Drone Flying, Southwest Montana Style

Jeremy Crowley describes flight planning for UAS high accuracy photogrammetric data collection using a DJI Phantom 3 and Phantom 4 Pro version 2 at the Bluebird Mill mining ruins near Rocker, southwest Montana.

Last fall I decided that using UAS would really add to my geologic field work. That was the easy part. I did make the step to buy a drone and ended up with both a DJI Air Mavic 2 and a DJI Phantom 4 Pro version 2. Although it’s great fun just to fly a drone – and the camera resolutions are of amazing quality even on the little Air Mavic 2 – there is so much more to UAS flying and collecting visual data. Probably the best place to start is to understand that in flying a drone, one can either do flying as a hobbyist or take the next step, and get certified as a FAA Remote Pilot (Part 107). I hadn’t initially thought much about getting certified as a remote Pilot in Command (PIC), because I thought I’d basically use my drones for geologic photo/video purposes. But it turns out that in my quest for drone information, I came across Jeremy Crowley from the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology in Butte, Montana, who is an extremely knowledgeable UAS person. In talking to Jeremy and reading about his drone workshops and research, I realized that I did need to learn much more about even FAA regulations regarding UAS. So I started on the path to get my FAA Remote Pilot (Part 107) certificate by taking Jeremy’s workshop. For anyone interested in UAS, it’s a very worthwhile workshop, and as summarized by Jeremy, it goes as follows:

“The FAA Part 107 Remote UAS pilot license is required for anyone flying UAS as part of work/business/commercial operations. This workshop will prepare attendees to pass the exam to obtain an FAA Remote Pilot License (Part 107). Attendees will also get hands-on training on using a UAV to conduct an automated photogrammetry survey, collect high accuracy (cm level) ground control points and check points, then post-process the control points and create a 3D model, digital surface model, and hillshade of the survey area”.

From Jeremy Crowley’s UAS 2021 Workshop description, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology

At this time in my UAS learning curve, what I can say is that by delving into material covered by the FAA Part 107 Remote UAS pilot certification process, I’ve learned so much that is really helpful for being a proficient PIC. I strongly recommend going through the certification process to anyone who is serious about flying a drone. And, oh yeah, I did pass the FAA Part 107 Remote UAS pilot certification a couple days ago! So – I’m looking forward to many days of being a remote PIC!

Jeremy Crowley, Montana Bureau Mines and Geology, starts the set-up for our Global Navigation Satellite Survey (GNSS) that we’ll use in collecting ground control and quality control points for our high accuracy photogrammetry survey.

Working On High Elevation Tertiary Strata, Southwestern Montana

Lion Mountain, south-central Gravelly Range in southwestern Montana, has about 300 m of Tertiary strata capped by basalt that is about 31 million years in age.

Working on Tertiary strata in the Gravelly Range, southwestern Montana, is sometime daunting to do. The Lion Mountain Tertiary section shown in the photo to the right is one of those places that makes for a grueling day or several days of field work. The Tertiary section unconformably overlies various Paleozoic units, such as Mississippian Madison Group carbonates, Pennsylvanian-Permian quartzite, and Triassic carbonates and red mudstone. And the ascent from these pre-Tertiary rocks to the top of the Tertiary section is worth it – for both vertebrate paleontology and sedimentary features. Current work status in the project that I’m working on with the Raymond M. Alf Museum, Claremont, CA, is that the section contains vertebrates ranging in age from about 40 million years to about 31 million years in age. A tuff unit near the top of the section that we collected has an Ar/Ar age of 31.4+- 0.7 million years. The capping basalt (the dark zone on the top of Lion Mountain) has a reported K-Ar age of 30.8 +- 0.7 million years. Sedimentary features include massive aeolian units and some channeling near the top of the section. A basal surge deposit occurs about 25 m below the capping basalt, signalling the initial pulse of extensive basaltic volcanism in the Lion Mountain locale. Several photos of my most recent Lion Mountain climb illustrate the section’s features and are shown below.

Channel complex near top of Lion Mountain comprised of Paleozoic rock clasts.
Basal surge deposit about 25 m from top of Lion Mountain. Embedded basalt clasts, sand waves, and plane parallel beds characterize this deposit.
Basalt bombs in channel near Lion Mountain crest have paleomag drill holes – a clear sign that someone else has made this climb!
A ladder stashed in the uppermost tree-area on the mountain which is left over from past paleontology expeditions.
The orange baked zone that underlies basalt is evident in this photo. Also note the channel lenses that outcrop randomly across the Tertiary stratal expanse.
About 5 km northwest of Lion Mountain sits the basalt plug of Black Butte. Previous reported isotopic ages range from 23-25 million years, but our preliminary data show an age of about 30 million years for this volcanic feature.
The most pleasant part of the hike in the Lion Mountain area is in the glaciated meadow that lies at the base of the mountain. We’re a little late for the wild flower bloom, but it still is a gorgeous area!

