Lidar day!

Today is (informally) lidar day! You might not have the day off work, your kids might not bring home art projects featuring lidar, and it’s probably not possible to have a cake emblazoned with a point cloud, but lidar is taking center stage in science throughout the world and we want to celebrate!


Wave goodbye to the moon—lidar tells us it’s receding by inches per year.

But what is it? Lidar—Light Detection and Ranging, or a combination of ‘laser’ and ‘radar’—has been around since the 1960’s when folks first used lasers to measure the distance between objects. During the Apollo missions, in addition to collecting great moon rocks for geologists to study, the astronauts also installed reflectors that scientists use with lidar to measure how quickly the moon is moving away from the earth (~3.8 cm/yr it turns out, slowing our orbit about 2 seconds per century).

point cloud

‘Point cloud’ data of both vegetation and the ground surface. From UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Green Blog (click for link)

In the past two decades, people have developed ways to mount the lidar equipment to a light plane and take millions of data points as the plane flies over the ground surface. Because of how fast data is collected, and the specific frequencies of light used, scientists are able to measure the elevation of both the vegetation and the bare earth. These new techniques allow unprecedented levels of accuracy (less than ~5 cm) in the elevation of the Earth’s surface—typically a tricky thing to really pin down.

This has led to an ‘elevation revolution’ for earth scientists, surveyors, land planners, farmers, anyone who thinks about the Earth or needs data about its elevation. Even the military.

One of the biggest uses in earth science is the identification of geologic features in vegetated regions. Sure enough, it’s easy (for a geologist) to see fault scarps, old landslides, and other features in a desert region, but throw the Olympic rainforest on top and a healthy dose of soil and moss, and natural hazards become more difficult to identify.

comparison photo

The three images above illustrate the differences between lidar (center) and the existing, statewide topographic dataset from shuttle radar (right) at the same location as the aerial image (left). The dense tree canopy in portions of the aerial image show the ability of lidar lasers to pass between tree leaves and needles to accurately measure the ground. Note that the lidar image captures the road system in the lower third of the image, also evident in the aerial image.

This is where lidar comes in—by penetrating the dense forest canopy and showing (in detail) the shape of the ground surface, it’s as if we lifted up the forest by the nape of its neck and once-hidden geologic structures are revealed.


For planning—the lidar topography clearly shows roads and other man-made features.

Okay, so maybe waxing poetic about geology doesn’t stir your emotions, but lots of other people are also using lidar: Foresters use it to monitor the height and volume of timber from year to year and can determine optimal times for harvest; farmers can use it to determine crop yields before harvest or where they should apply more fertilizer; land-use planners can develop 3D models of their cities; your new car that automatically slows down is using lidar to keep you safe; the military can use lidar surveys to detect recent land disturbances (read: roadside ordinances) and stop convoys before they reach danger.


Floodplains—subtle landforms can be identified by lidar that are not visible with other methods.

So raise your mouse, pint glass, coffee mug, or whatever nerdy object you’re holding to lidar—keep it up, smart people.

Forces of Columbia River featured on new map poster

Columbia River geologic mapThe raw earth exposed by the path of the Columbia River offers a look at the power of natural systems, and a new poster-quality map issued by Washington and Oregon geologists shows where you can see those natural forces.

“Washington and Oregon are privileged to share in the stewardship of one of the world’s most remarkable river systems: the Columbia River, a geologic and cultural treasure that has shaped the destinies of our two states,” says David Norman, Washington State Geologist.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resource’s Geology and Earth Resources Division, in cooperation with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, has produced a map to highlight the geologic influences that converge along the river in recognition of Geologic Map Day October 17. The map highlights the geology of the 309-mile stretch of the river that divides the two states and presents hazards like floods and benefits like how winds and water are captured to produce electricity.

The map poster is available for download as a 34-by-44-inch PDF or as eight 11-by-17-inch PDFs for easy assembly:

In other activities recognizing Geologic Map Day, the Washington Geology Library will have geologic maps on display and some geologically-themed baked goods from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Washington Geology Library, Room 173, Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St SE, Olympia, WA.

