Westfield State University alumna Anna Therien ’20, and Professors Robert S. Bristow, Ph.D., and Timothy LeDoux, Ph.D., had an article published for a special issue of the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration titled “Innovative Methodologies in Park and Recreation Management Applying LiDAR for Parks and Protected Area Management.” The article details the use of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) remote sensing to assist park managers in the planning and overseeing of the land and to learn about local history.
“Park management is concerned with trails, campsites, wildlife, forest health, and the natural environment,” said Dr. Bristow, professor of geography, planning, and sustainability (GPS). “I’m fascinated with the cultural environment found in parks and protected areas. When I’m hiking in the woods and I come across an old cellar hole, I want to know more about who lived there, what kind of business was there.”
Therien and Dr. Bristow published an article in North America Archaeologist in August 2019 titled “Discovering archaeological landscapes in parks and protected areas.” Therien wanted to address a local project and follow her research interests in geospatial environmental analysis for parks and protected areas. Therefore, she and Dr. Bristow collaborated with Dr. LeDoux, assistant professor of GPS, to research and write a second article that focuses on technology.
LiDAR is a remote sensing technology that enables the user to see what is under the tree canopy or clouds by shooting pulses of light thousands of times a second from an aircraft to objects on Earth’s surface. When the signal reflects, the return time and intensity are measured by the sensors’ interactions with objects on the surface like walls, cellars, and foundations. This information is combined with other data recorded on the aircraft such as altitude and aircraft orientation to create three-dimensional information about features on the ground which are then used to create high-resolution images. The features usually hidden under tree canopies or clouds are measured down to the centimeter. The result is an incredibly precise measurement that can be manipulated in GIS mapping software.
“It’s really about energy,” said Dr. LeDoux. “The light that is being emitted is at a certain wavelength, and how that wavelength interacts with objects it hits depends on the size of whatever is on the ground or in the atmosphere and the wavelength of that energy that is being emitted. For example, when it hits a tree leaf, part of that energy might get bounced back and some of it will go through, and some might hit the branch and get reflected back.”
Although LiDAR has been used to study major archeological sites, Drs. Bristow and LeDoux are interested in more recent local history.
“Once you know it’s there, you decide what to do with the information,” said LeDoux, who is also a member of the West Springfield’s Historical Commission. “It can become part of your town’s history, your national park’s history. Things that are on the ground may have a really strong cultural and historical significance that you didn’t know about so it can now be protected.”
“We find this evidence of human settlement that may be from the 1700s or 1800s,” said Dr. Bristow, “and you do feel like an amateur archeologist or historian. I’m learning about the people that lived in this area and what they were doing 150 years ago.”
Currently, Dr. LeDoux and Dr. Bristow are working on an encyclopedia chapter using LiDAR for tourism, resource planning, and management.
Therien has completed internships at the Harvard Forests, the City of Springfield’s Office of Planning, the Law Office of Jennifer M. Fournier, and the Brown University Police Department.