Infrared Lasers Assess Forest Vegetation

A Texas A&M University associate professor in the department of ecosystem science and management uses remote sensing and other advanced technology to see individual trees and the overall forest.

Popescu, professor at Texas A&M, uses lidar remote sensing to study trees and entire forests; he monitored the Sam Houston National Forest from 2004 to 2009 and now he is measuring the forest again to see what has changed. There are not many studies that use the multi-temporal lidar remote sensing data sets to see how forests change overtime.

Lidar is similar in operation to radar, but emits pulsed laser light instead of microwaves. Popescu's work involves measuring vegetation canopy height as a basis for estimating large-scale biomass. In East Texas, this information is vital to the timber industry, as well as for protecting the soil and environment, and habitat for wildlife. Understanding the data also helps to mitigate climate effects and protect or improve recreational values.

"With these remote sensing methods, we are better able to assess and monitor forest conditions over time and at various scales," Popescu said.

Popescu is wrapping up one four-year study funded by NASA and has started a new one. Both studies aim at developing algorithms and software tools to process lidar data that can estimate forest biophysical parameters, such as stand density, tree height, crown diameter, volume and biomass.