Extending digital outcrop geology into the subsurface
Digital survey methods, including terrestrial laser scanning (lidar) and differential GPS, allow geological and topographic data from outcrops to be recorded very rapidly, in 3D, at detailed resolutions and with high spatial precision. Geological interpretations of outcrop datasets (e.g., fault or bedding traces) can be extended into the subsurface using geometric, probabilistic, or deterministic methods. Geometric methods based on interpolation and extrapolation of observed surfaces and surface traces are generally associated with high uncertainty. This can be reduced in areas of highly irregular topography. Another approach is to use geological heuristics to constrain the subsurface interpretation. This approach can help to limit the number of possible interpretations when creating multiple realizations. Deterministic methods encompass both invasive and non-invasive approaches. Invasive methods include mining and quarrying, as well as small-scale excavation of unconsolidated sediments. Behind-the-outcrop boreholes are only slightly invasive, and can provide very useful constraint of the subsurface. In contrast, geophysical methods such as near-surface seismics and ground penetrating radar (GPR) allow indirect imaging of the subsurface and are non-invasive.
Excellent coastal exposures of Namurian turbidites near the Bridge of Ross in County Clare, western Ireland, provide a case study in which several different types of digital outcrop data are combined and co-visualized in a 3D model. In vertical sections on opposite sides of the outcrop a small-scale turbidite channel is marked by an erosional base and inclined interbedded sandstones and mud-clast conglomerates. The observed channel margins can be traced through the subsurface using 3D GPR.