The Washington Geology Library holds more than 3,000 topographic and geologic maps of Washington, in addition to volumes of research on our state’s unique geology.

For more information about DNR’s Division of Geology and Earth Resources, visit


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New Grant Awarded to Study Geothermal Resources

The Division of Geology and Earth Resources (DGER), in partnership with AltaRock Energy, Inc., Temple University, BOS Technologies, LLC, and the U.S. Forest Service, was recently awarded a U.S. Department of Energy Geothermal Play-Fairway grant. Usually an oil and gas term, a geothermal play-fairway analysis is a mapping tool that assesses risk and uncertainty to geothermal resources in areas with no surface expression by mapping favorable intersections of heat, permeability, and fluid.

During the coming year, we will combine multiple aspects of heat and permeability to model geothermal resource potential in three interest areas along the crest of the Cascade Range. The Wind River valley, the Mount St. Helens seismic zone, and the southeast flank of Mount Baker were identified as favorable prospects during regional modeling by Boschmann and others (2014), largely based on fault density, seismicity, numerous hot springs, and warm temperature gradients. We will gather and integrate more detailed information for these smaller areas—detailed mapping, geophysical surveys, and GPS-derived strain data—to generate 3D models of permeability and detailed 2D maps of resource potential. We anticipate this method will identify viable areas for further exploration during Phase II of the project.


The thumbnail shows the poster DGER presented at the GRC meeting. Click the photo to open the full-sized document in pdf format.

DGER recently attended the Geothermal Resources Council’s (GRC) annual meeting, where eleven funded teams showed off their project plans for play-fairway analyses around the country. It was a great opportunity to share ideas, compare analysis strategies, and for this geologist (Jessica Czajkowski), to finally meet some of her heroes in the geothermal field. It was exciting to learn that three of the eleven funded projects concentrated their efforts in the Cascade Range. All of the work performed under this grant will contribute to the National Geothermal Data System.

Celebrating Earth’s Interconnected Systems

ger_earth_science_week_logo2014 Earth Science Week is this October 12–18

This year, Earth Science Week  focuses on “Earth’s connected systems,” a timely and vital topic considering current interest in global warming and climate change.

AGI Logo

Sponsored by the American Geosciences Institute (AGI), Earth Science Week is an annual national event that encourages people everywhere to explore the natural world and learn about the geosciences and stewardship of the Earth.

By deepening our understanding of interactions between Earth systems—the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere—Earth science helps us manage our greatest challenges and make the most of vital opportunities.

  Visit the official Earth Science Week website

The DNR Division of Geology and Earth Resources is commemorating Earth Science Week with two great public events:

  • Tuesday, October 14: Earth Science Week Rock Auction 9am–noon. This silent auction featuring fossil and mineral specimens will be held in the Washington Geology Library, Room 173, Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St SE, Olympia, WA. It is sponsored by the WGL Friends to benefit the Library.
  • Thursday, October 16: National Geologic Map Day 8am–4pm. The Washington Geology Library will have geologic maps on display and some geologically-themed baked goods. Location is same as above.

In Honor of National Geologic Map Day

ger_connected_systems_columbia_river_wa_or_thumbnailThe Washington Division of Geology and Earth Resources teamed up with The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries to create a geologic map of the connected systems of the Columbia River Gorge. This large-format poster provides a good starting point for discussion of connected systems. Click on the map thumbnail to open the full-size PDF or follow this link:

The Columbia River, in its 309-mile course along the Oregon-Washington border, provides a rich and varied environment for the resident people, wildlife, and plants. The area’s geology is the basis for the landscape and ecosystems we know today.

The Great Washington ShakeOutshakeout

Every year, millions of people worldwide practice how to Drop, Cover, and Hold On as part of the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills!

This year, the Great Washington ShakeOut will occur on Thursday, October 16 at 10:16am. Washingtonians can join by registering here. Participating is a great way for your family or organization to be prepared to survive and recover quickly from big earthquakes–wherever you live, work, or travel.

