SciSun: Seeing the Forest, Through the Trees   Leave a comment

Forest management is the field of science that works with understanding the forests and forest resources in ways that will demonstrate stewardship to the forests and forest life, along with economic and social benefits to the public and local communities. This includes everything from water use to wildlife protection to aesthetics to outdoor recreation, and our favorite – Woody Biomass Utility.  We’re not certain but we think that’s a character in a SciFi shooter game.

Ever since there have been men and there have been forests, people have thought of ways to use those forests and their resources; and if the communities were wise, ways to conserve and protect the resources toward a secure and sustainable environment. At first, men just observed what they saw in the forest and told others, or wrote down the information as best as they could remember. Later they took photos and made maps, so they could compare how the forest changed over time and how areas of the forest compare with other areas. More recently, computers and GIS Geographic Information Systems – have been invaluable tools to acquire, store, manipulate, and review data from large areas of land and land use, from forests to mountains to cities. By combining information from satellites, maps, and on-ground researchers, GIS can be used to create two-dimensional, and limited three-dimensional representations of areas accurate within hundreds of feet.

Today, however, a new technology is accurate not only at mapping large areas of land – like complete forests – but also individual trees within that forest. Lidar– standing for ‘light detection and ranging’ – is changing the future of forest management, and the health and stewardship of our forests. By measuring the reflected pulses of light from an airborne laser, computers can calculate differences in the amount of light that was emitted compared with the amount of light that was reflected, resulting in a calculation of the density of the forest below. By reading the amount of time it takes the laser light to be reflected, the height of the forest can be determined. As the lasers are, literally, aimed with ‘laser accuracy’, not only can entire forests be measured but specific trees, resulting in a nearly 3-dimensional cloud of computer generated data points, which can then be interpreted into images of a forest accurate to every hill, cliff, tree and even types of trees. 

GIS LIDAR pointcloud OSU

Not just random points of light, but a part of an entire forest. And the colors even represent how much sun is reflected off the leaves!

As far as we know ‘Woody Biomass’ is not the pilot of the ship firing the laser.

From the data point cloud, scientists and researchers, including students at University of California Merced and UC Berkeley, have developed software that identifies specific trees based upon height and width. Additional points can help determine tree shape, type, and location from other trees and features. Then each individual tree is modeled, including details like smooth leaves or needles, and a virtual entire forest is created. Using these tools, forest managers can now study forest growth, fire damage and recovery, patterns of how wildlife live in and use their forest homes, and the impact of man on the environment. While still only an enhanced a two-dimensional image, work is continuing on creating fully-3D worlds that are exact representations of the actual forest. And while nothing is better than enjoying our natural environments in person, sometimes a virtual journey where you can see each hill and every trail, and experience every tree where it actually lives, all at the right height and shape and color, can help us understand and appreciate the world we all share.


Michonne says: I didn’t understand any of this. I live in the fields every day and I’ve never met anyone named ‘LIDAR’ or ‘GIS’ or ‘THREEDEE’. I think the men make these things up. Phooey.

Posted October 21, 2012 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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