How much water is there, how long it will last, and where is it, are questions that scientists are trying to answer as they drill holes this summer in North Carolina. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are drilling a core hole at Kure Beach near the Fort Fisher Historical Site that will be the first step in a statewide program to document and describe the subsurface geology of the North Carolina Coastal Plain. The goal of the drilling project is to develop a better understanding of the size and geographic extent of the water aquifers and the relationship between aquifers, geology and water quality.

"Most geologists used to assume that the geology of the Coastal Plain was quite simple, like a stack of blankets on a bed," says USGS scientist Robert Weems. "Over time, however, USGS drilling and research in South Carolina and Virginia has shown that the actual buried patterns in this area are more complex than we thought. As a result of sea level changes, a cut-and-fill pattern of sedimentation is repeated up and down the Coastal Plain in South Carolina and Virginia, which has produced earth layers that fit together much more like a patchwork quilt than a stack of blankets. This complex pattern makes understanding aquifers and water quality much more challenging than was previously thought. There is every reason to believe that we will find the same kind of patterns in North Carolina."

The research at Kure Beach involves drilling a 1,500-foot hole in the earth, bringing up an intact core for analysis, and installing a deep probe in basement rocks in order to monitor seismic activity in the region. The drilling began in late May and continues until the end of July.

Results of the project, which is supported and partially funded by the North Carolina Department of environment and Natural resources, division of water Quality and Water Resources, the North Carolina Geological Survey, the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and the USGS, will assist local and state water resources managers in making better decisions concerning the availability and use of ground water. A similar study was conducted in the Coastal Plain of South Carolina and resulted in the creation of a comprehensive database of geologic and hydrologic information that is used by state agencies and private industry.