Government agencies take satellite view of Lake Tahoe
The Union news service
LAKE TAHOE – Satellite technology is helping the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency better protect the Lake Tahoe Basin from some of its most dangerous threats, including wildfire, stormwater runoff and aquatic invasive species.
This past summer, the bistate agency partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey to use $399,000 in Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act (SNPLMA) funds to collect high-resolution satellite imagery of the entire Lake Tahoe Basin.
The agencies also employed the emergent technology LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), which measures structural characteristics of a given landscape, said Jeff Cowen, spokesman for TRPA.
These data sets – covering about 247,000 acres – provide land management agencies and the public with detailed information regarding the status of Lake Tahoe’s ecology and urban interface.
The information will help agencies better plan and implement environmental protective measures such wildfire threat reduction, stormwater runoff mitigation and prevention of aquatic invasive species, Cowen said.
“We are filling a significant gap in what we know about this ecosystem and getting current information about everything from defensible space to invasive species,” said Shane Romsos, TRPA measurement and reporting branch chief.
The imagery was collected using a satellite launched into orbit last fall, said Cowen, providing aerial photography that can reveal hidden landscape features by selecting different color bands.
For instance, the data set gathered for Lake Tahoe contains a color band capable of penetrating water, which the agency will use to map the location and density of aquatic invasive species such as Asian clam and Eurasian watermilfoil.
Basin fire agencies can also use the technology to identify wildfire risk in specific areas, allowing them to prioritize fuel reduction projects and defensible space work, Romsos said.
TRPA also will be able to optimize the location of stormwater treatment facilities to capture fine sediment and nutrients more effectively, Cowen said.
Fine sediment and nutrients are the principal culprits in the reduction of Lake Tahoe’s famed clarity.
LiDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging and is a remote sensing technology that measures structural characteristics of the landscape, such as terrain topography and the vertical configuration of forests. To collect this information, an aircraft was equipped with a laser sensor and flown back and forth over hundreds of transects in the Tahoe region. The laser sensor sends out thousands of light beams aimed at the ground and records the distance between the aircraft and a landscape feature. The result is a detailed three-dimensional image of the landscape.
The data has been collected and is going through post-processing to ensure location accuracy and to guarantee complete basin coverage.
“The initial review of the data is promising,” said project collaborator David Saah, of Spatial Informatics Group. “We found that the imagery is extremely clean with less than 1 percent cloud cover. This will allow for the development of extremely complete and accurate map products.”
– Source: Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
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