Apply Knowledge Globally

Studying the cost-effectiveness of LiDAR for forest monitoring in Colombia

WASHINGTON – All countries have the need to accurately monitor their forest resources over time. The expense of ground inventories and high resolution data can be cost prohibitive for developing countries, yet relying solely on freely available satellite imagery is not adequate to meet most countries’ national needs and international reporting requirements. Globally, the Forest Service provides technical support in forest monitoring through the U.S. government’s SilvaCarbon program, coordinated through the Forest Service International Programs Office and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of State. The Forest Service support to SilvaCarbon globally includes trainings in forest monitoring methodologies, as well as technical guidance in decision-making on realistic monitoring methods that will meet a country’s needs.

This July, Kristopher Johnson (former Research Biologist, NRS) conducted a second visit to Colombia to work with Colombian researchers from their Institute of Hydrology, Meterology, and Environmental Studies on the cost-effectiveness of incorporating LiDAR data in to Colombia’s national forest inventory for the purpose of improving forest carbon estimates. Andy Lister (Research Forester, NRS), Chip Scott (retired Manager, National Inventory and Monitoring Application Center, NRS), and Sassan Saatchi (NASA) are providing remote technical support to the project. Specifically, the team is studying how much precision is gained under different scenarios of LiDAR data availability, and comparing this to the costs of LiDAR data acquisition in each scenario. Ultimately this will help the Colombians decide how much to invest in LiDAR data in order to get the desired accuracy in forest carbon estimates, while ensuring that they do not overinvest for their needs.

This kind of scientific collaboration has immediate application for improving forest monitoring in Colombia. Better and more accurate knowledge about forest resources helps countries effectively manage their forests and track forest changes over time.


Example of LiDar imaging. Mobile LIDAR was used to make this image of Glitter Gulch near Denali National Park in Alaska, with some nearby unstable highway slopes. Image courtesy of Oregon State University.