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Drain the Oceans: Thai Cave Rescue – A Nat Geo documentary

As a result of our numerous cave scanning assignments, Commendium were contacted by MSP TV to assist them with an episode of the ‘Drain the Oceans’, a series on behalf of Nat Geo TV. Having worked for The National Geographic on several occasions, it was great to be back.   Our brief was to 3D survey a 6km stretch of the Tham Luang cave passages in Thailand, using LiDAR terrestrial scanners. The data from the scans would be processed to make a photorealistic CGI 3D model of the cave journey. The 3D model itself illustrates part of the Thailand Cave Rescue story deep in the Chiang Rai province. Prior to setting off we were looking at a hand-drawn cave survey of the Tham Luang cave system, completed by its first explorers. Looking at the illustration it was immediately clear that this was going to be one of our more demanding projects, 6km of often narrow, invariably humid and muddy cave passages. We estimated it would take three weeks, to scan the caves and a complete surface survey of the area. The Challenge The cave system proved to be every bit as challenging as we had imagined. In the dry sections, the cave was very easy to navigate for experienced cavers, however, then came the slippery section with lots of clambering over large boulders. With each of us carrying about 20kg, the humidity was draining for the crew. We opted to scan from the furthest point inside the cave and work our way through to the entrance. This was mainly for psychological reasons, for every subsequent surveying day required less travel to the start and so became easier, though most days underground were more than ten hours. One job was to record the cave texture through photography. It is amusing to put one of the world’s leading caving photographers to such repetitive work, but the discipline to ensure that everything is recorded meticulously is probably the single hardest aspect of 3D data capture. We tried to work to three days and then rest on the fourth, however, in practise, our rest days and evenings were spent processing the vast amounts of scanned data. Our drone operator meanwhile was travelling above ground capturing the surface terrain data. Capturing Data By the end of the project we had gathered almost a terabyte of data, which takes some managing, but again, with our procedural disciplines in…

Mine works in Northern England – Industrial heritage becomes geotourism

Commendium is often requested to assist with mine works filming and conservation projects but rarely both at the same time. We were invited by veteran Geologist Andy Freem and his wife Antonia, to scan elements of the Nenthead Mines, located near Alston in Cumbria. The project was to provide complementary 3D and drone footage and data to be included in Andy’s latest film production.The film opens with aerial video captured by our professional drone operator. It shows the whole mine workings above ground. This video was processed into a 3D model using Pix4D software. Underground, using 3D laser (LiDAR) we scanned two sections of the Smallcleugh Mine, which is part of the overall Nenthead mine complex. Smallcleugh is in the centre of a 50+km complex of mine levels and underground workings, and it contains evidence of the lives and techniques of the lead miners working there for over 200 years.The first scanning target was a ‘Whimsey Chamber’, where horses were brought underground to walk around in circles, providing power to lift and lower items in the adjacent shaft. It is quite remarkable how much of lift feature remains. The 3D models illustrate the mine in fine detail and inform the viewer as to its construction in ways that pure video cannot.The second 3D scan illustrates the ‘flats. Flats are areas where miners hacked and blasted out lead ore from valuable veins. It illustrates the incredible handwork, and stonework used to create arches and build stacks, to support the mine roof.Nenthead Mine Works FilmThe Nenthead Mine video may be viewed on YouTube and offers a rich and fascinating illustration of the mine. The whole area around Nenthead still has many former mine works and invokes a timeless picture of life in Victorian England. Whilst this mine is easily and freely visited, if you are not experienced in the underground activities we recommend hiring a guide or taking a guided tour.Should you like further information on this project, please contact us on 0330 119 0000 or contact us via the website

LiDAR Scanning a UNESCO World Heritage site – Skocjanske Cave System

Scanning the 2nd largest cave chamber in Europe. Commendium have deployed their 3D mapping systems in several caves around the world and we were invited back by the Karst Institute in Postojna, Slovenia to complete a 3D survey of the Skocjanske Cave system. As a part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the data was required for geological studies and an appreciation of the state of the cave for monitoring purposes. On one wintery morning in January we set off via the ferry to Skocjanske in Slovenia which boasts the world’s finest portfolio of amazing karst caves. Karst caves are known for their delicate ecosystem and exhilarating topography and the region around Skocjan is seen as the home of Karst geology.  The brief was to monitor the condition of the cave and take measurements using highly accurate 3D LiDAR, then build digital models of the caves.  After a calm ferry journey and a long drive, we reached Slovenia and were pleased to see our hosts, who are now becoming like family. After a good sleep, we gathered the team and set off excitedly. With the Reigl Scanner, batteries, photography kit, caving gear, and the drone all weighing in excess of 30kg, we started on the 2-hour walk to the Martel Chamber. John Nelmes was particularly excited to be on his first trip to Slovenia with his drone, but not so excited when he saw the cave entrance and the 70m sheer drop. We finally reached the chamber via 1.5 km of narrow paths, hacked into the sides of caves by original explorers followed by 4 rope river crossings and lots of traversing on ledges. During the expedition, we found that the Martel chamber is, in fact, the second largest cave chamber in Europe, and 11th largest in the world. Skocjanske Cave System Flood A few days after our trip, a huge thaw saw the river rise from 2 cubic metres of water per second to a peak of 290, flooding the chamber where we had been working to a depth of 90m. There was no danger, this cave is the most monitored cave in the world, there was no risk of being marooned. The results will take a year or so to process but already three scientific papers are underway. The survey is also being used to assess the feasibility of establishing other tourist paths within the cave. Overall, Commendium's Slovenia trip to the Skocjanske Cave System was very successful and…

