Lasers in the Jungle Somewhere: How Airborne LiDAR Reveals the Structure of Forests

Post provided by Phil Wilkes (PDRA, Department of Geography, University College London)

Like an X-ray, airborne LiDAR allows you to peer through the dense canopy, revealing the structure of the forest beneath. ©Robert Kerton, CSIRO

Like an X-ray, airborne LiDAR allows you to peer through the dense canopy, revealing the structure of the forest beneath. ©Robert Kerton, CSIRO

How many samples do you hope to collect on your next field assignment? 50, 100 or 1000? How about billions. It may seem overly optimistic, but that’s the reality when using Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR.

LiDAR works on the principle of firing hundreds of thousands of laser pulses a second that measure the distance to an intercepting surface. This harmless barrage of light creates a highly accurate 3D image of the target – whether it’s an elephant, a Cambodian temple or pedestrians walking down the street. LiDAR has made the news over recent years for its ability to unearth ancient temples through thick jungle, but for those of us with an ecological motive it is the otherwise impenetrable cloak of vegetation which is of more interest.

Airborne LiDAR in Forests

As it’s National Tree Week in the UK, the focus of this blog post will be on the application of LiDAR in forests. There are a number of techniques that use LiDAR in forests, across a range of scales, from handheld, backpack and tripod mounted terrestrial laser scanners to spaceborne instruments on the International Space Station. Continue reading