Modern methods of digital data acquisition can record surface geology in unprecedented detail, and allow spatially precise, photo-realistic virtual copies of the outcrop to be constructed. Terrestrial laser scanning (LIDAR) and 3D visualisation of these Virtual Outcrop datasets helps to increase overall understanding of the sedimentary architecture and structural style of geological outcrops. Furthermore, virtual outcrop data can be analysed in detail using picking techniques that are broadly analogous to interpretation of seismic data. This allows high-resolution, precise geological measurements to be derived directly from the virtual dataset, and when combined with traditional field observations gives major new insights into a wide range of quantitative sedimentary and structural attributes.
Using Google Earth, we introduce our Virtual Outcrop database, which consists of over 100 laser scanned geological outcrops from across the world. We show how these data have aided our understanding of earthquake mechanics, new records of environmental change and the 3D architecture of subsurface reservoirs. Thus, Virtual Outcrop datasets can provide an important digital archive of geological outcrops and record of processes. They are likely to provide a increasing role in the training for future geoscientists.