What Is LIDAR ? How is it useful to study the changes in our environment ?

Just as the Moon’s history was disrobed by laser ranging 50 years ago, Earth’s tropical forests are giving up their secrets to the light. Airborne light detection and ranging—called LiDAR—has over the last ten years become a key tool that ecologists use to understand physical variation in tropical forests across space and time. Like an MRI of the human brain, LiDAR probes the intricate three-dimensional architecture of the forest canopy, unveiling carbon that forests keep out of the atmosphere, and also the mounting threats to that carbon storehouse: drought, fire, clandestine logging and brash gold-mining operations. Apple introduced the sensor in its new Iphone 12 and Ipad , flagships to enhance photography.However, the primary purpose of the sensor in that device was to aid augmented reality.

Even the quintessential natural disturbance of the sun-filled light gap—long thought to enhance the incredibly high species diversity of tropical forests—has been deconstructed by laser technology.

Laser ranging in tropical forests is such a game-changing technology that science results can scarcely get through peer-review before they are dwarfed by still larger-scale studies. In a decade, laser power on commercial-grade LiDARs has skyrocketed and costs have plummeted. These improvements in LiDAR technology allow airplanes to fly faster, higher and farther, covering more forest area in a single day than every ground-based survey that has ever been collected in the history of tropical ecology. To estimate the amount of carbon stored in a 50-hectare tropical forest monitoring plot on the ground—the largest field plot in the world—takes a team of 12 people about eight months: a slog of rain and mud and snakes with tape measures and data log books. Today’s airborne LiDARs can get you to within about 10% of the same carbon estimate in eight seconds.

It is this staggering contrast in scale between LiDAR and fieldwork that led us here: Before this decade is out, we could directly assess the carbon stock of every single square hectare of tropical forest on Earth. We could do it just as well as if we were standing there in the flesh with tape measures in hand. And we could do it for far less than what we have already spent to offset carbon emissions from forests. . . .

It is easy in principle, though logistically nightmarish, to measure carbon in tropical forests. A strict constructionist would cut, dry and weigh the biomass of the world’s forests. But this is a self-defeating enterprise. As a result, it is likely that no one has measured carbon over a single hectare of tropical forest, even with the most detailed field surveys.

Due to the constancy of the underlying measurements, both field and LiDAR data could provide the needed information if they covered every hectare on Earth. But, in the case of field surveys, this is impossible. The surveys that do exist measure a tiny amount of actual forest, and so what might be verified is widely spaced. And to avoid fraud and protect landowners, many governments keep their plot locations secret. Satellite LiDAR data remain sparse, providing only extrapolated, coarse-resolution carbon estimates with very high uncertainties, and there is no prospect of wall-to-wall coverage in the near future. By 2020, airborne LiDAR could give us a direct measurement of 3-D forest structure for every hectare in the tropics: a standardized database from which to build a carbon economy.

Beginning of reading passage footnotes.

Lidar' s uses -

1 Pertaining to the study of changing proportions in part of an organism or body resulting from growth.

2 Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, a program implemented by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Reference - “These Are the Days of Lasers in the Jungle,” ,Joseph Mascaro

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