Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Real time and the virtual outcrop improve geological field mapping


  • Xueming Xu,

  • Carlos L. V. Aiken,

    1. Department of Geosciences, University of Texas at Dallas, P.O. Box 830688, MS FA31, Richardson, TX 75083-0688 USA
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  • Kent C. Nielsen


New off-the-shelf technologies are providing a quick way for geologists to “capture” observations in the field digitally and may become the standard tools of the early 21st century. A fully contained digital field system capable of decimeter-level accuracy is available now for less than $10,000 and, since the technologies are rapidly evolving, it should become even more functional, accurate, portable, and cost effective.

This system relies on the Global Positioning System (GPS) at various levels of accuracy. Reflectorless laser rangefinders with anglemeasuring capabilities are used to remotely position geologic features with accuracy from centimeters to decimeters relative to the GPS positions. The laser rangefinder can also be used to reference oblique digital photography of outcrops. Data capture with lasers and GPS, integrated with digital photographs and conventional outcrop information, provide a “virtual” outcrop that is fully constrained geometrically and geographically.