Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Airborne Lasers Will Help Scientists Understand Earth's Processes

Scientists are always looking for ways to better understand the Earth's physical, chemical and biological processes and the ways in which they interact. Early next month, airplanes equipped with lasers and high-tech GPS equipment will begin a series of data-gathering flyovers to do just that.

Qinghua Guo, a UC Merced engineering professor, will use a three-year, $935,457 grant from the National Science Foundation to contract flights that will use Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology on the NSF’s six Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs), a project that has already been featured on the Web site of Scientific American.

Guo’s project will provide scientists throughout the CZO system — and, eventually, the public at large — with remarkably detailed, three-dimensional images of the ground, vegetation and other layers that will help lead to greater understanding of erosion, weathering, soil formation, water movement and nutrient transport.

“The goal of the CZOs is to build a network to advance interdisciplinary studies of Earth surface processes and foster collaboration among scientists and engineers from different disciplines,” Guo said. “This LiDAR data will replace the existing data, which is incomplete, outdated and insufficient in resolution and scale.”