Surficial Mapping Program

Surficial Mapping Program

Surficial geology maps contain information on the distribution of surface sediments and landforms (the ground we live upon) and provide insights into their properties, shapes, and origins. The maps accommodate the increasing demand for geological information for infrastructure development, especially in northern Alberta.

This work is part of a long-term, regional, surficial mapping program aimed at supporting the mineral exploration and energy industry by providing baseline geological information across Alberta.

The program's objective is to complete the surficial geology mapping of Alberta and to complement studies such as thematic mapping, stratigraphic modelling, and reconstructing the long-term landscape evolution of Alberta.

Surficial Mapping

A range of technological developments have recently been incorporated into the Surficial Mapping Project that build on traditional airphoto techniques.

A major advance has been the heads-up interpretation of high resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) generated from airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data.

LiDAR DEMs are becoming increasingly available in Alberta.

This technique offers several advantages over previously used airphoto-based methods because

  • it can penetrate the vegetation canopy to reveal the shape of the bare-earth surface,
  • the imagery can highlight subtle landforms by varying simulated sun directions in a process called hill shading,
  • the vertical exaggeration can be varied in hill-shaded, 3-D perspective, and stereographic views, and
  • it can be used with digital orthophoto drapes or satellite imagery to analyze both vegetation patterns and small-scale relief.


Multiple laser pulses reflect from the vegetation and the underlying bare-earth surface. The final return generates the ground surface elevation beneath the vegetation.


Recently published surficial geology maps are based on this new mapping technique that allows the geologist to map from multiple layers of remote sensing information to highlight different characteristics of the sediments and their associated landforms.

Even in areas in dense vegetation, LiDAR’s ability to detect the land-surface elevation enables the geologist to ‘see through’ the forest canopy and identify landforms that are not visible using traditional methods.

Other products of surficial mapping include;