Thursday, February 15, 2007

LIDAR project in Oregon

I work in the Geographic Information Systems industry, or more to the point, I am a GIS Analyst working for a company that uses that technology in planning and analysis as a part of it’s business model.

With that said, you can imagine that it’s not often that my profession gets brought up in the news very prominently.  Sure, you get fancy maps on the front page to visually aid the reader in understanding news in some region far away from the local area.  Those maps are usually generated with geographic information system software of some sort.  Many media outlets now employ people whose career or training includes GIS.

But an article that specifically talks about the technology only comes around occasionally.  But this week one appeared on the front page of the Oregonian. 

The article is on a project that the state, along with federal and Portland State University geologists to survey parts of Oregon using remote sensing technology to discover and map all the various slides and slide-prone slopes in order to help home owners and home builders assess where the dangers are.

Specifically the technology is called LIDAR (light detection and ranging), which is like RADAR, but uses light pulses instead of radio waves.  The article does a decent job of describing the technology to the lay person, so I won’t go into it here.

The applications for this are numerous, from discovering landslides and ditches to more accurately designing roads through mountainous areas, to inventorying tree canopy and volumes, to studying watersheds with greater accuracy, to analyzing urban areas.  You can get tree and building densities and heights or find drainage patterns in the city that aren’t evident, even from the ground.

It’s an exciting technology, and kudos to the Oregonian for making it a front page extravaganza.

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