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  • Picking up the pieces

Photonics Spectra
Aug 2010
Tom Laurin

Science is all about seeking to understand the world around us, studying the way things work so that we can work with them. When something goes wrong in our world, we often turn to science and technology to help us fix it.

In the June editorial, I discussed the ways in which photonics technologies were being deployed to assess and monitor the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. As we produce this issue, the oil has been gushing for 12 weeks, and more sensor and camera systems are being called into service. The US Navy’s MZ-3A airship was deployed recently to observe the area, supporting skimming operations and notifying responders of the presence of wildlife in need of help.

The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti left behind devastation that will take years to fix. Lidar is one of the photonics technologies being used to help in the efforts. Image courtesy of the US Geological Survey.

At press time, BP is preparing to test a new cap that could stop the flow of oil, and photonics technologies such as cameras and sensors will be heavily used to monitor the success or failure of this latest attempt.

Photonics can play an important role in recovering from natural disasters as well as man-made ones such as the oil spill. Earthquakes, for example, can be widely destructive, and those who live in quake-prone regions need to know whether – and where – an aftershock is expected to occur, how likely another temblor may be and which areas of their country stand the biggest chance of being hit.

Airborne and satellite lidar systems can help answer those questions. In this issue, contributing editor Marie Freebody looks at the role lidar has played following the January earthquake in Haiti as well as in assessing the threat of earthquakes and flooding in other areas. “Lidar Reveals Hidden Aftershock Hazard in Haiti” may be found on page 46.

These are just a few examples of ways in which photonics has been employed to help victims of any type of disaster. If you would like to share some more examples, please e-mail them to our managing editor, Laura Marshall, at

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