Prof. Shugart and alumni work with LiDAR featured in new book

Department News

Todd Neff, in his new book, The Laser That’s Changing the World, released last week mentions the role of Hank Shugart and two of his now-alumni doctoral students in the Department of Environmental Sciences as early innovators in the use of terrestrial LiDAR in measuring the structure of forests and in archeological reconstruction of sites hidden by forest canopies. LiDAR, standing for Light Detection And Ranging, uses the light bouncing back from a laser emission to measure the three-dimensional shapes of objects, from trees and Mayan ruins. John Weishampel (UVA Ph.D. 1993 and now a Professor at the University of Central Florida) used LiDAR to measure the patterns of large and small trees in forests to understand the carbon released from forests — an essential element of understanding the Earth’s Carbon Dioxide “Budget” and central to understanding greenhouse gasses and global warming. Weishampel and a couple of Archeologist colleagues subsequently applied LiDAR to 3-dimensional mapping of the details of Maya Caracol site in Belize as early as 2007. A second doctoral student in Shugart’s lab (Michael Lefsky UVA PhD 1997 and now a Professor in Colorado State University) went on to use a LiDAR satellite that was originally designed to measure the melting of glaciers to measure for the first-time-ever high-resolution measurement of the height of the Earth’s forests. Forest height is a powerful variable to understand how forests function and Lefsky fused this height information with ground measures and data from other satellites to map the productivity of the world forests