News and Notes

A Newsletter for Faculty and Staff of Idaho State University

January 4, 2010 — Vol. 26 No. 1

High—Tech Watershed Management

Nancy Glenn

Two Idaho State University geosciences professors—Nancy Glenn and Daniel Ames—are developing high-tech tools to help local communities, agencies, and governments analyze and manage watersheds—vast areas of land that drain into lakes and rivers.

Watersheds are important because they provide water for drinking, irrigation, wildlife, recreation and commerce, said Glenn, who heads the ISU Boise Center Aerospace Laboratory. Ames is based at the ISU Geospatial Laboratory at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies in Idaho Falls.

Glenn and Ames—assisted by graduate students—will spend the next three years developing sophisticated light detection and ranging tools known as LiDAR to analyze topography, vegetation and soil types in Idaho. U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson secured $340,650 from the Physical Sciences Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to fund the project, which began in October.

LiDAR is a remote-sensing technology that utilizes laser pulses to determine the distance to an object or surface without coming in physical contact with the object. The lasers are often mounted on aircraft or satellites.

“The beauty of LiDAR data is that it’s used by most every public entity in the State of Idaho,” including state, county and city agencies,” said Glenn, noting the tools will be free for public use.

In addition to watershed modeling, LiDAR can be used to analyze the shape and height of sagebrush to understand wildlife habitat; to determine the height and density of trees to predict fire risk; and to map flood plains to guide decisions on appropriate land use or flood insurance coverage.

To create the software, the ISU team will couple a geographic information system developed by Ames called MapWindow GIS with remote sensing tools developed by Glenn at BCAL.

“This technology will not only elevate ISU’s presence on the national front, but allow land managers in Idaho to use state-of-the-art technology to make better decisions that benefit taxpayers and communities as a whole,” said Glenn.

For more information, contact Nancy Glenn at (208) 345-1994.