She will start her new position on February 1st, 2014.

Congratulations, Ginette!

State legislators, others tour Gallatin Valley water resources

Bozeman ChronicleJODI HAUSEN, Chronicle Staff Writer Posted: Saturday, August 17, 2013 12:15 am

There are more water rights in the Gallatin Valley basin than there is water to supply the people who hold those rights. That's one of the messages area water court officials wanted to get across to stateGallatin River legislators and others who attended a tour of the Gallatin River watershed Friday.

The Gallatin River flows as local ranchers, conservationists,
lawmakers and geologists from the Gallatin Valley area gather
near the Erwin Bridge fishing access site west of Belgrade on
Friday, Aug. 16, to assess water levels and discuss future
matters on water usage and water rights.

Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez/Chronicle

County leaders evaluate water levels along Gallatin River

NBC/Ktvm newsNBC Montana has been following the latest facts about irrigation issues in the Gallatin Valley all summer. We toured the Gallatin River with lawmakers and conservationists to get a first hand update on water levels and drought conditions on the river.

GallatinLawmakers evaluated sections of the river from the Gallatin Gateway to Four Corners. While out on the river we could see how in some areas, water levels were lower.

Tom Michalek-MBMG HydrogeologistTom Michalek is a hydrogeologist at the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology in Butte. Michalek told us some people in the area are having issues getting enough water to support their products.

"When you have less water, some people don't get the water they need," said Michalek.

Eric Turcio

By Eric Turcio, Reporter, eturcio@ktvm.com
POSTED: 5:01 PM Aug 16 2013 UPDATED: 6:17 PM Aug 16 2013

Ringing RocksRock of Ages — scientists are still pondering the mystery of Butte's Ringing Rocks

Claudia Rapkoch interviews MBMG's Kaleb Scarberry regarding this geologic phenomena!

Montana’s geographic wonders have long inspired musicians and songwriters, but an ancient anomaly allows even the least musically inclined among us to be a rock star. The only instrument you need is a hammer.

The Ringing Rocks, located roughly 20 miles east of Butte is a symphonic wonder that has been millions of years in the making. Having lived in Butte for almost 20 years, we’d heard about the rocks for many years but not until recently did we bundle up our young son for an afternoon of outdoor adventure. After all, what could be more fun for a four-year-old than your parents encouraging you to play with rocks?

Published in Montana Magazine April/March 2013
Story by Claudia Rapkoch
Photos by Kenton Rowe