Modeling Stratigraphic Architecture of Deep-water Deposits Using a Small Unmanned Aircraft: Neogene Thin-bedded Turbidites, East Coast Basin, New Zealand

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 9:30 AM
Nora Nieminski, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States and Stephan A Graham, Stanford University, Los Altos Hills, CA, United States
One of the outstanding challenges of field geology is inaccessibility of exposure. The ability to view and characterize outcrops that are difficult to study from the ground is greatly improved by aerial investigation. Detailed stratigraphic architecture of such exposures is best addressed by using advances and availability of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) that can safely navigate from high-altitude overviews of study areas to within a meter of the exposure of interest. High-resolution photographs acquired at various elevations and azimuths by sUAS are then used to convert field measurements to digital representations in three-dimensions at a fine scale. Photogrammetric software is used to capture complex, detailed topography by creating digital surface models with a range imaging technique that estimates three-dimensional structures from two-dimensional image sequences. The digital surface model is overlain by detailed, high-resolution photography. Pairing sUAS technology with readily available photogrammetry software that requires little processing time and resources offers a revolutionary and cost-effective methodology for geoscientists to investigate and quantify stratigraphic and structural complexity of field studies from the convenience of the office.

These methods of imaging and modeling remote outcrops are demonstrated in the East Coast Basin, New Zealand, where wave-cut platform exposures of Miocene deep-water deposits offer a unique opportunity to investigate the flow processes and resulting characteristics of thin-bedded turbidite deposits. Stratigraphic architecture of wavecut platform and vertically-dipping exposures of these thin-bedded turbidites is investigated with sUAS coupled with Structure from Motion (SfM) photogrammetry software. This approach allows the geometric and spatial variation of deep-water architecture to be characterized continuously along 2,000 meters of lateral exposure, as well as to measure and quantify cyclic variations in thin-bedded turbidites at centimeter scale. Results yield a spatial and temporal understanding of a deep-water depositional system at a scale that was previously unattainable using conventional field geology techniques, and a virtual outcrop that can be used for classroom education.