The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory’s (CRREL) Remote Sensing Geographic Information System Center of Expertise (RSGIS CX) is testing a newly engineered automated terrestrial laser scanning system (A-TLS) in Alaska.
The system will help determine how underground permafrost changes the landscapes above by capturing precise lidar laser scans that can detect any gradual caving or sinking of the surface area as a means of assessing and validating satellite-based assets for continuous monitoring of permafrost environments globally.
“The A-TLS is designed to capture high-resolution 3D data from multiple laser scanners for a specific focus area,” said Adam LeWinter, a CRREL research physical scientist and lidar group team lead. “Specifically, the system was installed at our permafrost study site outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, in an effort to capture permafrost subsidence over the course of an Arctic summer and fall season.”
LeWinter says the system was sent to the CRREL Fairbanks Office and installed at the Husky Drop Zone on Eielson Air Force Base by CRREL personnel during the week of May 16t. It will capture 3D scans and imagery every six hours during the summer and fall seasons. The data will be analyzed for surface change in an effort to measure and characterize permafrost subsidence.
The A-TLS has been installed on a 12-foot-tall tower affixed with multiple lidar laser scanners, meteorological sensors and solar panels. The tower, the components used to mount the electronics inside and outside the tower and newly designed Pivoxes — which are a combination of time-lapse cameras and low-cost lidar sensors — were all designed and built by CRREL.
At the heart of the A-TLS, a computer allows for onsite data processing each day, converting the raw lidar point clouds into georeferenced, compressed files. This data can then be reviewed by the research team without the need to physically visit the site and allows the team to remotely conduct any necessary configuration changes as they assess the performance of the sensors. With this capability, the team was able to refine the system operations remotely during the first few days of operation in Alaska.
Another aspect of the project is to establish the effectiveness of the Pivoxes and determine if they can be an inexpensive replacement for in-situ sensors requiring substantial infrastructure, such as pressure transducers used in measuring water levels in rivers and streams.
“A pressure transducer requires a well tube as well as annual calibrations,” said Aaron Kehl, a CRREL mechanical engineer. “Installing a well tube in a river, or near a dam, is difficult and requires significant labor when done correctly and often, is not feasible in remote locations.”
“It’s another means of monitoring the rate at which permafrost is melting or expanding as well as what that means for the active soil layer,” he continued.
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