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Image Analysis, Sediments and Paleoenvironments (Developments in Paleoenvironmental Research)

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Image analysis is concerned with the extraction of quantitative information from images
captured in digital form (Fortey 1995). Visual information has always played an important
role in the Geosciences — indeed, many disciplines rely heavily on the content of
images, whether they are sketches drawn in the field, or descriptions of microscopic slides
(Jongmans et al. 2001). Visual charts are often used in sedimentology in order to provide
some semi-quantification, such as for instance, Krumbein’s grain roundness classes (Krumbein
1941), classification of ichnofabric (Droser and Bottjer 1986), or simply the chart of
phase percentages sitting nearby every binocular microscope. However, with the noticeable
exception of remote sensing, compared to other disciplines image analysis has been slow
to develop in the Geosciences, despite its potential usefulness. One problem with image
analysis studies of geologic material is that objects are generally less homogenous than
biologic or medical samples, and observation conditions are more variable.

Digital imaging systems were the exception in the 80’s, because the computers needed to
process sizeable images were cutting edge and expensive systems, mostly entirely tailored
for that unique purpose. The decreasing price of personal computers, with their simultaneous
and dramatic increase in performance, made digital image processing more accessible
to researchers in the 90’s. Soil scientists, especially micromorphologists, have been very
active in the development of newimage analysis tools (e.g.,Terribile and Fitzpatrick (1992),
VandenBygaart and Protz (1999), Adderley et al. (2002)). The growing interest for image
analysis in Earth Sciences is revealed by the increasing number of initiatives to bring
image analysis into the spotlight. Without being exhaustive, one can mention a number
of meetings on the subject (e.g., Geological Society of London, London, UK, September
1993, and Geovision held in Liège, Belgium, in May 1999), an increasing number of papers
in journals such as Computers & Geosciences, and books (e.g., De Paor (1996)). In the
second volume of the Developments in Paleoenvironmental Research (DPER) series, a
chapter by Saarinen and Pettersen (2001) was already devoted to image analysis applied to
paleolimnology.
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