3D Laser Scanning Services: Odd Lights Turn Out To Be Lidar

U.S. army corps of engineers is doing mapping

Southern California residents are posting online videos showing beams of green light illuminating the sky. The images look like something from an alien invasion movie, so what is going on with the strange lights? The green lights are emitting from aircraft equipped with lidar. The 3D laser scanning services is part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) National Coastal Mapping program operated by independent engineering and consulting firm Woolpert. 

Lidar (light detection and ranging) gives the USACE precise measurements of the coastal waters. 3D scanning services may look unnerving, but the lasers are safe. The distance from the plane to the ground and the short time the lasers scan an area ensure the green lights are not harmful to humans. 

Southern California residents can expect the flights to go on for a while. The King Air 300 Turboprop operated by Woolpert is expected to make several passes to gather the necessary data. While there are some daytime flights, most are at night to avoid heavy air traffic. 

The 3D laser scanning includes the Teledyne Optech CZMIL. The bathymetric system’s sensors can accurately measure and collect data at depths down to around 165 feet. The data includes navigational hazards and information on environmental impacts on coastal communities. 

Established in 2004, the 3D scanning service maps the coastline every five years. The data helps support work conducted by the USACE, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NMOC (U.S. Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command). These organizations use the data to manage flooding, restore native ecosystems, and oceanic navigation. With new information coming in every five years, the data remains accurate as it’s released to the public on NOAA’s coastal website. 

An important part of 3D scanning services is managing shoaling. Shoaling occurs as sediment is deposited in navigation channels. The service tracks any changes to the channels before dredging is necessary. With lidar units becoming more easily portable and less expensive, southern California residents can expect to see more green lights coming from the sky. 

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