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Lasers and drones measure up forests

By , 27 February 2015

A laser scan image of the Tasmanian measurement team. Credit: Peter Scarth.

A laser scan image of the Tasmanian measurement team.
Credit: Peter Scarth

Written by Beth Askham

Drones, lasers, planes and liquid nitrogen were all called in to measure the growth of a Tasmanian forest.

Sometimes measurement can be a little more exciting than you might think. Recently, researchers brought together by the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network [TERN] used a range of high-tech instruments to measure 25 square kilometres of Tasmanian forest.

Michael Schaefer from CSIRO spent the week in Tasmania making measurements and says one of the instruments they used, called DWEL, “contains two lasers of different wavelengths that are used to create 3D images of forests in fine detail.” These images provide a permanent 3D record of the forest at different growth stages.

DWEL measures the size and health of forests and individual trees. “This allows researchers to take detailed and precise data on the vegetation structure, right down to leaf level, as well as aiding in placing a carbon storage value on the forest,” says Michael.

One clear and calm morning, a drone flew over the forest and took images of the whole area. Researchers also froze eucalypt leaf pigment samples in liquid nitrogen for storage.

These different measurements combine to help us understand forest growth.

University of Queensland’s Peter Scarth says, “By consistently monitoring and comparing structural and biodiversity indicators across the World Heritage and State forest areas, we can determine the long-term effects of forest management regimes and measure how environmental change is affecting the forest.”

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