Lima, Peru’s Historic Centre – A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Earth-Shattering Events That Helped Shape It

Lima, Peru is fast becoming a preeminent food hotspot with traditional Peruvian foods and various fusion cuisines that I found extremely delicious. And of course it is also internationally known for extraordinarily magnificent museums such as the Museo Larco with its collection of pre-Columbian art.

Lima, the capital city of Peru, has a population of almost 10 million people that is dispersed among its 43 districts. Known as the “City of Kings”, Lima was founded by the Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro in January 1535 when Pizarro confiscated land on the south bank of the Rimac River where the Inca curaca (local ruler), Taulichusco, had his palace. Lima then became the most important city and capital of the Spanish holdings in South America until the mid 1700’s. Lima’s supremacy later diminished as northern South America became a part of the Spanish Empire (known as the Viceroyalty of New Granada and established in 1717) and with the creation in 1777 of the Viceroyalty of La Plata, which encompassed the present-day territories of Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay.

Historic Centre of Lima

The Historic Centre of Lima was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. As noted in UNESCO’s  description of this site:

“The authenticity of the Historic Centre of Lima is intact as it largely preserves the original features of its urban foundation design, as a checkerboard, and the expansion area from the XVI to the XIX century, including old pre-Hispanic paths heading North (Chinchaysuyo) and East (Antisuyo).”

The Plaza de Armas in the Historic Centre of Lima. The bronze fountain, erected in 1650, sits in the Plaza's center. The Cathedral of Lima is seen here directly in back of the fountain.

The Plaza de Armas in the Historic Centre of Lima. The bronze fountain, erected in 1650, sits in the Plaza’s center. The Cathedral of Lima is seen here directly in back of the fountain.

The Plaza de Armas is near the center of the Historic District and thought of as the birthplace of the city. There is no original building remaining adjacent to the plaza, but the bronze fountain in the Plaza’s center was erected in 1650. Some of the more significant buildings now surrounding the Plaza include the Cathedral of Lima, the Government Palace, and the Archbishop’s Palace of Lima.

The construction for the first church on the Cathedral of Lima site was completed in 1538. The present cathedral is the result of many renovations and rebuildings and is largely based on the original plans of the Cathedral that was devastated in 1746.

The Government Palace houses the official residence of Peru’s President and executive branch. The palace’s original construction began in 1535 over the residence of Taulichusco, the then Inca curaca. Similar to the Lima Cathedral, the Government Palace has been extensively rebuilt over the years.

The Archbishop’s Palace is sited on land that Pizarro designated for the head priest of Lima’s residence shortly after the city’s foundation in 1535. The present Archbishop’s Palace was built in 1924 and is well known for its ornate Moorish-style balconies.

San Francisco Monastery in Lima's Historic Centre. The Monastery is well-known for its catacombs.

The San Francisco Monastery in Lima’s Historic Centre. The Monastery is well-known for its catacombs.

Two of the other places that I visited – and I think are well worth going to – in the Historic Centre are the San Francisco Monastery and the Plaza San Martin. The San Francisco Monastery (Convento de San Francisco) is one block northeast from the Plaza de Armas. The Monastery was consecrated in 1673 and completed in 1774, although it has been extensively repeatedly rebuilt. Of note are its famous catacombs where a series of underground burial vaults were used until the mid 1800’s.

Plaza San Martin was dedicated on July 27, 1921 to honor the 100th anniversary of Peru’s independence. The statue of Jose San Martin is central to the Plaza.

Plaza San Martin was dedicated on July 27, 1921 to honor the 100th anniversary of Peru’s independence. The statue of Jose de San Martin is central to the Plaza.

The Plaza San Martín is located about 5 blocks southwest of the Plaza de Armas. The Plaza was dedicated on July 27, 1921 to honor the 100th anniversary of Peru’s independence. An equestrian statue of José de San Martín is the Plaza’s central statue.

