Use of drones to analyse sedimentary successions exposed in the foreshore

Harrald, Julie; Coe, Angela L.; Thomas, Rick M. and Hoggett, Murray (2021). Use of drones to analyse sedimentary successions exposed in the foreshore. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 132(3) pp. 253–268.



Drones have revolutionised the gathering of geoenvironmental data over the last decade. To date, the majority of drone studies of sedimentary rock successions have focussed on well-exposed vertical to subvertical cliff sections. Here, we describe a fundamental method to obtain new data and perspectives on sedimentary successions exposed in partially-obscured foreshore or other horizontal to subhorizontal outcrop surfaces using drones. We illustrate the technique using an example from foreshore exposures of Jurassic strata near Helmsdale, Scotland, UK. Our method aims to make the process of safely collecting drone footage accessible and covers practical considerations from pre-field preparation to data processing. Capturing drone imagery in a foreshore setting involves trade-offs between the time of day which constrains the lighting, the time of year which determines algal cover and tidal range, and the flight time available which indirectly governs image resolution. We show how: (1) orthomosaic images can be used to view sedimentary deposits at different scales and angles enabling identification of large-scale sedimentary features marked by small-scale changes in orientation and lateral variability; (2) production of digital elevation models permits differentially weathered features covered by water or algae to be distinguished, and (3) drones can be used for close up photography of inaccessible features.

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