Friday, September 28, 2007

Ever Heard of LIDAR?

No, it's not the name of M*A*S*H Radar's brother, at least to my knowledge, but it is similar to RADAR.

According to information posted at this URL, a brief description is offered:

The USGS-NPS-NASA EAARL (Experimental Airborne Advanced Research Lidar) system is a
'Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) is a remote sensing system used to collect topographic data.
This technology is being used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA scientists to document topographic changes along shorelines.
These data are collected with aircraft-mounted lasers capable of recording elevation measurements at a rate of 2,000 to 5,000 pulses per second and have a vertical precision of 15 centimeters (6 inches).
After a baseline data set has been created, follow-up flights can be used to detect shoreline changes.'

Or, according to :Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

'LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is an optical remote sensing technology that measures properties of scattered light to find range and/or other information of a distant target.
The prevalent method to determine distance to an object or surface is to use laser pulses.
Like the similar radar technology, which uses radio waves instead of light, the range to an object is determined by measuring the time delay between transmission of a pulse and detection of the reflected signal.
LIDAR technology has application in geography, geology, geomorphology, seismology, remote sensing and atmospheric physics.'

and, under 'Applications':
'In geology and seismology a combination of aircraft-based LIDAR and GPS have evolved into an important tool for detecting faults and measuring uplift.
The output of the two technologies can produce extremely accurate elevation models for terrain that can even measure ground elevation through trees.
This combination was used most famously to find the location of the Seattle Fault in Washington, USA.
This combination is also being used to measure uplift at Mt. St. Helens by using data from before and after the 2004 uplift.'

A really fascinating way of observing what can be achieved by LIDAR technology is to visit Google Earth at:
So why is this a topic of interest to people who live in Whatcom County?
Funny, you should ask!
Here's what I know.

There is proposal developed by three geologists, experienced in local topography, titled 'Western Whatcom County Geologic Mapping Project'.

The idea is to use 'extensive prior field work and newly-available LIDAR technology [to] make possible the production of a new generation of geologic maps for western Whatcom County.'
'These maps will define certain critical areas [wetlands, landslides, steep slopes, debris-flow fans, etc.]; allow improved assessments of groundwater availability, groundwater recharge areas, links between groundwater and in-stream flow, and potential for groundwater contamination; better define mineral resource potentials, active tectonics, and paleoseismicity; and provide a more robust framework for seismic site-response studies.'

That's a mouthful for a short introduction, isn't it?

I think its a great idea to combine local talent, existing information and high tech methodology to get important, accurate data into a form that can be reliably and more easily used.
I won't go into much more detail for now, except to say this proposal anticipates a total cost to Whatcom County of just under $200,000 for work to be done from the latter half of 2007 through 2011.

There are 2 funding options offered, with other variations possible:
A. Whatcom County could contract with one of the three principals, who would invoice the County quarterly as pre-defined milestones are reached. Or
B. Whatcom County could enter into a co-operative agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey, which would then contract with one of the three principals, and be in part responsible for the quality and completion of the work.
Under this option, the USGS would invoice the County quarterly, plus add 49.13% as USGS overhead.

In either scenario, significant donation of time and/or in-kind contribution is offered. One principal expects to donate his time, estimated at 30% of the actual total value for 3 years, or $200,000. Another principal would be be compensated by in-kind contributions from USGS for a total of $300,000. The third principal requires 50% of her time over 4.5 years to be supported by Whatcom County at about $45,000 per year, totalling $200,000.
Adding all that up means Whatcom County could get $700,000 in value for $200,000.
That's about $45,000 per year for 4.5 years for you mathematicians.

The maps resulting from this effort will be published either by USGS or Washington Dept of Natural Resources, Division of Geology & Earth Resources in cooperation with USGS.
Final products will include both GIS-ready digital data and traditional maps [both pdf and published paper products] with map graphics, cross sections, Correlation of Map Unit diagrams, Descriptions of Map Units, tables of age data, and extensive explanatory text.
This proposal has been presented to our County Administration for its consideration and action, which one hopes will be forthcoming soon.
Of course, any request for funding must come before the County Council for action.
This being budget preparation time, I hope this item is included.
Stay tuned.