19 May 2009


In the beginning we used a notebook, a photocopied base map, a compass and a pencil to do fieldwork. In 1994 I was given a GPS to use, it was the size of a brick and after it repeatedly placed me several hundred meters away from where I knew I was on the map, I gave up on it.

In 1996 I was in Nambia with Nige Mountney and, due to the total lack of maps we used a GPS, which by this time was only the size of a beer bottle. These were actually useful! In 1998/9 we started our first reservoir modelling of outcrop projects. These were in Patagonia and in Utah. In Patagonia a man from Statoil appeared with a crate of boxes, cables and antennas and then wandered about the field looking like a spaceman. In Utah we tried to use a total station to shot points on bed boundaries. In both cases the technowank failed to produce anything useful, but reservoir models got built anyway.

At this point it was realised that you could not just borrow or hire the gear and head to the field. So the next project I was involved with in South Africa we got so heavy duty help and proper training. The Nomad project involved lots of dGPS rovering which meant a couple of guys wandering around the field with GPS receivers. It was hard work (for them) but produced some great data, a lot of blisters and some very fractious incidents.

Once I moved to Norway my budget was somewhat curtailed so we went low tech. Data was collected with a hand held GPS, a digital camera and a florescent ball on a string. It was low tech but it worked and we got 3 masters students and a couple of papers out of it. At the same time I started working with some photo-realistic data collected for Norsk Hydro by the University of Texas. A couple of masters students later I realised that this was the way forward but unfortunately certain very short and angry individuals in the cornershop decided that they didn't like me, so it was time to build my own virtual outcrop system.

So I went and got a very large grant, bought a ground based laser scanner (lidar), the first of its kind in Europe, and found Simon. Now we are getting hi-tech and we had someone who knew what he was doing. Progress! The scanner sends out a laser beam that calculates the position of a point. It does that 10000 times a second and collects a couple of million points, marries them with digital photos and produces a Virtual Outcrop - like google earth but with cm precision!

Several groups got into Lidar at the same time but we focused on doing our own thing and working our methods for data collection, processing and utilization. A couple of PhDs and several publications down the line we branched out in to the hyper spectral scanner to see if we could marry space remote sensing technology with ground based lidar. If I had realised how hard it was going to be I would probably not have bothered trying - but ignorance is bliss! Fortunately we drafted in Toby ze German who is nothing if not tenacious. So now we can map the geology in 3D and remotely map the mineralogy (as long as its sunny).

All working well but a bit slow and cumbersome. So we found some Swiss guys who had put a similar lidar system together with the gyroscopic inertial navigation system from a cruise missile and produce a scanner that could be used from the side of a helicopter. They were using it for mapping rock fall hazards and power lines So we got another big grant and hooked up with them to collect a series of geological datasets.

And that is where we are today - a guy dressed as a ninja, hanging from the side of a helicopter collecting data at a rate of 10 km per hour and producing huge virtual outcrops. Its getting close to the ultimate in technowank and its the future of field work.

Five years ago we were dangling fluorescent balls over cliffs and taking pictures with a digi camera! Things move fast - what's next?

1 comment:

Ed. said...

That's awesome as Barney Stinson would say...

Really interesting and exciting!