Wildfire and Water: Grant Awarded to Examine Sedimentation Impacts in Poudre River Watershed

Wildfire and Water: Grant Awarded to Examine Sedimentation Impacts in Poudre River Watershed

poudre watershed location

The Poudre River Watershed is a source for drinking water, recreation, and ecosystem functionality in the Fort Collins, CO area. Source: Coalition for the Poudre Watershed

What is the Poudre River Watershed and why is it important?

The Cache la Poudre River (pronounced “pooh-der” in American English) literally means “hide the powder” in French – the name comes from an instance in which stockpiles of gunpowder were preserved by trappers via burial along the riverside. The river is in northern Colorado and is popular for fishing, as well as hiking and other outdoor activities. To learn more, check out a full exploration of the watershed and detailed overview of how snowmelt impacts the river flow.

The Cache la Poudre River Watershed drains approximately 1,056 square miles above the canyon mouth west of Fort Collins, Colorado. The watershed supports the Front Range cities of Fort Collins, Greeley, Timnath, and Windsor. In an average year, the watershed produces approximately 274,000 acre feet of water. More than 80 percent of the production occurs during the peak snowmelt months of April through July. Fires are huge erosion factors, and they create large amount of sediment that can then get into rivers and impact the quality of drinking water. The region has recently experienced significant wildfires and more are expected, and the Poudre River has already experienced flows of sediment. Fires have already deposited boulders and sediment into the river, but this has been worsened by severe, heavy rains.

a look at the poudre river watershed

How do wildfires negatively impact ecosystems and successful land management?

Large, severe wildfires can have far-reaching adverse effects on ecosystem function, human health, and economic well-being. Wildfires remove vegetation from the landscape and alter surface hydrology, which increase the risk of flash floods and erosion. Following wildfires, increased runoff can transport large amounts of soil, ash, and debris downstream, potentially contaminating water supplies and threatening water infrastructure and the communities dependent thereon.

Fires are huge erosion factors, and they create large amount of sediment that can then get into rivers and impact the quality of drinking water. Norther Colorado has recently experienced significant wildfires and more are expected, and the Poudre River has already experienced flows of sediment. Fires have already deposited boulders and sediment into the river, but this has been worsened by severe, heavy rains.

An award from the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed and American Forests Foundation

Reducing wildfire fuels through forest thinning treatments is a common method for reducing the risk and consequences of wildfire. When treated areas do burn, they tend to do so at lower intensities, which results in lower burn severity is lower and fewer undesirable effects. While these ecosystem dynamics are understood, there is still uncertainty about the actual extent of public benefits gained from wildfire mitigation treatments. For instance, if a thinned area experiences a wildfire, how much was burn severity reduced by the treatment, thereby minimizing the sedimentation of waterways that impacts water quality?

The project proposed by SolSpec strives to address the information gap by measuring and modeling the sediment reduction benefits generated by hazardous fuel forest treatments in the Cache la Poudre watershed. The anticipated deliverables will enable stakeholders to better quantify and communicate returns on investment from forest treatment activities and allocate resources for optimized mitigation benefits to the public.

Who are our partners?

The Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed has a mission to improve and maintain the ecological health of the Poudre River Watershed through community collaboration. They work to achieve this mission by focusing on:

  1. watershed resilience;
  2. river restoration;
  3. forests and fires; and
  4. post-fire restoration.

The American Forests Foundation works on-the-ground with family forest owners, partners, and elected officials to promote stewardship and protect our nation’s forest heritage.

Specific goals for the project

In this grant SolSpec aims to answer two specific questions:

  1. H​ow much sediment are Elkhorn and Lone Pine Creek watersheds contributing downstream under current conditions without a wildfire, and what would the percent change in sediment production under current conditions be after a catastrophic wildfire?
  2. Which areas of the watershed are the highest priority for forest restoration treatments in order to gain the largest benefit in potential sediment production within the Lone Pine and Elkhorn Creek drainages?

This work meets the SolSpec vision to transform data into solutions for a safer and more sustainable planet.

SolSpec Awarded USDA Grant to Improve TWI Measure for Soil and Vegetation Delineation

SolSpec Awarded USDA Grant to Improve TWI Measure for Soil and Vegetation Delineation

Award from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

SolSpec is pleased to announce our pending grant with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Our work with them will focus on creating a new and more comprehensive method for quantifying hydrological processes and soil moisture gradients to be used as a tool in delineating ecosystems, vegetation communities, and soil properties.

topographic wetness index

A glimpse of the topographic wetness index (TWI). Blue indicates wet and brown indicates dry.

