Mapping a forest fire in infinitesimal detail
November 29th, 2012
09:00 AM ET

Mapping a forest fire in infinitesimal detail

Details of the High Park fire site in northern Colorado – down to the last standing trees and bushes – will become available to environmental rehabilitators in early 2013.

It promises to be the most extensive study of a large forest fire site ever done in the United States providing data for local officials to target their restoration projects to areas most in need.

The High Park forest fire burned over 130 square miles of mostly remote woodland along with over 250 homes this past summer. It's an area so large that until now, it would have been almost impossible to gather data for the whole burn scar.

Late this summer after the fire was out, scientists documented the region from the sky in hopes of targeting the areas most in need of restoration to avoid continuing post-fire problems like erosion, mudslides and contaminated water supplies.

"It's unique," said Schimel, a principal investigator at the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). "We've never had this kind of detailed information before."

The scientists flew over the burn site in August with among other instruments high-resolution camera shooting through the bottom of a Twin Otter plane to take detailed images of the entire fire zone and a LiDAR, a remote sensor that can measures distance by using light, providing scientists with a 3-D representation.

"It is just amazing technology." said Schimel.
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