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Environmental Institute of Houston > Publications > Annual Reports > 2006 Annual Report > Mapping Active Faults in Houston Area Using LIDAR Data

Mapping Active Faults in Houston Area Using LIDAR Data

MANY RESIDENTIAL, COMMERCIAL, AND INDUSTRIAL STRUCtures in the Houston area are damaged by active faults.1 Several researchers have studied the active faults in the Houston area.1,2 University of Houston retired professor Carl Norman and his students worked on these faults,3-7 but the exact number and location of all faults in the Houston area are not known.

Our work indicates presence of over 300 active faults intersecting the earth’s surface in the Houston metropolitan area. They are a manifestation of current tectonics in the Gulf of Mexico basin. Salt tectonics and sediment influx have been suggested to be the primary driving factors. We used Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) (analogous to RADAR, but with laser light as a source) DEM images from the 2002 Tropical Storm Allison Recovery Project (TSARP) to map known faults and to search for others. Hill shading proved the best method for visualization of the faults that were then examined in the field. Results of our LIDAR survey are summarized in Figure 1. Further investigation is required to determine whether a particular fault is active or has been recently active in a particular area. Visible scarps, along with associated pavement or building cracks, provide a clear indicator of recent displacement. We recommend use of Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) to measure the rate of displacement on active faults; LIDAR and InSAR can be used together to study deformation. LIDAR fault locations can be superimposed on InSAR interferograms to indicate fault displacement.

This work shows the utility of LIDAR to be a highly effective tool for mapping faults in the Houston area. Making the results widely available in digital form will further aid usage. Published paper maps are either at too small a scale for locating faults or specific to a particular location. Publication of the location of active and potentially active faults will aid in appropriate site selection for structures.

1E.K. Verbeek, K.W. Ratzlaff, and U.S. Clanton, “Faults in parts of north-central and western Houston metropolitan area, Texas,” in Miscellaneous Field Studies Map, U.S. Geological Survey, 1136, 1979.
2J.R. Everett, “Active faults in Houston, Texas, area as observed on Landsat imagery,” AAPG Bulletin 63.3 (1979): 447.
3J.J. Mastroianni. “A study of active fault movement: Houston, Texas and vicinity,” Masters thesis, Univ. of Houston, Houston, TX, 1991.
4J.A. Boccanera, “Investigation of surface faulting, Brazoria County, Texas using aerial photography, field data, well log data, seismic profiles and fault modeling,” Masters thesis, Univ. of Houston, Houston, TX, 1989.
5C.J. Hillenbrand, “Subsidence and fault activation related to fluid extraction, Saxet field, Nueces County, Texas,” Masters thesis, Univ. of Houston, Houston, TX, 1985.
6L.D. Ambs, “A shallow geothermal survey of Durkee Oil Field and Woodgate Fault, Harris County, Texas,” Masters thesis, Univ. of Houston, Houston, TX, 1980.
7W.C. Heuer. “Active faults in the northwestern Houston area,” Masters thesis, Univ. of Houston, Houston, TX, 1979.

Engelkemeir, R.M. and S.D. Khan. “Active fault detection in the Houston area using LIDAR,” Remote Sensing of the Environment (in review).

Engelkemeir, R.M., S.D. Khan, and C. Norman. “Mapping active faults in the Houston area using LIDAR data,” American Association of Petroleum Geologists Annual Convention, April 9–12, 2006.
Engelkemeir, R.M., S.D. Khan, and C. Norman. “Mapping Active Faults in the Houston Area Using LIDAR,” Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies 56th Annual Convention, Lafayette, LA, Sept. 25–27, 2006.


Shuhab D. Khan, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of
geosciences at the University of Houston.
He can be reached at
Jaime Fernandez, research assistant, is an undergraduate
student in the department of geosciences, UH.

Environmental Institute of Houston - 2006 Annual Report - Copyright © 2006

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Figure 1. Houston area map showing active surface faults interpreted using LIDAR and the locations of salt domes. 
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