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A New TsuInfo Alert has been published


TsuInfo Alert is a bi-monthly newsletter that links scientists, emergency responders, and community planners to the latest tsunami research. This newsletter is published by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geology and Earth Resources on behalf of the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, a state/federal partnership funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is made possible by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency via the Washington Military Department, Division of Emergency Management.

August (v. 16, no. 4) [PDF; 2 MB]

Recent Geology Field Trip in Eastern Jefferson County

Last year, geologists Michael Polenz and Trevor Contreras (DNR), mapped the bedrock and glacial geology of an area roughly from Chimacum to Quilcene along the west side of Hood Canal in eastern Jefferson County.

On Saturday August 2nd the Division of Geology and Earth Resources led a geology field trip in the area, along with geologists Carol Serdar of the Washington State Department of Ecology and Jeff Tepper of the University of Puget Sound. The trip was sponsored and organized by Michael Machette with the Jefferson Land Trust.

Michael and Trevor providing an overview of Center and Quilcene geology at an outcrop of Lyre Formation conglomerate. Photo courtesy of Michael Machette (Jefferson Land Trust).

Michael and Trevor providing an overview of Center and Quilcene geology at an outcrop of Lyre Formation conglomerate. Photo courtesy of Michael Machette (Jefferson Land Trust).

About 30 local geology enthusiasts visited 10 sites in the area showcasing Crescent Formation basalt and conglomerate, Lyre Formation pyroclastic flow deposits, conglomerate, and other marine sedimentary rocks of the region, as well as overlying sediment deposited within the last 100,000 years.

As geologists, it’s very rewarding to see members of the community interested and engaged in the geology around them.

Michael Polenz discussing Lyre Formation mudstone along State Route 104 near Center Rd. Photo courtesy of Ian Hubert (DNR).

Michael Polenz discussing Lyre Formation mudstone along State Route 104 near Center Rd. Photo courtesy of Ian Hubert (DNR).

The ongoing 7.5-minute quadrangle mapping is part of an effort to document the geology along the Hood Canal in detail. This area is important ecologically; slope instability, water quality, and dissolved oxygen levels affect shellfish and salmon habitat. Population is steadily rising there as well, making water resources increasingly more difficult to acquire.

Vashon Stade sediment of the most recent glacial advance dominates the surface in this area; evidence of thousands of feet of ice raking across the landscape is reflected in the modern environment. The area east of Discovery Bay is dominated by bedrock. Crescent Formation basalt flows and sedimentary interbeds and overlying Lyre Formation marine sedimentary rocks represent stacking of ocean floor above the subducting Juan de Fuca tectonic plate.

For more information on the area, check out recent 7.5-minute geologic maps for the Hoodsport, Lilliwaup, Holly, Eldon, Lofall, Seabeck–Poulbo, Brinnon, Belfair, Lake Wooten, and Skokomish Valley–Union quadrangles. We plan to publish the mapping for the Quilcene and Center quadrangles this fall.

Newly Published: Chehalis River Floodplain Geomorphic Mapping

We’re pleased to announce the release of a new publication!

Geomorphic mapping of the Chehalis River floodplain, Cosmopolis to Pe Ell, Grays Harbor, Thurston, and Lewis Counties, Washington

by S. L. Slaughter and I. J. Hubert

Relative elevation model of a portion of the study area approximately 5 miles east of Montesano showing the junction of the Chehalis River floodplain with the Satsop River.

Summary:  A relative elevation model of the Chehalis River floodplain was generated using 1- and 2-meter lidar and 12-inch-resolution aerial images in order to delineate subtle landforms on the floodplain for a 110-mile reach of the Chehalis River between Pe Ell and Cosmopolis, Washington. The relative elevation model represents elevation of features on the floodplain relative to the Chehalis River’s water surface by removing downstream changes in elevation associated with the channel gradient. Subtle landform features, such as primary, secondary, and abandoned channels, sloughs, swales, and natural and artificial levees were then identified within the floodplain. This information is useful to biologists, wetland scientists, land managers, property owners, and floodplain and watershed managers. The report contains 59 pages of maps at 1:28,000-scale and two pages of text.