Quantifying and analysing rock trait distributions of rocky fault scarps using deep learning

Zhiang Chen, Chelsea Scott, Devin Keating, Amanda Clarke, Jnaneshwar Das, Ramon Arrowsmith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


We apply a deep learning model to segment and identify rock characteristics based on a Structure-from-Motion orthomap and digital elevation model of a rocky fault scarp in the Volcanic Tablelands, Eastern California, USA. By post-processing the deep learning results, we build a semantic rock map and analyse the rock trait distributions. The resulting semantic map contains nearly 230 000 rocks with effective diameters ranging from 2 to 250 cm. Rock trait distributions provide a new perspective on rocky fault scarp development and extend past research on scarp geometry including slope, height and length. Heatmaps indicate rock size spatial distributions on the fault scarp and surrounding topographic flats. Median grain size changes perpendicular to the fault scarp trace, with the largest rocks on the downslope proximal to the scarp footwall. Correlation analyses illustrate the relationship between rock trait statistics and fault scarp geomorphology. Local fault scarp height correlates with median grain size ((Formula presented.) = 0.6), the mean grain size of the largest rocks ((Formula presented.) = 0.8) and the ratio of the number of small to large rocks ((Formula presented.) = 0.4). The positive correlation ((Formula presented.) = 0.8) between local fault scarp height and standard deviation of grain size suggests that rocks on a higher fault scarp are less well sorted. The correlation analysis between fault scarp height and rock orientation statistics supports a particle transportation model in which locally higher fault scarps have relatively more rocks with long axes parallel to fault scarp trace because rocks have a larger distance to roll and orient the long axes. Our work demonstrates a data-driven approach to geomorphology based on rock trait distributions, promising a greater understanding of fault scarp formation and tectonic activity, as well as many other applications for which granulometry is an indicator of process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1234-1250
Number of pages17
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number6
StatePublished - May 2023


  • deep learning
  • fault scarp
  • geomorphological analysis
  • grain size distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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