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An eye in the sky like no other, LiDAR can help promote safety and containment of forest fires. Unique from satellite imagery alone, LiDAR can help climate and fire experts understand more about the forest including fuel type, aridity, slope, and density. Understanding how to analyze various landscapes and forest metrics can help specialists predict and manage their lands to promote more predictable outcome of forest fires.

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging)

LiDAR is a remote sensing technology that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to accurately measure variable distances to the earth, or a surface below. Combined with other data, these pulses can create a three-dimensional display of the earth’s surface and cover. Forestry applications using this technology can determine the density and height of understory vegetation, a forest’s structural stage, and measurements such as canopy height, tree height and volume. Combined with topographical information, these metrics can give an idea of how a wildfire may act in a specific area.

Image 1: LiDAR 3D Elevation in RGB

Forest Fires Caused by Powerlines & Vegetation

In addition to assessing the forest and its vegetation, LiDAR can map powerline networks and capture images with great accuracy due to its ability to fly at low altitudes (using drones). Machine learning can be used to build algorithms which can identify with high confidence; irregularities in insulators, utility poles, conductors and other operational equipment in the field that may not be easily accessible by foot. Unfortunately, faulty, or downed lines surrounded by dry vegetation can quickly ignite a fire. Monitoring the clearance between vegetation and lines or the condition of the vegetation surrounding utility equipment is important as we have seen before not having predictive measures in place can be deadly.

Even after wildfire ignition, LiDAR has the capability to monitor and assess smoke polluted atmospheres. A sensor can be handheld or mounted on a land-based vehicle to take ground measurements of rapidly changing conditions from a safe area. Scans can help track smoke particulates and plumes to give us information about changing weather and wind conditions. Combined with temporal measurements from dawn, afternoon, and night; information can be gathered to predict how the wildfire is moving, and at what velocity and intensity.

California Wildfires

This important technology can play a role in our future, especially when it comes to climate change and how catastrophes like this past season’s wildfires in California are becoming more common.  Each year, the fire season manages to start earlier and end later. In 2020, over 4 million acres burned in California in addition to nearly 2 million acres this year alone. By relying on the technology and information that LiDAR can offer, both detection and containment can improve as we utilize the collected information.

The reality with climate change is that more intense and widespread wildfires are becoming normal. This means that wildfires are going to have the potential of destroying many more acres of forests, structures and impact more lives every year.

LiDAR can better inform us how to manage our forests and make positive changes. Interested in learning more about what LiDAR can do for you? Visit our website to find out more about our services and solutions or contact our experienced forestry team to learn how the right technology and applications can help with your business needs.


Blog Written by Jennifer Dvorsky, Forestry Project Coordinator at Leading Edge Geomatics.

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