The Surface Trace Tool—Modeling Complex Planar Interactions Using ArcGIS

Open-File Report 2019-1136
Prepared in cooperation with Eastern Washington University
By:  and 



The surface trace tool comprises a Python script written for ArcGIS that will determine the line of intersection between a planar feature and a surface. Specifically, this tool was designed for geologic applications where geologic planar-feature orientations are reported as strike and dip, and the intersecting surface is the ground. The tool output will show how planar geologic layers intersect with topography.

Determining where geologic features crop out on the surface can be used to guide new geologic mapping as well as reviewing existing geologic mapping. This tool was developed to aid in more efficient mapping of an unknown area. These unknown areas may be missing data, either owing to a lack of suitable outcrops or being difficult to traverse, and data about the areas may be extrapolated using this tool and surrounding data to determine where planar features might appear on the ground.

Suggested Citation

Adams, D.B., and Parks, H.L., 2020, The surface trace tool—Modeling complex planar interactions using ArcGIS: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2019–1136, 14 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Tool Usage
  • Installation Instructions
  • Details of the Process
  • Notes on Using the Tool
  • Data Outputs
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
  • Appendix
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title The surface trace tool—Modeling complex planar interactions using ArcGIS
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2019-1136
DOI 10.3133/ofr20191136
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center
Description Report: iii, 14 p.; Toolbox
Country United States
State Montana
County Sweet Grass County
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details