University of California, Berkeley, geologist William Dietrich pioneered the application of airborne LIDAR – light detection and ranging – to map mountainous terrain, stripping away the vegetation to see the underlying ground surface.
But that didn’t take him deep enough. He still couldn’t see what was under the surface: the depth of the soil, the underlying weathered rock and the deep bedrock. He and geology graduate student Daniella Rempe have now proposed a method to determine these underground details without drilling, potentially providing a more precise way to predict water runoff, the moisture available to plants, landslides and how these will respond to climate change.
The technique, which will help improve climate models that today take into account only the soil layer, was published online last week in the Early Edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.