A video of Lima’s Historic Centre, done by UNESCO/NHK, gives a good overview of this area:

Lima Area Earthquakes  – the Forces Behind the Rebuilding of the City

As noted several times in the text above regarding Lima’s Historic Centre, no wholly original buildings exist today, and those that do stand today have usually been repeatedly rebuilt. The continued destruction to Lima’s architecture is due primarily to several strong earthquakes in the Lima region that have occurred periodically.

The U.S. Geological Survey (Earthquake Hazards Program, Historic Earthquakes) sets up the geological framework for Peruvian earthquake activity as:

“Peru is located on the western edge of the South American crustal plate, one of several map_south_america_plateslarge lithospheric plates that comprise the Earth’s crust and slowly move with respect to one another. The boundary between the South American plate and the Nazca plate to the west is one of the most seismically active areas of the world. The Nazca plate is being overridden and driven beneath the westward-moving South American plate. This collision between two large segments of the lithosphere is the source of most of Peru’s earthquakes. Offshore, where the two plates meet, the shocks occur at shallow depth. To the east, as the Nazca plate is pushed downward, the earthquakes occur at progressively greater depth – to as much as 600 kilometers near the Peru-Brazil border. … Shallow earthquakes are potentially more destructive than deep shocks of the same magnitude because they generate stronger surface waves.”

Although earthquakes are common in Peru, there have been several significant quakes in the Lima region since its founding. Much of the city was destroyed because of earthquakes in 1586, 1687, and 1746 (Philibosian, 2001) that had magnitudes from 8.6 to 8.7. More recent, large magnitude earthquakes (8.1 to 8.2) in the Lima area occurred in 1940, 1966, 1974 (Dorbath and others, 1990) and also caused substantial building structural damage and loss of life.

And it is not just the ground movement generated by earthquakes that have been devastating for Peru:

“Records indicate that since the late sixteenth century, large earthquakes centered off the Peruvian coast have generated several destructive tsunamis (1586, 1604, 1647, 1687, 1746, 1865, 1868, 1914, 1942, 1960, 1966, 1996). Of those listed, five were particularly destructive. These include the 1586, 1604, 1687 and 1746 tsunamis, as well as the 1868 Arica tsunami.” (USC Tsunami Research Center, 2005)

Probably the most extensive tsunami in the Lima area occurred in association with the 1746 Lima–Callao earthquake (with a moment magnitude recently estimated at 9.0 – Jimenez and others, 2013). Not only did this earthquake cause considerable damage and loss of life in Lima, but the ensuing tsunami basically wiped out the nearby port of Callao:

“On the evening of 28 October 1746, Lima was shaken by a violent earthquake. Out of a population of 50,000, only about 1,000 people died. But at about 11 pm, a tsunami devastated the neighbouring port of Callao, destroying the port itself and sweeping miles inland. In contrast to Lima, only a handful of Callao’s 6,000 inhabitants survived. Lima was then the most important city in South America, and the port of Callao exported gold and silver to Spain. The disaster was unprecedented for the Spanish in the region, and posed a critical economic threat to the colonial power.”  (GAR, 2011)

Given the geologic setting of the Lima, Peru area, it’s a reasonable assumption that earthquake activity is and will be a part of life here.

Notes From The Field – The Burgess Shale Hike

The hike to the famous Walcott Quarry in the Burgess Shale near Field, British Columbia, was one of my highlights of the AWG field trip.The hike was long and seemed to go on forever – especially the climb up to the quarry. It was in total about 11 km into the quarry and then 11 km out. And of course it was raining, and this time a bit of sleet and snow was added to the mix just to keep life interesting. But it was well worth it just to see the setting where the Cambrian Burgess Shale fauna comes from. Again, I’ll dispense with words, and go right to the views.

The start of the hike.

The start of the hike.

View from the Burgess Shale hike trail.

View from the Burgess Shale hike trail.


Emerald Lake as seen from the hiking trail.

The Walcott Quarry.

The Walcott Quarry.

The Walcott Quarry - another view.

The Walcott Quarry – another view.

A trilobite found just below the quarry.

A trilobite found just below the quarry.

Sidneyia - an extinct arthropod from the quarry workings.

Sidneyia – an extinct arthropod from the quarry workings.

How Do You See Our Earth?

How do we actually visualize the earth? The Vsauce channel has posted an intriguing video that explores this question, ranging from discussions on human color perception to map projections. And much thanks to Anne-Laure Freant, who is fast becoming my favorite geographer, for posting a blog on the video, thus bringing it to my attention.
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Energy Efficiency and Small-Scale Solar Power Threaten Utilities’ Bottom Lines

Power company revenue is under siege by energy efficiency and small-scale solar power, says a Fitch ratings analyst.

