Friday, October 19, is proclaimed “Geologic Mapping Day” in Oklahoma by decree of Governor Mary Fallin. The proclamation outlines the various functions of geologic maps that include city planning, geologic hazard evaluation, oil and gas exploration, non-fuel and building material location, recreation areas, hunting and fishing plans, and much other needed information.
In celebrating Mapping Day, it is nice to remember that one of the most important and comprehensive mapping projects ever undertaken by the Oklahoma Geological Survey, a state agency for research and public service, began in southeastern Oklahoma in the beautiful Ouachita Mountains, and lasted in the Ouachitas alone for eight years.
In 1985, staff members from the Oklahoma Geological Survey, the Arkansas Geological Commission and the U.S. Geological Survey met in Norman to make plans for a multi-year program to map the geologically complex Ouachita Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Arkansas.
The 22 maps of COGEOMAP and the later STATEMAP can be viewed and downloaded at no charge from: http://ogs.ou.edu/statemap1_22.php 
Many people in southeastern Oklahoma will remember meeting Neil Suneson and LeRoy Hemish who tramped the Ouachitas for many years checking out the geology, consulting previous maps, and making friends in the area. Hemish has since retired from the OGS, but Suneson, a bearded and gregarious geologist who is always happy to talk about his work, remembers the friendly people, the beautiful scenery and the fascinating geology.
He also is proud of the many important accomplishments of this project.
“Where we started mapping in the Ouachitas (northernmost part) it really hadn’t been well mapped by anybody since the 1926 geologic map of Oklahoma by Hugh Miser. Most of the other parts of the Ouachitas had been mapped in one fashion or another by a variety of people – professionals and students – and at different levels of usefulness and believability. But those areas had at least been mapped to some degree and someone had walked over the ground. Not so of where we started.”
“Also, this part of the Ouachitas was adjacent to the Arkoma Basin, which has long been a proven gas province. Our thought was that if any “practical” application was ever to result from our mapping, sticking next to a gas province was probably smart. Turned out we were correct,” he said.
Suneson also is proud of the fact that COGEOMAP really did put the Ouachitas “on the map” again, so to speak.
“From a scientific viewpoint, our work also resulted in a number of other people doing studies in the Ouachitas, mostly as student theses (and mostly from OSU), but also some professionals. We got a number of industry people to publish their work, which is something that never would have happened if we hadn’t been working down there. All this is to say that our mapping laid the groundwork for a number of other studies in the Ouachitas.”
Before this extensive project, the geologic complexity of the region had caused many to choose other areas for study.
“By showing how complex the surface geologic structure was, I think we gave the petroleum folks some inkling of what they were in for in their exploration efforts. The tight folding and faulting we mapped on the surface is something that can often be seen. It’s also present at depth, and that is now reflected in some of the cross sections that the industry folks published. I think we also were able to describe some aspects of the sequences of different rocks and the way they contorted and that aided exploration efforts. And one strictly scientific result came out of our work – that some of the sediments in the Atoka Formation were derived from the southwest; company policy at this time had everything coming from the east.”
Over the years, Hemish and Suneson conducted many field trips to the area for exploration geologists and helped to give new understanding to the economic potential of the area.
“In one case, LeRoy and I took a coal miner out to look at some property; we looked at an outcrop of coal and after the company did some exploratory drilling and some leasing they opened a coal mine – just southwest of Red Oak. It’s pretty cool when someone uses your work to do something worthwhile that benefits the area and state,” Suneson noted.
He is still very involved with the area, leads many field trips there and is often asked for input on the Ouachitas. The COGEOMAP project evolved into STATEMAP, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. STATEMAP at the Oklahoma Survey is spearheaded by Geologist Tom Stanley, and is on track to product a new digital map of the entire state.
The COGEOMAP and STATEMAP maps are available online at the OGS website: http://ogs.ou.edu/level2-geolmapping.php  They can be found under the heading “Quadrangle Maps, STATEMAP”.
More information about Map Day and Earth Science Week (October 14-20).
Why we need geologic maps, what are they and how are they used?
The Oklahoma Geological Survey is a research and public service agency of the State of Oklahoma and is Affiliated with the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.