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To map and to manage: lidar in Alaska

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Reshawna Maine

Alaska, with its breathtaking grandeur and wide-open spaces, still holds the mystique of uncharted territory. However, some aboriginal peoples of Alaska are using lidar to drop the shroud of mystery.

Motivated by a desire to map, under- stand, and better manage natural resources, over a dozen international, regional, community-based organizations, and tribal governments in rural southeast­ern Alaskan villages have formed a collaborative partnership, as reported online by Directions Magazine.

A lidar survey of Fairweather Fault, located in southeast Alaska. Courtesy of USGS Department of the Interior/Kate Scharer, USGS


A lidar survey of Fairweather Fault, located in southeast Alaska. Courtesy of USGS Department of the Interior/Kate Scharer, USGS


The partnership will gather and analyze topographical data through the accuracy and fine detail associated with lidar. Traditional maps of this vast wilderness lack the proper detail to portray geospatial data sufficiently.

The resulting data sets will have an extensive range of applications, from hazard mitigation to stream restoration and natural resource conservation to forestry.

The partnership, which began its two-phase project in 2017, employed — in phase one — coarse-resolution interferometric synthetic aperture radar (IFSAR) and quality level 2 (QL2) lidar for multiple data analysis needs. The challenging surveys, conducted from plane and helicopter, penetrated the densely canopied coniferous forest of Prince of Wales Island, covering over 2055 sq mi.

QL1 lidar was also employed to assist U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land management programs to gauge current and future timber availability, analyze fish habitats, and assess geologic hazards and infrastructures. The USFS is a member of the partnership.

Lidar-derived digital surface and elevation models of a stream channel. Courtesy of USGS Department of the Interior/USGS


Lidar-derived digital surface and elevation models of a stream channel. Courtesy of USGS Department of the Interior/USGS


“The second phase of the project was conducted recently, with the lidar results to be tested in the spring of 2019,” said Mike Jackson, director of transportation at the Organized Village of Kake, also a member of the collaborative.

Economies in Alaska are quite literally tied to their land. The Metlakatla Indian Community and the Organized Village of Kake, for example, consist of 1500 residents on remote Annette Island. They rely on the forests, streams, lakes, and ponds for fishing, seafood processing, tourism, and forest products for their principle economic means.

The overall mapping of approximately 2166 sq mi of rural area obtained in this project will provide crucial details about available resources, current and future.

“We are going to be hiring people, both professionals and college students, this summer,” said Joel Jackson, council president of the Organized Village of Kake, “to start working in the field to check out and verify what we see on the lidar. So it’s very exciting to start working on this project.”

The international, regional, community-based organizations, and tribal governments in rural southeastern Alaskan villages made this project economically feasible. The partnership received funding from the U.S. Geological Survey 3D Elevation Program (3DEP), along with the geospatial firm Quantum Spatial Inc.

The shroud of mystery that surrounds the remote reaches of southeastern Alaska has been infiltrated with lidar. But the extensive data sets will give this partnership the information necessary to improve its conservation efforts.


Photonics Spectra
Mar 2019
Lighter Side

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