Rooftop solar power and energy-efficiency programs will eat into utility revenue and profit margins and discourage investment in new transmission projects within five years, a Fitch Ratings analyst said.

Utilities in stagnant or low-growth markets in the Midwest and Northeast face the biggest losses as more businesses and homeowners install their own generation systems and upgrade to more efficient appliances, said Glen Grabelsky, Fitch’s managing director of utilities, power & gas. Retirees flocking to southern states may offset some losses for local utilities.

This is serious business for utilities as Bill Howley of The Power Line notes:

Fitch is issuing this report as a warning of downgrades to come if power companies don’t step and squash rooftop solar power soon.

The demand loss for grid electricity will be significant as further remarked by Grabelsky of Fitch Ratings:

Loss of demand from customers that go solar or reduce consumption in other ways will shift more and more grid costs onto customers that do nothing. As there are more and more successful Off Grid Solar Projects, traditional grid companies will have to change with the new developments or be left behind. Power supplied by U.S. utilities declined 3.4 percent last year, largely from energy efficiency and on-site solar generation, which reduces demand for electricity from the grid, Grabelsky said.

Unless utility rate structures change, that will reduce utilities’ abilities to invest in major new projects and upgrade their transmission systems, Grabelsky said.

“It will have a negative impact on their ability to raise capital,” Grabelsky said. “Regulators will ask, ‘Do you really need all that new transmission when there’s no demand growth?’ There’s the potential for stranded assets.”

A recent study by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), “Disruptive Challenges – Financial Implications and Strategic Responses to a Changing Retail Electric Business”, basically reiterates Grabelsky’s view of the threat to utilities by energy efficiency and distributed energy generation. The report details corporate utilities’ angst regarding their customers’ shift to go solar and reduce demand for grid electricity. Many are switching over to prepaid energy plans for their grid electricity, which is a greener option and more cost-effective to manage. With fewer people deciding to have a look for certain types of grid electricity, they are less likely to be overcharged by their utility company, which is good news for the customer.

How will utilities compensate for the loss of demand? Howley, in his “The Power Line” blog, gives a good response:

This translates into: do away with net metering and charge higher rates to people who install solar panels and invest in efficiency.

John Vincent, a former Montana Public Service Commissioner (PSC), in a recent op-ed in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, calls the shift away from using corporate grid electricity the “new energy paradigm”. As Vincent explains:

A new paradigm is grabbing hold in the residential, commercial and public sectors of our economy. That is: local distributed or “on site” electrical generation and consumption (wind, solar, small scale hydro, biomas, geothermal, micro turbines, combined heat and power systems etc.) conservation, efficiency and smart-grid technologies (to increase the efficiency and capacity of existing electrical transmission systems rather than of building costly new ones at rate payer expense).

But, as Vincent cautions us:

The new energy paradigm is, for obvious reasons, being met with strong resistance by those who benefit from the status quo. Unfortunately, these self interests still carry a lot of political clout, witness recent Montana legislative sessions.

The “new energy paradigm” is a model that we must embrace. We need to get people and politicians to move on this.

Blog Postscript – Former PSC Commissioner Vincent adds the following clarification on the EEI study mentioned above:

The Edison Electric Institute is Big Power’s number one ally and voice (funded and supported by Big Power) and so their own consultant has: 1. Clearly identified Big Power’s dilemma and, 2. Recommended ways to beat back the new paradigm and maintain the status quo…… at rate payers expense. I think the recommendations cited in the consultant’s report can be boiled down to raising rates (one way or another) to offset the loss of revenue brought about by on site, distributed generation and improved efficiency.

In other words, Big Power will do everything they can to make us (rate payers) pay for distributed energy and efficiency……..the new paradigm, not their stockholders.

The Uber Grid Push Is Back

The push for the uber grid raised its head again in the New York Time’s 7.12.13 edition. Matt Wald plugs the new EIPC (Eastern Interconnection Planning Collaborative) “hypothetical” nationalized grid as a “step forward”.

As Mr. Wald reports,

When President Obama presented his plans last month for executive action that would cut emissions of greenhouse gases, one item on his list was strengthening the power grid. It was on the lists of President George W. Bush and Mr. Clinton, too. But for the most part, experts say the grid is not being changed, at least not on a scale big enough to make much difference.

