If you are outside one day in South Jersey and you see a low-flying helicopter towing something that looks like a hula-hoop, don't worry, you haven't gone loopy.

There is actually a very good reason for the unusual-looking helicopter flights you may see over the next month.

First of all, the flights are safe and monitored.

Here is what's happening.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Next Generation Water Observing System project is happening again this summer in the Delaware River Basin.

Scientists and researchers from the University of Delaware are collecting information to better understand how increased coastal storms are impacting our drinking water supply.

The data collected from this survey will serve as a benchmark for comparison with future changes in the amount of salt in the Delaware Bay area. The amount of groundwater salinity in the Delaware Bay could pose a problem for being able to use the water for freshwater purposes.

But why is the helicopter towing that hula-hoop-looking thing and why are they flying so low to the ground?

Good question.

Here's the answer according to the experts at the USGS.

The helicopter will fly along pre-planned flight paths relatively low to the ground at 100-200 feet above the surface. A sensor that resembles a large hula-hoop will be towed beneath the helicopter to measure tiny electromagnetic signals that can be used to map features below Earth’s surface.... Several flight lines will follow nearby river paths to map the extent of saline water upstream.

By using this method, the scientists avoid having to do much more invasive ground-based work to get the information they need.

Once the study is complete, scientists will publish the results within a year.

So, when you see a helicopter flying low overhead towing a hula-hoop, this summer in South Jersey, you can take comfort that you aren't just weeing things, you are seeing science. 

If, however, you see pigs wearing tutus flying over the Garden State Parkway, you may well have a personal issue.

Read more about the U.S. Geological Survey’s Next Generation Water Observing System project.

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