I just love this story. A long time ago, before ScienceBlogs
even existed, people were out there in the wild, searching for a bird
called the ivory-billed woodpecker.
Now we learn that NASA is getting involved. At first, I
thought this would be some kind of spy satellite thing. But,
no, there are using the Laser
Vegetation Imaging Sensor instead. (Why didn’t I
think of that?)
Scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight
Center, Greenbelt, Md., and the University of Maryland used
NASA’s Laser Vegetation Imaging Sensor (LVIS) onboard the
aircraft. The instrument uses lasers that send pulses of energy to the
Earth’s surface. Photons of light from the lasers bounce off leaves,
branches and the ground and reflect back to the instrument. By
analyzing these returned signals, scientists receive a direct
measurement of the height of the forest’s leaf covered tree tops, the
ground level below and everything in between.
“LVIS is aiding this search effort far beyond what aircraft photos or
satellite images can provide in the way of just a two-dimensional
rendering of what’s below,” said Woody Turner, Program Scientist at
NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. “The laser technology gives us the
third dimension, enabling us to better assess the complex vegetation
structure the plane flies over.”
So Woody is looking for a woodpecker. I wonder if his
colleagues joke about that sometimes?
The LVIS is a type of lidar (Light Detection and Ranging,
or Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging) which is
similar to radar, except it uses light instead of radio waves.
has a pretty good explanation of the technology.
The idea is that they will be able to generate a map of vegetation
patterns, which they hope will help them narrow down the areas to
The reason I like this kind of thing, is that it shows how different areas of science can complement each other.