Their view is reflected in what they say is a largely hypothetical three-year effort by hundreds of engineers to redraw the grid for the eastern two-thirds of the United States. Engineers in the project, which is now drawing to a close, have proposed a basic redesign for beefing up the Eastern Interconnection, the part of the grid that stretches from Nova Scotia to New Orleans.

You may wonder what is EIPC and what is its function? Here’s how EIPC describes itself:

The EIPC was initiated by a coalition of regional Planning Authorities (see list below). These Planning Authorities are entities listed on the NERC compliance registry as Planning Authorities and represent the entire Eastern Interconnection.

The EIPC will provide a grass-roots approach which builds upon the regional expansion plans developed each year by regional stakeholders in collaboration with their respective NERC Planning Authorities. This approach will provide coordinated interregional analysis for the entire Eastern Interconnection guided by the consensus input of an open and transparent stakeholder process.

The EIPC received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2010 to initiate a broad-based, transparent collaborative process to involve interested stakeholders in the development of policy futures for transmission analysis. Learn more about the DOE-funded project.

The Stakeholder Steering Committee (SSC) is the body of stakeholder representatives that works collaboratively to inform and provide input on the EIPC’s efforts. Learn more about the SSC.

Planning Authorities:

Alcoa Power Generating

American Transmission Company

Duke Energy Carolinas

Electric Energy Inc.


LGE/KU (Louisville/Kentucky Utilities)

Florida Power & Light

Georgia Transmission Corporation

IESO (Ontario, Canada)

International Transmission Company

ISO-New England

JEA (Jacksonville, Florida)


Midwest ISO

Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia

New Brunswick System Operator

New York ISO

PJM Interconnection

PowerSouth Energy Coop

Progress Energy – Carolinas

Progress Energy – Florida

South Carolina Electric & Gas

Santee Cooper

Southern Company

Southwest Power Pool

Tennessee Valley Authority.


As aptly noted in The Power Line blog in response to Mr. Wald’s uber grid writings:

See all that talk about “transparent,” “stakeholders” and “grassroots”?  That is corporate mumbo jumbo of the first order.  Ain’t nothing grassroots about EIPC.  Mr. Wald should go back to reporter school.  You don’t write an article and leave out all the important names.  Unless you are trying to hide something.

I also agree with The Power Line on the clincher to the EIPC’s uber grid vision stated by Christopher Russo, an energy consultant at Charles River Associates (a company that helped with the grid redesign):

“We said, ‘Here’s what we could do,’ ” he said. “We haven’t said how we would pay for it.”

I’ve wondered about that “pay for” part in regards to proposed high-voltage transmission in the western U.S.

Siberian Cave Climate Records Indicate Permafrost Melt

Climate records from Siberian caves suggest an impending permafrost thaw and a resulting global warming acceleration.

Permafrost regions cover 24% of the northern hemisphere land surface, and hold an estimated 17,000 Gt of organic carbon. Thawing releases CO2 and CH4, creating positive feedback during greenhouse warming.

The researchers, led by Gideon Henderson at the University of Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences, studied speleothem records from the caves to identify periods where temperatures were above freezing. Speleothems, such as stalactites and stalagmites, form when water seeps through cracks in cave walls, dissolving minerals which precipitate in the air filled cave.

‘Cave temperatures usually approximate the local mean annual air temperature’ says Anton Vaks, the paper’s lead author. ‘When they drop below 0 degrees, the rock above and around the cave freezes, and speleothem growth stops.’

By dating the speleothems and comparing their ages to existing climate records, it is possible to identify the degree of warming which caused the permafrost to melt. New results from Ledyanaya Lenskaya Cave, Eastern Siberia, extend previous records to one million years, and show major deposition of speleothems at around one million years and 400,000 years ago.

‘Both episodes occurred when global temperatures increased 1.5°C ± 0.5 above the pre-industrial level’ says Vaks, ‘showing that this degree of warming is a tipping point for continuous permafrost to start thawing.’

Global temperatures are currently around 0.7 degrees above pre-industrial level, with current models suggesting that a warming of 1.5°C ± 0.5 will be achieved within 10-30 years.

This paper will be presented at the Geological Society’s forthcoming William Smith Meeting, held on 25-27 June,  – a meeting that celebrates the 100th anniversary of the beginning of modern dating methods used in the earth sciences. (From: The Geological Society of London. “Siberian caves warn of permafrost meltdown.”Alpha Galileo Foundation, 19 Jun. 2013. Web. 21 Jun. 2013.)