Video shot from drones yields details about changing landslide on California’s Big Sur coast

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On October 12, 2017, USGS unmanned aerial systems collected video footage of the Mud Creek landslide, which buried California State Highway 1 under a third-of-a-mile-wide mass of rock and dirt on May 20, 2017.

USGS scientists have been monitoring the slide by transforming photos shot from an airplane into 3D maps. They applied the same software to the October 12, 2017 unmanned aerial systems (UAS, also known as "drone") footage, producing detailed views of how the slide mass has changed. The scientists share their findings with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to help that agency assess the slide and plan reconstruction of Highway 1. USGS will continue collecting drone footage of the Mud Creek landslide to supplement broader coverage provided by photos shot during airplane flights along the central California coast.

"Warmer" colors of reds, oranges, and yellows show loss of elevation, up to 4 meters lost (dark red); "cooler" colors of blues and purples show a gain in elevation, up to 4 meters gained (purple). Some of the gains and losses on the landslide are attributed to Caltrans’ heavy equipment moving sediment and boulders as they grade the landslide material in preparation for Highway 1 reconstruction. Some of the loss (red colors) of elevation, right in the middle of the slide and at the water's edge, is due to erosion by wave activity.

A man wearing a hard hat navigates a drone toward a landing target with GPS equipment in the background.

Josh Logan, a physical scientist at the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center in Santa Cruz, California, operates the UAS on the Mud Creek landslide on October 12, 2017. Credit: Shawn Harrison, USGS

A series of images showing a steep cliff along the coast from two different dates and the change between them.

View 1 looks east, straight at the landslide from out over the ocean.

 

A series of images showing a steep cliff along the coast from two different dates and the change between them.

View 2 looking northeast

A series of images showing a steep cliff along the coast from two different dates and the change between them.

View 3 looking southeast

 

Example of UAS video footage of Mud Creek landslide from July 2017

USGS Mendenhall researcher Shawn Harrison took this video from an unmanned aerial system (UAS) on July 19, 2017. USGS drone footage shows the slide from many angles. It points out buried and unburied parts of Highway 1, as well as new roads built across the slide for monitoring purposes. Harrison works with Jon Warrick of the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. Public domain.

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