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Our Members: Joe Poulton—Mapping Geology with High-Resolution Photography [Part 3]

Posted on: May 10th, 2012 by Abbey Smith

Telling the stories of our members is important to us because it helps the community understand who makes up that community.  Member Joe Poulton, with AAC Friend Abbey Smith, produced this stunningly-cool three part series about his experiences in Yosemite—photographing geology in ways that help YOSAR study rockfall, help climate scientists predict change, and a whole lot more…

A Personal Experience with Gigapixel Imagery [Part 3]

[Continued from Part 2]…The future holds promise too, for understanding the possible failure mechanisms of various rock formations. Greg Stock also noted in the interview that they “are also starting to use the photos to analyze the cliffs for potential future rockfall activity. This involves identifying potentially unstable structures such as overhanging roofs or detached pillars, mapping them in 3D with laser scanning, and then modeling their stability and possible failure mechanism. We are probably a long way from predicting rockfalls, but with this technique we can start to identify particularly unstable areas.” The image and new knowledge gathered from a rockfall hazard and risk assessment that is close to wrapping up “will help to inform management decisions regarding structures located within hazardous areas.” As Greg also noted, two hundred structures are permanently closed in the Curry Village area after the rockfall off Glacier Point in 2008. This occurring just a few months after the Yosemite Pano Project concluded. 

When asked if any climbing accidents were related to geological failures in 2011 Greg stated the following:

“There were no rockfalls in 2011 that caused major injuries to climbers (that I’m aware of), and in fact the number of climber injuries/fatalities due to naturally-occurring rockfalls in Yosemite is actually low; the last fatality of a climber was in 1999. However, rockfalls are obviously most likely to occur from the steep cliffs, and they can occur at anytime, so climbers should be aware that there are ever-present risks associated with climbing in Yosemite Valley. Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) has original copies of the xRez panoramas and will occasionally use them to evaluate and document an event.”

John Dill of YOSAR had a little bit to add from the SAR side:

“I believe you’re right [Greg] that natural rockfall is a rare cause of climbing accidents. One climber died this year [2011] when a flake or block he dislodged cut his rope as he fell, but I guess that falls into the category of “rocks that haven’t yet fallen on their own but are trying to”. Deaths and injuries in that category have been fairly common over the years and that is one of our constant messages.
      We do use xRez very often for initial size up, e.g., figuring out an efficient access route to the scene of a climbing or hiking accident, often in combination with other photo sources and local knowledge. The unique advantage of xRez, obviously, is the ability to obtain useful detail from a location in deep background at the edge of the panorama, with a perspective that 95% of other photos lack.”

Greg Stock notes a final point, he leaves the bear chasing to others and from a climbing point of view “Middle Cathedral tends to be overlooked, probably due to its proximity to El Capitan, but it is a really fascinating formation that actually has a lot more character than El Capitan.” Greg’s highlight climbing in 2011 was the North Buttress on Middle Cathedral. [Continued after the extensive gallery...]

Eric Hanson stated in a recent email that this research project “affected the closure of 300 structures at Camp Curry and made sleeping in Curry almost as safe as climbing the walls there!” This occurred prior to the large Glacier Point rockfall event, preventing even more injuries or possibly deaths from occurring.

Eric Hanson and Greg Downing of xRez studios and David Breashears of GlacierWorks have embarked on a new venture that has produced gigapixel imagery of the Himalaya. XRez studios advised David Breashears on an aerial camera array that is made of “7 Canon 5D’s, shooting a partial overlapping panorama every 4 secs in the air,” says Hanson. After the construction, David has traveled to the Himalaya and produced various images from classic locations that have included Concordia, Kala Pattar and Pumori camp.  Some locations were chosen for comparison with archival photographs taken by some of the greatest mountain photographers over the past century. The stark comparison shows the changes that have occurred during the 20th century. This is a research project to investigate the receding glaciers of our largest mountain range. Eric stated in another recent email that “we have a new very high resolution aerial product in development.” 

GlacierWorks was “founded in 2007 by mountaineer, photographer and filmmaker David Breashears” which was developed as “a non-profit organization that seeks to communicate the changes to Himalayan glaciers and the resulting impact on downstream populations through art, science, and adventure.” GlacierWorks has had the exhibit Rivers of Ice: Vanishing Glaciers of the Greater Himalaya on tour since 2009 and it is now on show at Everest Basecamp until May 10, 2012.  Happening almost simultaneously is an opening Rivers of Ice “at the MIT Museum in Cambridge (Massachusetts, USA), a one-year exhibition whose opening coincides with the prestigious Cambridge Science Festival.”

For more information on the Himalayan Glacier project visit xRez, or one of Glacier Works many information outlets like their website, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.


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