SONAR Surveying a flooded quarry

Sonar surveying the floor of a flooded quarry Usually, you will find us below ground scanning or climbing through to the next cavern with a huge amount of scanning equipment, not carrying out SONAR surveying from the back of a boat in winter. This morning we set out to map the floor basin of Capernwray, a former quarry, now flooded and used as a dive centre.  The reason for this early start and rubber dingy journey is to test out a new sonar rig to ascertain if it’s going to deliver the results we need for upcoming bathymetric surveys of several tropical rivers. The rig loaded and ready for use today is the StarFish 452F; for those of you who are technically inclined, the starfish is is a high-frequency side-imagining, sonar device. The starfish is an unusual design with hydrodynamic three fins, it differs greatly from the common cylindrical torpedo shape side scan of many sonars. [caption id="attachment_210" align="aligncenter" width="200"] The Starfish 452F[/caption] With the StarFish - 452F loaded safely and attached to a rope of 10m, we set off across the quarry lake to test the range and resolution capabilities of the imaging device, which promised us wide range imaging of 100m per channel, which is 200m total swathe coverage. The surveying process The sonar surveying took us approximately 20 minutes, with a distance of 0.5 km. With the data safely gathered we rushed back with the data to see what this compressed high-intensity radar pulsing bit of kit could deliver, and would it be enough?  Safely back in the office, we launched the data and saw some very convincing and highly detailed scans produced. Overall, we were indeed happy with the Starfish side scanner, which had picked up several artifacts in the lake including a sunken plane. The detailing of the plane wasn’t high resolution, but the floor of the lake and side facings were captured in full quality, which is exactly what we need from the Starfish. We are now working on programming methods to turn this data into a 3D image of the lake floor. View the video below to find out a little more about the process:

Giant Sinkhole in China has a Hidden Danger

Commendium CEO, Richard Walters, has been back in China surveying the world’s largest cave chambers in 3D. Using the latest LiDAR techniques he and his team have been revealing the true nature of some recently discovered huge caves in Guangxi and Guizhou provinces. His team resurveyed the world’s largest cave chamber, The Miao Room and found it to be even larger than previously believed. At almost 11 million cubic metres it is about ten times the size of Wembley stadium. Giant Sinkhole Of more note, was the survey of a seemingly small hole, called Maoqidong, situated about 10m from an important road through the mountains near a town called Leye. That there was a huge cave below was clear, as warm damp air condenses as it leaves the hole leaving a signature column of steam rising from the ground. The survey confirmed it was an immense 260m to the floor of the cave. A further 200m down a steep slope to an underground river showed, for the first time, the chamber to be an immense 6.2 million cubic metres in volume. Alarmingly, the road was found to be a mere 4m from this underground cavity. Richard produced a detailed report for the local authorities to highlight the road’s precarious position above the invisible void below. This giant sinkhole could have caused major problems for local infrastructure. Surveying Technique The mapping technique involved 3D laser scanning from selected stations around the cave and on the surface near entrances. Then on return to the base camp, stitching all these scans together using specialist software. Commendium used its own methods and tools to reduce errant points and generate clean point clouds from which geo-located 3D models were produced. To find out more about how we do this, please take a look at our LiDAR scanning services or Contact us.

Archaeological Recording using Drones for HS2

Commendium are currently partnering with Wardell Armstrong in providing detailed archaeological recording using drones for certain archaeological sites along the route of the proposed HS2 High-Speed railway. We have developed a process that allows us to capture not only video and photography for each of the sites but also elevation maps, orthomosaic maps, and 3D photogrammetric models. The data we are collecting is invaluable in determining if further investigation is needed in the areas but also allow for archaeologists to find new and hidden features. On a recent survey, we were asked to assist the BBC in filming for a new documentary using our drone. This was because the permissions to fly over the sites is so tightly restricted that we were the only company with authority to perform this.   As these are active working sites, Commendiums surveyors have successfully applied for CSCS cards and qualifications to become authorised for construction site work. This has opened up a new avenue of work for Commendium and we are currently testing how to use photogrammetry within the construction industry. Our photogrammetric and LiDAR services are able to quantify the mass of excavations, provide detailed location data for constructions and accurately measure buildings, rivers, ditches and more. Aligned to the drone technology, we are able to carry out this work much quicker than traditional methods and much more accurately. More archaeological recording using drones surveying for the HS2 project is coming in and we expect our involvement to continue over the next few years. The project does present some challenges for us, but our team of specialist are able to overcome this by providing a completely bespoke service. In this project, the flight plans are generally pre-determined, but room is left for changes when on site. An example of this is a recent site that had a number of red kites within the boundaries of the surveying area. An ecologist was on hand to check the nests and to advise our drone operator of any potential issues. In fact, during one of our flights, we can see one of the red kites fly within about 20 feet, but the bird of prey completely disregards our drone. Have a look at what more we can do: Aerial Surveying, LiDAR sruveying