Using lidar data to inform risk management decisions

In August 2020, the Grizzly Creek Fire ignited in the rugged Glenwood Canyon of central Colorado. Glenwood Canyon is considered one of the most scenic corridors on the U.S. Interstate Highway System and is a critical route for road and rail traffic across the state as well as providing recreation opportunities for hiking, biking, hunting, and river rafting. Over an approximate four-month period the fire altered forest lands along the steep canyon walls and forested connecting drainages above Interstate 70 (I-70) and the Colorado River.

The following winter provided a quiet recovery period for the canyon, but this was only temporary as the summer months in this region of Colorado generate intense thunderstorms with runoff that can overwhelm heathy drainages. Unfortunately following a forest fire, the storm runoff on burned and bare soils can be orders of magnitude more destructive. The summer monsoon season of 2021 was no exception, with several storms generating sediment laden post-wildfire debris flows that covered and damaged I-70 and the nearby Amtrak railway, deposited sediment in the Colorado River, and also stranded travelers in the canyon at times. The events resulted in weeks of highway closure for this critical corridor during the summer travel season, causing adverse economic impacts to nearby communities and measurable disruptions to interstate commerce.

Post-fire debris flow blocking the Colorado River.

To reduce the potential for future disruptions, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) engaged with BGC to understand how ground conditions are changing following the wildfire and 2021 post-fire debris flows. Through this additional understanding, CDOT can prioritize mitigation projects on the basis of greatest need and cost-benefit, while also advancing predictive models that consider the relationship between burned conditions, slope, changes in terrain, and precipitation thresholds that can lead to disruptive debris flows.

Debris flow deposition on I-70 bridge approach.

To measure continuous ground change over the entire burn area, BGC contracted with an aerial survey firm to collect and process airborne lidar for over 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) of the Glenwood Canyon and Grizzly Creek Fire area. This newly collected lidar data was processed against existing public lidar data collected in 2016. These two sets of lidar data were entered into Cambio, BGC’s software platform, to deliver an interactive lidar change detection layer across the entire burn area. This processing of change between two different lidar data sets uses a patent-pending change detection algorithm to calculate positive and negative change over this entire area. Using Cambio, this type of change detection processing can be turned around within 24 hours.

Cambio screenshot showing the ground movements following storms in the Grizzly Burn Area.

BGC continues to work with CDOT and other partner agencies, such as the United States Geological Survey, to understand how the Canyon slopes have changed after the fire and 2021 debris flow season, and to plan mitigation efforts that can be implemented in the summer of 2022 and beyond. A better understanding of the post-fire debris flow events in Glenwood Canyon may also help CDOT and other stakeholders understand their risk exposure to debris flow impacts from future burn scars.

The Geohazards paradigm is so different to what a lot of the other members of CDOT are used to being exposed to. It is often difficult to convey the severity of an event to people outside of the response, but Cambio is such a great tool to do this alongside the other utility it provides.

BEAU Taylor
Colorado Department of Transportation
Close-up Cambio screenshot showing measurement of sediment loss and deposition in the Blue Gulch Basin of Glenwood Canyon.

Mark Vessely, M.Sc., PE.

Principal Geotechnical Engineer

Mark Vessely has over 25 years of experience in geologic hazard and risk assessment, emergency response to slope and other ground movements, and design for bridge foundations, retaining walls, pavements, and slope stabilization projects.

Recent additions to #OneTeamOneBGC

We’re excited to announce a few of our recent new additions to the team here at BGC. These new team members help strengthen the breadth and depth of services and experience we offer our clients.

BGC recently welcomed two new senior members to our team, Dan Parker and Julio Portocarrero.

Dan Parker, P.Geo.
Senior Geoscientist
Halifax, NS

Dan graduated from Dalhousie University in 2000 and moved to Calgary where he worked for over 18 years in various technical, project management, and leadership roles, predominately focused on geoscience challenges within the resource sector. His work experience across the mining and pipeline sectors has taken him from the Canadian Arctic to the Middle East and from the Rockies to Kenya, providing him with tremendous professional and personal growth opportunities. Always having a desire to return to the east coast, he and his family returned to Halifax in 2018 when his twin girls started school, enabling Dan to reconnect with family, friends, and learn the local market. After 3 years as the Business Development and Geoscience Lead for an international firm based in Halifax, he is excited to be joining BGC and brings a unique combination of strong client relations, project management, technical capabilities, and business acumen skills to our projects and operation. When not at work, Dan spends time with family and friends, playing and coaching various sports, listening to music (hopefully attending soon!), and is currently the President for Geoscientists Nova Scotia.

