Low-altitude aerial color digital photographic survey of the San Andreas Fault

Seismological Research Letters
By: , and 



Ever since 1858, when Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (pen name Félix Nadar) took the first aerial photograph (Professional Aerial Photographers Association 2009), the scientific value and popular appeal of such pictures have been widely recognized. Indeed, Nadar patented the idea of using aerial photographs in mapmaking and surveying. Since then, aerial imagery has flourished, eventually making the leap to space and to wavelengths outside the visible range. Yet until recently, the availability of such surveys has been limited to technical organizations with significant resources. Geolocation required extensive time and equipment, and distribution was costly and slow. While these situations still plague older surveys, modern digital photography and lidar systems acquire well-calibrated and easily shared imagery, although expensive, platform-specific software is sometimes still needed to manage and analyze the data. With current consumer-level electronics (cameras and computers) and broadband internet access, acquisition and distribution of large imaging data sets are now possible for virtually anyone. In this paper we demonstrate a simple, low-cost means of obtaining useful aerial imagery by reporting two new, high-resolution, low-cost, color digital photographic surveys of selected portions of the San Andreas fault in California. All pictures are in standard jpeg format. The first set of imagery covers a 92-km-long section of the fault in Kern and San Luis Obispo counties and includes the entire Carrizo Plain. The second covers the region from Lake of the Woods to Cajon Pass in Kern, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino counties (151 km) and includes Lone Pine Canyon soon after the ground was largely denuded by the Sheep Fire of October 2009. The first survey produced a total of 1,454 oblique digital photographs (4,288 x 2,848 pixels, average 6 Mb each) and the second produced 3,762 nadir images from an elevation of approximately 150 m above ground level (AGL) on the southeast leg and 300 m AGL on the northwest leg. Spatial resolution (pixel size or ground sample distance) is a few centimeters. Time and geographic coordinates of the aircraft were automatically written into the exchangeable image file format (EXIF) data within each jpeg photograph. A few hours after acquisition and validation, the photographs were uploaded to a publicly accessible Web page. The goal was to obtain quick-turnaround, low-cost, high-resolution, overlapping, and contiguous imagery for use in planning field operations, and to provide imagery for a wide variety of land use and educational studies. This work was carried out in support of ongoing geological research on the San Andreas fault, but the technique is widely applicable beyond geology.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Low-altitude aerial color digital photographic survey of the San Andreas Fault
Series title Seismological Research Letters
DOI 10.1785/gssrl.81.3.453
Volume 81
Issue 3
Year Published 2010
Language English
Publisher SSA
Contributing office(s) Earthquake Science Center
Description 7 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Seismological Research Letters
First page 453
Last page 459
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial San Andreas Fault
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