About TLSRCN

The Terrestrial Laser Scanning Research Coordination Network (TLSRCN) is a funded project of the US National Science Foundation, supported by the Instrument Development for Biological Research (IDBR) program

Title of Award:

RCN-IDBR: Coordinating the Development of Terrestrial Lidar Scanning for Aboveground Biomass and Ecological Applications

Award Period:

1 April 2015 – 31 March 2020

Public Award Summary:

An award is made to Boston University supporting a Research Coordination Network to develop a simple, low-cost, tripod-mounted terrestrial laser scanner that can rapidly survey a forest stand and automatically provide an accurate measurement of the amount of aboveground biomass contained within the stand. By carefully-designed sampling, often incorporating aircraft and/or satellite images, these measurements can be used to provide estimates of biomass, and change in biomass with time, over large areas of forest. Such information is essential for studies of the carbon cycle and measurement of mitigation of anthropogenic increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide. A second network activity identifies and develops other new applications of this and similar laser scanners in forest ecology and related fields. The research network includes researchers from the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, and other nations who are presently working with commercial and research-built terrestrial lidar scanners to study vegetation and forest ecology. Network activities include workshops to bring lidar builders, users, and ecologists together; smaller technology developer’s meetings; exchanges of graduate students or researchers between laboratories; and laboratory and field standardization and intercomparison activities.

Broader impacts of this work include encouraging the participation of underrepresented groups through a summer internship, thus serving the broader goal of diversity in practitioners of science. One to three graduate students will be trained in the rapidly developing field of terrestrial laser scanning, providing skills and experience that will help move research and commercial technology forward. Moreover, a widely-available lidar biomass scanner could be the key to better assessment of carbon inventory and monitoring at regional and coarser spatial scales. This would make an important contribution to global carbon management and, in turn, help reduce human impact on climate.

Scientific Abstract

Overview

We propose a research coordination network (RCN) that will enhance the development of terrestrial lidar scanning (TLS) with two primary goals: (1) development of a simple, low-cost lidar scanner that will provide accurate estimates of above-ground forest biomass for carbon modeling and monitoring procedures; and (2) development of a range of new ecological applications for TLS, based on rapid forest structure measurements and 3-D reconstructions of forest plots and stands.

A terrestrial lidar scanner is a portable device that mounts on a surveying tripod and scans the environment around it with laser light pulses. By sensing pulse-scattering events, such as hits to leaves, branches and trunks in a forest, measurements of forest structure are obtained as well as a three-dimensional picture of the forest around the scanner. Terrestrial lidar scanners are widely used in commercial and civil engineering applications, but are only now being applied to scanning of natural environments.

Goals

  • Our first goal is build, test, and demonstrate a low-cost (<$20K USD) scanner that can be deployed in a systematic way to provide aboveground biomass estimates of forests of many types and descriptions in a semi-automated fashion. The prototype should be capable of migrating to industrial production with a partner small or large business.
  • Our second goal is to develop, demonstrate, and publish at least five well-defined new ecological applications of terrestrial laser scanning using existing commercial and/or research-grade scanners.

Activities

The proposed coordination relies on five types of activities:

  • workshops to bring lidar builders, users, and ecologists together;
  • smaller technology developer’s meetings;
  • exchanges of graduate students or researchers between laboratories;
  • laboratory and field standardization and intercomparison activities; and
  • meetings and teleconferences of our Steering Committee.

The coordination activity will act within the Terrestrial Laser Scanning International Interest Group (TLSIIG), a newly formed association of environmental researchers working with terrestrial lidars, and guide these researchers toward the two goals above.

Steering Committee

The Steering Committee for our coordination activity includes:

  • PI Alan Strahler and Co-Investigators Curtis Woodcock and Lucy Hutyra (Boston U.),
  • Crystal Schaaf (U. Massachusetts Boston),
  • Supriya Chakrabarti (U. Massachusetts Lowell),
  • Mark Danson (Salford University, UK),
  • Martin Herold (Wageningen University, The Netherlands),
  • Michael Schaepman (University of Zurich),
  • Jan van Aardt (Rochester Institute of Technology),
  • Mat Disney (University College London),
  • Alex Held (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia),
  • David Orwig (Harvard Forest, Harvard U.), and
  • Stuart Phinn (U. Queensland, Australia).

The committee combines lidar technology developers with ecologists guiding the way to applications and researchers who are knowledgeable about, and participating in, the international efforts to measure and model the terrestrial carbon cycle with the aim of mitigating climate change.

Intellectual Merit

Tools that allow researchers to see natural phenomena in new ways and at new scales have always led to development and refinement of theory and models, thus providing pathways to contribute to new scientific knowledge. For example, 3-D reconstructions of forests lead to better understanding of the light environment in forest canopies and to refinement of radiative transfer theory in complex media. Better and more accurate measurement of aboveground biomass at fine scales leads to new insights in the carbon metabolism of forests. In this way, our work a contribution with significant intellectual merit.

Broader Impacts

Although our budget is small, we hope to have a significant social impact by encouraging the participation of underrepresented groups within the our community, serving the broader goal of diversity in practitioners of science. Moreover, a widely-available lidar biomass scanner could be the key to better assessment of carbon inventory and monitoring at regional and coarser spatial scales. This would make an important contribution to global carbon management through programs like REDD+ and, in turn, help reduce human impact on climate.