Julio Portocarrero, M.Eng., P.Eng.
Senior Hydrotechnical Engineer
Vancouver, BC

Born and raised in Peru, Julio started his career in the construction and mining sectors before moving to consulting in 2010, where he worked as a water resources and hydrotechnical engineer for a number of large, multidisciplinary mining projects across Peru and Chile. In 2013 he moved to Vancouver where he provided his technical expertise on mining projects across North and South America and Europe. Julio specializes in the design of hydraulic structures, development of surface water management plans and baseline hydrology studies, hydrological and hydraulic modeling, water balance modelling, and dam breach and inundation assessments. He completed a master’s degree in Hydrotechnical Engineering from the University of British Columbia, and he is registered both as a Professional Engineer in British Columbia and with the Peruvian Engineers Association. When not at work, Julio spends time exploring the West Coast of BC with his family and catching a soccer (football!) game with friends.

As BGC’s team continues to grow, we’re also happy to welcome a few other new employees to the company.

Top row from L to R

Aaron Brisbin, M.Eng., P.Eng.
Hydrotechnical Engineer
Vancouver, BC

Justin Kline, P.Eng., M. Eng.
Geological Engineer
Vancouver, BC

Colin Lussier Purdy, M.Sc., P.Geo.
Toronto, ON

Sebastian Martijena
Water Resources Specialist
Vancouver, BC

Bottom row from L to R

Timothy Morton, M.A.Sc., P.Eng.
Geotechnical Engineer
Halifax, NS

Hazel Wong, M.Eng., P.Geo.
Engineering Geologist
Kamloops, BC

Corey Scheip, M.S., P.G.
Golden, CO

The Lithium Triangle and why permafrost matters: A new level of understanding

Lithium is a key component in lithium-ion batteries installed globally in most rechargeable batteries. It is one of the main natural resources required for the transformation to green energy and the reduction of the consequences of the evolving climate crisis. The Lithium Triangle is thought to hold more than half of the world’s lithium reserves. More than 100 salars can be found in this area that covers northern Chile, Western Bolivia and northwestern Argentina. Considering that the demand for lithium is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years, the interest in lithium production from this area is enormous and various new projects are in development. However, not only is the Lithium Triangle located in one of the world’s driest areas, but the elevation range of several mountains and plateaus provides conditions that favour the presence of permafrost. The complex spatial and altitudinal distribution of permafrost in these high elevation ranges is intertwined with their hydrological regimes. The slow change in local permafrost conditions must be addressed in designing water management systems, which are critical for lithium mining to minimize environmental and social impacts. In addition, permafrost degradation can result in changes to geohazards that may impact infrastructure as well as operations and viable project closure concepts in this region.

Leveraging our two decades of experience working on mining projects in the Andes, BGC has developed a permafrost distribution model for South America at an unprecedented spatial resolution geographic extent. The result of the model highlights that vast areas within the lithium triangle are located in zones with likely permafrost.

As part of this work, we are using our cloud-based, award winning geohazard management platform, Cambio, for visualizing the results of the permafrost distribution model and related decision making. The addition of the South American permafrost distribution model into our Cambio platform marks the initiation of our new Cryo-Cambio platform. This latest addition to Cambio focuses on geohazard and geotechnical asset management related to the cryosphere with the goal of elevating infrastructure management decisions, making them cost effective, defensible, better documented, transparent and easily communicated to regulators, project developers, management, designers and investors in challenging environments and a changing climate.

The model was recently presented at the Regional Conference of Permafrost and a recording of the presentation can be viewed here. BGC continues to work with various partners to improve the model and advance the understanding of the permafrost distribution in South America and its hydrological role.

This another example of a complex earth science challenge in need of an innovative solution, to contribute to ‘mining done right’. If you want to learn more about this novel permafrost distribution model, our Cambio platform or are just interested in this topic, let’s chat.

Lukas Arenson, Dr.Sc.Techn.ETH, P.Eng.

Principal Geotechnical Engineer

Dr. Arenson’s main area of expertise is geotechnical, mountain permafrost engineering with specialization on frozen soil mechanics and geothermal modelling. He is a renowned expert in the dynamics of ice-rich frozen slopes in particular rock glaciers. 

