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Lidar as a tool for botanical surveys

Lidar, light distance and ranging, is a relatively new technological advance in imaging.  Using lasers mounted on planes or ground based vehicles, this device captures millions of distance measurements that can be manipulated using computer software to produce visual displays that are both spectacular and more acturate than normal photography.  A recent National Geographic television show provided a glimpse of how useful this imagry is for archaeology.  The researchers have used Lidar to cut through the dense jungles of Central America to show the Mayan civilization was much more extensive than formerly known.  The dozens of known structures became hundreds in the blink of an eye.  And it was the Lidar technology that provided the first view of the early landscapes.

Botanisits can now take advantage of this same technology by linking the known ecological parameters of a plant and the terrain on which it grows.  The terrain is defined by Lidar as a real condition topography.  This provides site specific details not available on our standard topographic maps, or even using stereo photography.  With Lidar, the data processing is the key:  by reducing the data to illustarte only the ground surface sans the above ground vegetation, we can see a real “lay of the land” display of ridges, depressions and otherwise non-discript terraces.  Here’s an example of a color coded Lidar available for Glassboro:

Note the various floodplains, basins, ridges, and eroded hillsides that are visible using this technology.  This image is avaiable from, a non-profit scientific organization dedicated to understanding the distribution and origins of the East Coastal bay basins, Caroloina bays, Delmarva bays or what ever name that is applied to the closed natural ponds that frequent the Coastal plain from Florida to Long Island. Other sources include NJ DEP (coverage available by a special download), and as unprocessed data from the USGS and NOAA.  

JRA, 11/2018


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