ADVERTISEMENT

Laser Mapping Reveals New Details of Earth's Surface

Scientists get a three-dimensional Google Earth on steroids, which can penetrate forest canopies, chart sand dune movement, and more, thanks to radarlike lasers



JOSH ROERING/UNIVERSITY OF OREGON/NATIONAL CENTER FOR AIRBORNE LASER MAPPING/NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

Laser technology mounted on airplanes can map Earth's surface with uncanny precision and detail. The systems have been used to study floods, landslides, snowpacks and just about anything else under the sun that can enhance understanding of the natural processes happening around us. Employed by the military, meteorologists, astronomers, conservationists and even automotive engineers, it can spit out three-dimensional models of a distant surface and is accurate within an inch or two (three to five centimeters).

First used by NASA in the mid-1980s, light detection and ranging (LiDAR), aka airborne laser swath mapping (ALSM), is now commercially available. And in 2003, the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping was created (with funding from the National Science Foundation) in partnership with the University of Florida and the University of California, Berkeley to promote the use of ALSM in ongoing research—and so far it has even pinpointed at least one previously unknown fault line (near Puget Sound, WA).

Slide Show: Laser Mapping Reveals New Details of Earth's Surface

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Back To School

Back to School Sale!

12 Digital Issues + 4 Years of Archive Access just $19.99

Order Now >

X

Email this Article



This function is currently unavailable

X