Climate Change & Landslides

We know climate has been, and is changing, and will do so at an increasing pace unless we dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Warming alone has already catastrophic consequences as we noticed so brutally during the Pacific Northwest Heat Wave this year. One of the derivates from global warming are changes in precipitation pattern. Those, in turn affect many land surface and groundwater processes. Surprisingly, a simple link between precipitation and landsliding does not exist. Specific landslide types have their own “hydrological memory”, i.e., the respond differently to changes in precipitation and/or snowmelt. For example, a shallow (less than a metre deep) landslide may respond readily to an intensive rainstorm as long as there has been enough antecedent moisture in the ground (i.e., rain in the preceding weeks). A landslide several tens of metres deep may need weeks or month of well-above average precipitation to “take off” (accelerate).

Understanding the landslide’s response to climate variables is key. Once that is done and a process-response model has been created, we are able to query global climate models and shock the model with climate change projections. This is exactly what Trevor Owen, a Software Developer here at BGC, and I, with the help of a statistics professor from the University of British Columbia, did for shallow landslides on the North Shore in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The resulting study found that regionally speaking landslide frequency could increase by as much as four times and landslide magnitude by as much as 50% by the end of the century. This will have substantial implications in terms of fine sediment input to streams that end up in Metro Vancouver’s drinking water supplies. It can also change the shape of rivers and impact fish habitat.

The results of this study were recently featured on Global News, CBC, Vancouver Sun, and the North Shore News. BGC offers a number of services across geohazard management and climate change. Interested in finding out more? Let’s talk.

Matthias Jakob, Ph.D., P.Geo., P.L. Eng. L.G.

Principal Geoscientist, BGC Engineering

Dr. Matthias Jakob is an internationally recognized specialist on the subject of geohazard and risk assessments.

Employee Spotlight – Hanchen Hou

Welcome to the first post of our Employee Spotlight series! Every month you’ll get a chance to meet a member of our #OneTeamOneBGC. First up, Hanchen Hou.

Hanchen moved from China to Canada in 2011 to attend university on a scholarship. He first lived in Ottawa and spent time at Algonquin College to work on his English language skills and then went to the University of Ottawa. Wanting to further his studies in computer sciences, he decided to make the move across the country and enrolled at Okanagan College in Kelowna where he spent three years before finally landing in Vancouver and transferring to the University of British Columbia. After completing a co-op and graduating, he started his job here at BGC. Hanchen has had a particularly interesting start to his professional career as he started at BGC pretty much right around the time the COVID-19 pandemic began!

How long have you been with BGC and what do you do here?
I have been working here for 1 year and 8 months as a Software Developer mainly focused on front end and currently working on Cambio.

How would you describe your job to a class of Kindergartners?
My work is focused on geohazards. I help figure out how we can identify a geohazard and then how we can avoid them.

What is your favourite thing about working at BGC?
The working environment at BGC is great. In my sub-team, which is 7 developers, we are very connected and we work together to help each other with problems and share ideas. Our connectivity and how we work together really helps make our jobs less stressful.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to new hires at BGC?
When I started, I was worried that I’d need to be a geotechnical expert and would need to know all these things about groundwater and geology. I realized that I didn’t need to worry about that and just focus on doing a good job as a Software Developer. I would encourage new hires to focus on doing well in their job and, over time, you’ll learn more about the other areas of BGC.

If you could switch jobs with someone in BGC, who would it be and why?
I would switch jobs with my product owner. I want to be closer to the engineers we work with so I can have a better understanding of what exactly they need and want from the software we develop. I feel like I can learn a lot of things from the engineers at BGC.

If you could have an unlimited supply of one thing, what would it be?
Ideas! I would be able to come up with creative ways to solve any problem in both my personal and work life.

What is the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
Since I’m originally from China, I am not familiar with Mexican food. The first time I ordered a burrito, they asked if I wanted a jalapeno. I had no idea what that was so I just said yes. By the second bite of my burrito I was sweating as I’m not good with spicy food! I will never eat a jalapeno again.

What fictional place would you like to visit?

If you had to listen to one song for the rest of your life what would it be?
Nightwish – Last of the Wilds

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I can’t think of a specific piece of advice but I’d generally say that the encouragement my parents have given me. When I was considering moving to Canada they said “go for it” and encouraged me to experience things outside of home country.

Interested in joining our team? We currently have openings across around Software team including Full Stack Software Developers, Mobile App Developer and Test Automation Developer. Check out our Careers section for more information and to apply today!