NASA technology monitors wildlife habitats from the air

Two rare species, California spotted owls in the Sierra Nevada and the Delmarva fox squirrel in the mid-Atlantic U.S. have something in common. Using NASA technology, scientists have been able to identify habitats to help forest managers monitor and protect these species and other wildlife.

The recent research shows that airborne laser scanning with Light Detecting And Ranging (LiDAR) can be especially valuable in ensuring that forests and other lands continue to be diverse, healthy, and productive, while still meeting the needs of society and the environment. The study, funded by the NASA/University of Maryland Vegetation Canopy LiDAR (VCL) mission and a NASA Interdisciplinary Science (IDS) Program grant, was published in the June 2005 issue of the journal Remote Sensing of the Environment.

"When we compared the data gathered from the LiDAR, including information on canopy height and cover, to measurements taken on the ground, we found that LiDAR was very accurate, even in extremely rugged mountainous terrain," said Peter Hyde of the Department of Geography, University of Maryland-College Park, and lead author of the study. "The use of such technology is advantageous compared with field-based measurements of forest structure that are very time consuming and often limited by accessibility, resulting in relatively small field studies."

The research flights, using NASA's C-130 aircraft, took place in the Sierra Nevada mountains in northern California in 1999. A unique LiDAR, called the Laser Vegetation Imaging Sensor (LVIS), was used. It was built at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Md., and contains five lasers that send pulses of energy to the Earth's surface. Photons from the lasers bounce off leaves, branches, and the ground and reflect back to the instrument.

By analyzing returned LiDAR signals, scientists receive measurements on a forest's canopy, the layer formed by the leaves and branches of the forest's

Contact: Rob Gutro
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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