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Mapping Houston's vegetation with Lidar technology

Posted by 
Jessica Yang
Jessica Yang
 20 days ago

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HARCresearch/Twitter

Due to difficulties of characterizing vegetation with traditional methodologies at the landscape scale, the complex system of urban and natural features that form the Houston area still has the characteristics of its shrubs and tree canopies, which vary greatly over short distances, unquantified, undescribed, and unmapped.

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Houston is a mosaic of built and natural features.HARC Research blog

However, thanks to the emergence of Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) technology, fine-scale mapping of detailed three-dimensional land surface characteristics, over large-scale geographies, has been made achievable. To study interactions of urban tree canopy with social equity, ecosystem services, a changing climate, the urban heat island effect, and green infrastructure assessment, these high-resolution data are needed.

The technology isn't exactly new. A LiDAR-like system was introduced in 1961 and the word 'lidar' was first mentioned in 1963. The technology was first applied in meteorology. However, it has seen more applications over the years, particularly in the field of ecohydrology. Today, the technology also has applications in various other disciplines, like geodesy, geomatics, archaeology, geography, geology, geomorphology, seismology, and forestry,

This project produced a comprehensive tree canopy assessment by quantifying and mapping spatial differences of vegetation within Harris County. LiDAR then generated high-resolution data layers— including canopy coverage, a canopy height model, canopy density, and a vertical structural complexity index. These data layers were summarized by census tract, and the web-based application 'A Vegetative View: Harris County, Texas' was born.

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From left to right: satellite imagery, shrub/tree canopy coverage, canopy height model, canopy density, and vertical structural complexityHARC Research blog

This project was funded by the Houston Endowment, a private philanthropic institution working across the community for the benefit of the people of greater Houston.