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Open-File Report 2014–1092

Three-Dimensional Imaging, Change Detection, and Stability Assessment during the Centerline Trench Levee Seepage Experiment Using Terrestrial Light Detection and Ranging Technology, Twitchell Island, California, 2012

By Gerald W. Bawden, James Howle, Sandra Bond, Michelle Shriro, and Peter Buck


A full scale field seepage test was conducted on a north-south trending levee segment of a now bypassed old meander belt on Twitchell Island, California, to understand the effects of live and decaying root systems on levee seepage and slope stability. The field test in May 2012 was centered on a north-south trench with two segments: a shorter control segment and a longer seepage test segment. The complete length of the trench area measured 40.4 meters (m) near the levee centerline with mature trees located on the waterside and landside of the levee flanks. The levee was instrumented with piezometers and tensiometers to measure positive and negative porewater pressures across the levee after the trench was flooded with water and held at a constant hydraulic head during the seepage test—the results from this component of the experiment are not discussed in this report. We collected more than one billion three-dimensional light detection and ranging (lidar) data points before, during, and after the centerline seepage test to assess centimeter-scale stability of the two trees and the levee crown. During the seepage test, the waterside tree toppled (rotated 20.7 degrees) into the water. The landside tree rotated away from the levee by 5 centimeters (cm) at a height of 2 m on the tree. The paved surface of the levee crown had three regions that showed subsidence on the waterside of the trench—discussed as the northern, central, and southern features. The northern feature is an elongate region that subsided 2.1 cm over an area with an average width of 1.35 m that extends 15.8 m parallel to the trench from the northern end of the trench to just north of the trench midpoint, and is associated with a crack 1 cm in height that formed during the seepage test on the trench wall. The central subsidence feature is a semicircular region on the waterside of the trench that subsided by as much as 6.2 cm over an area 3.4 m wide and 11.2 m long. The southern feature is an elongate region that has a maximum subsidence of 3.5 cm over an area 0.75 m wide and 8.1 m long and is associated with a number of small fractures in the pavement that are predominately north-south-trending and parallel to the trench. We determined that there was no significant motion of the levee flank during the last week of the seepage test. We also determined biomorphic parameters for the landside tree, such as the 3D positioning on the levee, tree height, levee parallel/perpendicular cross sectional area, and canopy centroid. These biomorphic parameters were requested to support a University of California Berkeley team studying seepage and stability on the levee. A gridded, 2-cm bare-earth digital elevation model of the levee crown and the landside levee flank from the final terrestrial lidar (T-Lidar) survey provided detailed topographic data for future assessment. Because the T-Lidar was not integrated into the project design, other than an initial courtesy dataset to help characterize the levee surface, our ability to contribute to the overall science goals of the seepage test was limited. Therefore, our analysis focused on developing data collection and processing methodology necessary to align ultra high-resolution T-Lidar data (with an average spot spacing 2–3 millimeters on the levee crown) from several instrument setup locations to detect, measure, and characterize dynamic centimeter-scale deformation and surface changes during the seepage test.

First posted June 11, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Contact Information, Western Geographic Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road, MS 531
Menlo Park, CA 94025

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Suggested citation:

Bawden, G.W., Howle, James, Bond, Sandra, Shriro, Michelle, and Buck, Peter, 2014, Three-dimensional imaging, change detection, and stability assessment during the centerline trench levee seepage experiment using terrestrial light detection and ranging technology, Twitchell Island, California, 2012: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2014-1092, 28 p.,

ISSN 2331-1258 (online)




Methodology and Approach


Crack Mapping

Landside Tree Characterization


References Cited


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