Michigan Geological Survey receives $14 million in funding

Contact: Meghan Behymer

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A new chapter begins for the Michigan Geological Survey (MGS), affiliated with Western Michigan University’s Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, as it secured a substantial funding surge of $14 million from the state of Michigan. This funding promises to bolster the survey's efforts and lead to advancements in geological research and resource management. 

"We are excited and grateful that this funding will once again support the survey to conduct resource assessments and research to serve all of Michigan’s citizens,” says John Yellich, director of the MGS. 

The comprehensive funding package includes an annual $3 million grant from the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) budget, additional one-time supports of $3 million from the higher education budget and $2.9 million from EGLE, together with a separate one-time allocation of $5 million from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), to be distributed over five years.

Students gain real world experience through the Michigan Geological Survey.

Collectively, these funds will be used to support the survey's basic operations, the establishment of a larger Michigan Geological Repository for Research and Education (MGRRE) facility and a variety of projects that Western faculty and students will continue being essential collaborators in.


The MGS has a long history, dating back to January 26, 1837—the same day Michigan was admitted as a state. That day, a bill was introduced and approved in the state legislature to establish a geological survey of Michigan. The survey has faced challenges and changes in focus over the years. 

Early years were dedicated to exploration throughout the state and identifying the vast potential for natural resource development. Many reports and studies were published as Michigan became a national leader in the production of iron, copper, salt, lime, gypsum and many other materials needed in today’s society.

After the 1970s recession, the Michigan Legislature reduced general fund allocation to many state agencies, including the survey. With much reduced funding and staff following that, the survey focused primarily on regulatory work and largely eliminated geological research. Countless resource studies and reports remained untouched, and vital geological research came to a near total standstill.  

In 2010, recognizing the critical need for comprehensive geological research, the MGS, a division in the DEQ, sought to transfer the scientific assessment and research functions to WMU. Through the passage of Public Act 167 of 2011, the scientific functions of the survey were assigned to Western, which was already home to the Michigan Geological Repository for Research and Education, founded by Dr. William Harrison in 1982. This crucial move was supported by WMU, which provided a two-year funding lifeline, igniting hope for a sustainable future for the survey by opening avenues for future financial support.

Initially, Dr. Alan Kehew, WMU professor of geosciences, was appointed as the new survey’s director, leading efforts to revive geological mapping and resource assessment across Michigan. In 2013, Yellich, a Western alumnus, returned from working in industry to assume the role of MGS director. He was soon instrumental in the successful acquisition of several grants, which laid the groundwork for the ambitious vision of a fully operational and thriving geological survey.

“It has always surprised me that Michigan lacked the same level of funding and support (as other state surveys) despite its immense potential for different types of resources, such as oil, gas, energy storage, critical and non-critical minerals,” says Autumn Haagsma, assistant director of the MGS and director of MGRRE. “This really is a significant turning point that can lead to impactful advancements in understanding and utilizing our state's geological resources.”


With the $14 million funding on the horizon, the Michigan Geological Survey is poised to enter a new era of geological research and assessment with a strong focus on critical minerals, carbon sequestration and hydrogen storage projects. 

One of the primary efforts of the MGS is to create comprehensive geological maps of Michigan, with particular emphasis on surface geology. Most recent geological maps date back decades and only represent the upper few feet of geological materials. Updating these maps has become paramount for understanding water resources, identifying potential hazards and locating valuable geological formations critical to meeting societal needs.

“Our whole structure of society is dependent on natural resources and, to have a facility and research institute that allows you to better understand where those resources are, how to manage them in a sustainable way and understand what the possible risk factors are, is absolutely essential. That’s the work that we get to do,” says Harrison, MGRRE director of research and professor emeritus in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences.

Yellich underscores the critical importance of research into Michigan's natural resources for identification, protection, economic development and sustainability. The state's wealth of natural resources, including minerals and energy reserves, necessitates a deep understanding of its geology so that policymakers can make informed decisions that foster sustainable economic growth in the region.

“Our legislators and communities need information that is accessible and easy to understand so that we are all on the same page working together, to manage and develop our natural resources” says Yellich.


Beyond the various research efforts, the new funding will support the expansion of the Michigan Geological Repository for Research and Education. The repository holds a vast collection, including more than 550,000 linear feet of core samples from Michigan's subsurface geological formations and extensive data from drill cuttings, wireline logs, well records, engineering analyses, testing data, and oil and gas well production records.

“The repository is really at this critical point where anything we collect, we don’t have room to store it,” says Yellich. “This is the space for all our data collection, laboratory resources and training and outreach. As we continue to expand, especially with the funding support, it's vital that we have more space to continue our work and train the next generation of geologists."

The extra resources will enable MGS to broaden its offerings in student and professional training, enrich connections between academia and industry with historical data, and amplify outreach endeavors. 

Among these initiatives is the CoreKids K-12 Earth Science Outreach Program, which engages approximately 15,000 kids annually in comprehending the Earth, its mechanisms and its resources. Additionally, up to 25 Western students at any time will be engaged within the MGRRE facility to assist diverse projects.

“Offering students hands-on experience in geological research is a valuable component for the entire University system and, above all, for the students aspiring to enter the field. They bring tremendous energy and enthusiasm to the work, and they will ultimately be the ones driving our work forward,” says Yellich. 

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