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Forest Ecosystem Dynamics Lab Research

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Lidar Data: new science for 3-D environmental monitoring


Unmanned aerial vehicle on the ground


Estimating fuel loads, forest structural properties, and stream habitat using unprecedented high-resolution lidar data

Unmanned aerial vehicle airborne

Project Summary

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has increased the potential for environmental monitoring by collecting low-cost data at high spatial resolution within relatively short timeframes. In addition, the use of lidar remote sensing has improved the characterization of vegetation and topographical attributes of landscapes, and is useful for understanding the dynamics of the Earth’s surface. In this project, we are collecting three unique datasets from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a lidar sensor onboard, operated by our industry partner Alta Science and Engineering. The first product includes spatially explicit fuel load estimates near homes within the wildland-urban interface to assess future fuel treatment effectiveness. The second product will include quantification of forest structural properties, and the third product will establish baseline data for stream habitat. We will develop a workflow for processing these unique data sets into usable environmental monitoring products and increase student participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through data-driven research while establishing several larger research projects for the coming years.


October 20, 2017

  • We finished the field observations and have collected fuel load and forest inventory data on 24 plots.

September 14, 2017

  • We collected the UAV lidar data on the University of Idaho Experimental Forest (for forest metrics) and private property (for fuel loads).

August 24, 2017

  • (Project Start)


Thanks to all who participated in the data collection and to Ben Bright (USFS) for sharing photos.


Lee Vierling (University of Idaho)
Susan Firor (Alta Science and Engineering)
Andy Heitmann (Alta Science and Engineering)
Troy Magney (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)
Marcie Carter (University of Idaho)
Karla Eitel (University of Idaho)
Travis Paveglio (University of Idaho)

Anthony Martinez (University of Idaho)


This work is sponsored by the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium

Industry Partner

The UAV lidar is operated by Alta Science and Engineering.

Field crew preparing unmanned aerial vehicle for take off.