Laser Mapping Helps Archaeologists and City Planners

LiDAR technology can be used to predict natural disasters.

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The state-of-the-art laser instruments have, in the past, produced updated and accurate maps of potential flood zones in Florida’s Pinellas County, resulting in an estimated $25 million of savings annually in flood insurance costs. More recently, the technology mapped all the major fault lines in California, a template that will serve as a baseline for recording changes that occur after future earthquakes.

The researchers also mapped Ground Zero in New York to help workers identify entry routes for heavy equipment, find the best locations to erect and operate large cranes, select areas to dump waste, and identify damage to structures other than the Twin Towers.

In coastal areas, “mapping beaches after storms tells government officials where and how much sand has been lost, information that has important implications for the tourist business and the local economy,” Carter says. “We map forests to determine the fuel content before fires, and after, to determine the extent of the damage, and to identify areas of possible future erosion and landslides associated with the loss of forests.”

Center scientists also map coastal wetlands to determine the extent of the damage caused by oil spills, and streams, in order to locate fish breeding grounds and obstructions, such as unapproved dams, that block the runs of fish up-stream in breeding seasons. They also have conducted work for the citrus industry to identify areas of blight.

Flying above ground, the laser shoots pulses of light - 100,000 per second and about a dozen or so hits per square meter--many of them able to make their way through the smallest of openings in the forest canopy.

“During presentations we make, we generally find that people are most amazed and react openly to seeing an area covered with a forest, and then seeing the same area after we have filtered out the vegetation,” Carter says. “They suddenly can see things such as landslides, fault lines, archaeological sites and streams that are otherwise hidden below the forest.”