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UC Merced professors to study Earth’s processes with airborne lasers

POSTED February 26, 2010 8:34 p.m.
In March, UC Merced professors hope to answer some fundamental questions about the planet’s chemical and biological processes through a series of data-gathering flights.
Airplanes loaded with Light Detection and Ranging lasers and GPS will measure distances to ground vegetation cover and other layers. Computer software will compile the data into a series of 3D images, split up into removable layers. UC Merced staff gave the example of removing a layer of trees to show detailed images of streams and creeks hidden underneath.
Flyovers will take place at the six National Critical Zone Observatories, which act as laboratories for scientists to study natural processes in the Earth’s Critical Zone — the vertical area from groundwater to the lowest layer of the atmosphere. Each CZO intends to use the data differently, but the Southern Sierra CZO intends to see how vegetation affects the melt and runoff of snow
The project is headed by UC Merced School of Engineering professor Quinghua Guo, with the help of fellow professor Roger Bales, director of UC Merced's Sierra Nevada Research Institute. The flyovers will be funded with a three-year, $953,457 grant from the National Science Foundation, made possible by federal stimulus dollars.

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