Fluvial deposits are highly heterogeneous and inherently challenging to map in outcrop due to a combination of lateral and vertical variability along with a lack of continuous exposure. Heavily incised landscapes, such as badlands, reveal continuous three-dimensional (3-D) outcrops that are ideal for constraining the geometry of fluvial deposits and enabling reconstruction of channel morphology through time and space. However, these complex 3-D landscapes also create challenges for conventional field mapping techniques, which offer limited spatial resolution, coverage, and/or lateral contiguity of measurements. To address these limitations, we examined an emerging technique using images acquired from a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and structure-from-motion (SfM) photogrammetric processing to generate a 3-D digital outcrop model (DOM). We applied the UAV-SfM technique to develop a DOM of an Upper Cretaceous channel-belt sequence exposed within a 0.52 km2 area of Dinosaur Provincial Park (southeastern Alberta, Canada). Using the 3-D DOM, we delineated the lower contact of the channel-belt sequence, created digital sedimentary logs, and estimated facies with similar conviction to field-based estimations (±4.9%). Lateral accretion surfaces were also recognized and digitally traced within the DOM, enabling measurements of accretion direction (dip azimuth), which are nearly impossible to obtain accurately in the field. Overall, we found that measurements and observations derived from the UAV-SfM DOM were commensurate with conventional ground-based mapping techniques, but they had the added advantage of lateral continuity, which aided interpretation of stratigraphic surfaces and facies. This study suggests that UAV-SfM DOMs can complement traditional field-based methods by providing detailed 3-D views of topographically complex outcrop exposures spanning intermediate to large spatial extents.

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