U.S. Geological Survey funds project to use a mathematical registration approach to address differences of geologic maps and digital elevation models

Kentucky Geological Survey Director and State Geologist William Haneberg received funding from the U.S. Geological Survey for a new project, “Transforming Past into Present: A Registration Approach to Using Old and New Topographic Information to Improve the Fidelity and Value of Legacy Geologic Maps.” In addition to Haneberg, KGS researchers Jason Dortch and Yichuan Zhu are part of the research team.

A mathematical registration approach will address differences between rock formation contacts on geologic maps made decades ago and geologic contacts from modern digital elevation models, or DEMS, made using methods such as airborne Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR, surveys. Topographic variation can also occur between more recent photogrammetrically derived DEMs and LiDAR DEMs. Remapping of large areas would be inefficient but other methods can be developed to compare topographic base maps and modern high-resolution DEMs.

For this project, a pilot program will evaluate three quadrangles. Alternative approaches for registration will be evaluated through the pilot program. A small number of points will be manually identified for transformation in standard GIS software, and Matlab and Mathematica will be used to correlate images, along with fully developed specialty software. These tasks will determine whether differences are related to the map data or are the result of real topographic change caused by human activities. Targeted field checking, documentation of transformed geologic polygon accuracy, and changes in methods, if needed, will also be part of the pilot program.

Differences in prominent topographic features in the McDowell 7.5-minute quadrangle between the Kentucky statewide LiDAR DEM and the U.S. Geological Survey's 1/3 arc-sec (10 m) DEM. The blue lines follow prominent features digitized from a LiDAR hillshade image. The red lines show the same features digitized from a 1/3 arc-sec hillshade image (shown as background). The horizontal differences between features in this image, for example as highlighted by the yellow arrows, is as great as 50 meters (Haneberg, 2018).


Haneberg, W.C., 2018, Comparing LiDAR and legacy digital elevation models to quantify topographic change in areas of mountaintop removal coal mining, McDowell and Pikeville quadrangles, Kentucky: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 50, no. 6, doi: 10.1130/abs/2018AM-320360.

Last Modified on 2020-12-07
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