Skip navigation

Last week I had the chance to explore the upper McKenzie River valley in the Oregon Cascades. My tour guide was a UO PhD student in volcanology. She was showing me the range of interesting lava-water interaction features that characterize the valley. A very cool and unbelievably scenic place. 

Luckily, she has some LiDAR data of the area. This was my first chance to hit the field with LiDAR in hand of an area covered by old-growth forest. In other words, entirely non-trivial vegetation cover that is disconcerting in both its density and its scenic values. Two main conclusions: 

1. It is amazing how well the LiDAR data reveal the topography through a dense forest cover. I knew this, but living it for a day was very convincing. Many small to medium scale details in the surface of a thickly forested Holocene lava flow are painfully obvious in the imagery (below). For the desert rat in me, they were easier to see in the imagery than they were on the ground at first. Eventually, I was able to relate the two once I could see past the forest, but the imagery was far more revealing of the local geomorphology. 

Typical scene in the field area…locally, forest cover is thicker. Photo from surface of the lava flow evident in imagery below.

2. The LiDAR in this case also revealed some major features that had previously gone unnmapped at a fundamental level. We found / explored a very prominent volcanic feature in the midst of the lava flow that, according to the 24k USGS base and the 10 m DEM, does not exist. However, it is almost absurdly obvious in the LiDAR data. Mind you, this feature is not trivial in scale. It tops out at nearly 90 m above the valley floor and is has a 150 by 200 m footprint. It (the ‘Pimple’) is extremely steep-sided (as we discovered climbing to the top). It is also enigmatic geologically…potentially a glacially modified and exhumed volcanic fissure. Not sure on that.

Looking down from the Pimple. A seriously steep hike.

The 24k topographic map rendition of the area shown in the two LiDAR images.

Slope-shaded map of the LiDAR data

Hillshade map of the LiDAR data.

The point is that this very conspicuous feature is very mappable, but was overlooked in the development of the 24k map. A bit surprising in that it corresponds to a major ‘peak’ in the forest canopy. I will admit, however, that if you were out there in the rain, you could walk right by it. Certainly makes you wonder what else out there has gone unnoticed by the USGS topographic maps we once relied so heavily upon. Yikes…

Thanks to ND for the field trip and the LiDAR map snips.


Posted via email from Fresh Geologic Froth


  1. It still fascinates me how we can go beyond the forest canopy and reveal the detailed landscape below.

    LiDAR technology is paving the way to new understanding of densely hidden parts of our planet.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. There’s that big lump at the “29” mark too, not on the map at all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: