Bureau of Economic Geology

Near Surface Observatory

Near Surface Observatory

About the Near Surface Observatory (NSO)

The NSO is an aggregation of several research groups and individuals who conduct studies focused on the surface and near-surface environment. Augmenting the efforts of the researchers, interns, and students is a suite of airborne, surface, and borehole instruments that provide information on the physical properties of the near surface and allow NSO researchers to conduct geologic mapping in diverse environments and studies on coastal hazards and geomorphic change, wetlands status and trends, coastal rookeries vulnerability, landscape characterization and evolution, periglacial landforms, soils, and water bodies, and soil-moisture monitoring.

Bureau researchers apply modern geophysical, geologic, and remote-sensing methods to address problems in the surface and near-surface environment. Surface, airborne, and borehole tools scale from regional to local studies involving issues such as coastal geology, surface water and groundwater salinization, neotectonics and surface faulting, subsidence, transportation infrastructure, Quaternary geology, sinkhole characterization and assessment, and many other related topics.

Research Areas

Key Insights
Rather than apply a single favorite approach or all available approaches to a near-surface geological, hydrologic, or engineering issue, we seek to fully understand the issue before selecting a tool or method, identify relevant physical properties that can serve as a reliable proxy for the problem or issue, select the appropriate instruments and platforms (airborne, surface, or borehole), and then design a measurement campaign to address the lateral and vertical scale of the problem. The final step is to analyze and interpret the proxy measurements in a manner that gives insight into the geologic, hydrologic, or engineering issue.

work station


Research Assets

  • Airborne lidar, digital photogrammetry, and radar interferometry: airborne- and satellite-based surveys to determine elevation and elevation change over time. Useful for subsidence studies.
  • Drones and drone-mounted cameras: unmanned aerial drones that carry RGB and infrared cameras to rapidly survey small areas and generate high-resolution imagery and digital elevation models.
  • Electromagnetic induction (frequency and time domain): instruments that measure apparent ground conductivity from the ground surface to depths as great as a few hundred meters. These instruments can be used to produce conductivity profiles along the ground surface as well as vertical conductivity profiles. Knowledge of the lateral and vertical variations in ground conductivity are useful for characterizing surficial deposits and bedrock lithology, water-saturation trends, and pore-fluid salinity, among many other applications.
  • Geoprobe: mobile, track-mounted push probe for shallow logging and sampling.
  • Slim-hole borehole geophysical logging system: 1024-channel spectral natural gamma and electrical conductivity probes, 400-m cable, motorized winch, WellCAD analysis software. Produces high-resolution gamma and conductivity logs in slim-hole borings and water wells. Useful for determining site-specific lithology, water saturation, and groundwater salinity.
  • Shallow seismic reflection and refraction: AnySeis seismic data acquisition system with 50 12-Hz horizontal and vertical geophones and seismic processing software to produce 2D and 3D images of the subsurface. This system explores geologic structure and stratal features at depths of a few to a few hundred meters.
  • Ground-penetrating radar: GSSI SIR-3000 system with multiple antennas. Ultra-shallow (surface to a few meters) investigations of geologic and engineering features.
  • Airborne geophysics: high-resolution electromagnetic induction and magnetometer surveys from helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Produces high-resolution maps, cross sections, and volumes that allow sophisticated interpretation of near-surface lithology, structure, and water content and salinity.
Near Surface Observatory Staff
Dr. Jeffrey G. Paine

Dr. Jeffrey G. Paine

Near-surface ground, borehole, and airborne geophysics

Email: jeff.paine@beg.utexas.edu

Telephone: 512-471-1260

Kutalmis Saylam

Kutalmis Saylam

Airborne topographic and bathymetric lidar

Email: kutalmis.saylam@beg.utexas.edu

Telephone: 512-471-1871

Tiffany Caudle

Tiffany Caudle

Coastal geology

Email: tiffany.caudle@beg.utexas.edu

Telephone: 512-475-9572

Charles Woodruff

Dr. Charles (Chock) Woodruff


Email: chock.woodruff@beg.utexas.edu

Telephone: 512-471-1912

John Andrews

John Andrews

Lidar and drone imagery and topography

Email: john.andrews@beg.utexas.edu

Telephone: 512-704-5329

Lucie Costard

Lucie Costard

Near-surface geophysics

Email: lucie.costard@beg.utexas.edu

Telephone: 512-471-4364

Brian Hunt

Brian Hunt


Email: brian.hunt@beg.utexas.edu

Telephone: 512-471-1650

Shukuru Makanyaga

Shukuru Makanyaga


Email: shukuru.makanyaga@beg.utexas.edu

Telephone: 512-232-7692

Tristan Childress

Dr. Tristan Childress

Economic geology and field mapping

Email: tristan.childress@beg.utexas.edu

Telephone: 512-471-1812


Jeffrey G. Paine
NSO Manager
(U.S.) 512-471-1260

Kutalmis Saylam
LIDAR Manager
(U.S.) 512-471-1871

Dr. Tristan Childress
Economic Geology Program
(U.S.) 512-471-1812

John Andrews
Drone Contact
(U.S.) 512-704-5329

Near Surface Observatory
Wink Sinkhole study
Lidar and Hyperspectral Imaging

Lidar information

Want to learn more?
Download the latest BEG lidar program overview here.

University of Texas at Austin

University of Texas

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