Welcome To My 2021 Field Office

This is my summer receptionist… a Yellowstone 2020 wolf pup of the Junction Butte pack that roams mainly in the Lamar Valley of northern Yellowstone National Park.

My geological field work lately has taken me to several areas of western Montana, so I thought I’d do a visual collage of a few of the landscapes where I’ve been working. To start with, I’ve been spending time flying drones over Tertiary exposures in southwestern Montana, Great fun and good insight into Tertiary geology. Many of my flights are focused on Eocene strata at Pipestone Springs. Along with 3 co-authors (Don Lofgren, Stephen Hasiotis, and Bill McIntosh), we have a paper on Pipestone chronostratigraphy, trace fossils, and depositional environments that is now in review. Below are a couple of drone photos from Pipestone Springs.

Pipestone Springs Eocene strata with the basal lapilli tuff (37.5 million years in age) and the upper trace fossil bed (36 million years in age) indicated. Note the person standing on the surface of the upper trace fossil bed.
A somewhat closer drone view of the upper trace fossil bed with me as pilot standing off to the right side of the photo. My drone landing pad is my friend’s political campaign sign!

My travels through a part of northwestern Montana last week put me in a very different geologic setting from southwestern Montana. Proterozoic rocks are the mainstay in this area, and they make for some spectacular landscapes. So spectacular in fact, that I’ll just do a barrage of photos from the east side of Glacier National Park…

Chief Mountain, located a few miles north of Babb, Montana, is the iconic geologic view of major thrust fault where Proterozoic rocks (Chief Mountain rocks) are pushed over Cretaceous strata (green area of this photo).
No matter how much has changed in this past year because of the pandemic, it is just astounding to me to see a sign that says the Canadian border crossing is closed. It was a heavy mix of emotions being out in the early morning to view Chief Mountain, but then to see this sign and know that we’re still all in this even a year out. Whew…
Of course, no visit to Many Glacier is complete without marveling at Grinnell Point.
One of the positive aspects of getting up very early on a spring day is the sun rise near the Many Glacier Lodge. It didn’t last long as rain clouds pushed in but what a view for a time!
And another plus to being up early in the Many Glacier area is to watch a black bear amble down the road.
Coming back south, down the Front Range of the Rockies, we got out from under the rain clouds. Once again, geologically, the rocks that comprise Dancing Lady Mountain have been thrust over younger, Cretaceous strata (basically the area in green on the photo).

In summary, this is just a quick view of a couple western Montana areas where I’ve been recently. I have to say that I’m really looking forward to more amazing places to work this field season. I may swap out my office receptionist, though.

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.