Who is USDA Natural Resources Conservation?

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service focuses on improving natural resources and land management. They do this through improving resource conditions, such as soil quality, water quality, water quantity, air quality, habitat quality, and/or energy efficiency. They work with farmers and ranchers to develop conservation plans and implement practices, including water development and vegetation improvements for livestock, improved irrigation systems, and forest management practices that address natural resource concerns on their land. They also promote land management research and data through partnering with federal and state agencies, universities, and professional services to deliver land management information.

What is TWI and how is it used in current land management practices?

 Digital terrain indices to predict soil wetness  generalize topographic variables that drive hydrological processes and are commonly used to help identify hydrological flow paths for geochemical modeling, as well as to characterize biological processes such as annual net primary production, vegetation patterns, and forest site quality” (source). TWI is an excepted analytic for local soil property (biogeochemistry) and ecosystem modeling (vegetation communities and wet land delineations), but limited when implemented over large landscapes. The index is generally extracted from a Digital Elevation Model (DEM), using the specific catchment area (D-infinity specific catchment area) and local hydraulic gradient under steady state conditions represented by local slope angle of the specific grid.

Why is the current TWI model deficient for accurate delineation of soil types?

TWI captures runoff flowing by gravity but fails to consider other factors. For example, locations with similar catchment area and slope can have significantly different soil moisture conditions due to varying characteristics in aspect, terrain, position, temperature, heat, and the soil physical and chemical properties induced by the solar radiation variance. The TWI model is used to simulate soil moisture gradients and/or conditions in a watershed; however, it is limited to steady state conditions. Ecosystems do not exist in a steady state. It does not consider factors, such as different soil moisture conditions due to varying characteristics in aspect, terrain, position, temperature, heat and soil physical and chemical properties induced by the solar radiation variance.To better capture this variability, SolSpec is working to develop an enhanced model.

topographic wetness index

Comparing the traditional topographic wetness index with the SolSpec enhanced topographic wetness index. You can visually see the impact that aspect and terrain plays on the moisture content in the enhanced index.

What is the benefit of SolSpec’s Triangulated Ecological Site Potential Model?

The model is highly dynamic and adaptable, capturing variability at multiple scales while adjusting input weight down network based on individual climatic or topographic driver importance. The weights of these drivers and how they impact the local or network soil moisture gradients can be adjusted based on local knowledge or new data. The resulting surface should prove useful for mapping soil (type, drainage, chemical, and physical properties), soil trafficability, and species- or community-based vegetation distributions. Ultimately, the model will help guide land management and operational decision making. It will aid in the grouping or discretizing landscapes for modeling purposes in CEAP-Grazing Lands, and for establishing ecological site and site group concepts for advancement of ecological site development efforts.

Models and tools of this type have the ability to aid in many unforeseen ways until a specialist determines a need and a use.  For instance the TESP model could prove very useful in fire potential and severity prediction. By examining existing vegetation or forest stand composition and density against the TESP model output, dry hillslopes with high fuel loads could be isolated and prioritized for vegetation treatments, reducing the threat to public health and safety in the wildland urban interface .   

So What?

Land management practices are undergoing a transformation through improved data collection and quality, particularly with drones, and increased processing power and analytics. SolSpec aims to enhance the current data offerings that inform land management plans so that decision makers can make better and more efficient decisions on managing the flora and fauna for which they are responsible.

SolSpec Transforms Risk Assessments for Civil Infrastructure Inspections with New Aerial Data Geoprocessing Platform

SolSpec Transforms Risk Assessments for Civil Infrastructure Inspections with New Aerial Data Geoprocessing Platform

New cloud-based solution improves geohazard risk-assessment and erosion control monitoring with fast, accurate, predictive risk analysis

LAS VEGAS – Oct. 29, 2019 – Today at the Commercial UAV Expo, SolSpec, Inc. announced early access to its flagship aerial analytics and data management platform, a cloud-based geoprocessing solution that transforms aerial data into actionable risk analysis and predictive modeling to empower civil and energy infrastructure owners and operators to identify and mitigate problems at every stage of the asset lifecycle. With industry-leading processing speeds, integrated artificial intelligence, and an intuitive web-based interface for creating, organizing and sharing 2D and 3D maps and models and reports, the SolSpec platform enables fast, accurate geohazard risk monitoring and mitigation.

SolSpec will showcase its software at Commercial UAV Expo Booth 601 and will deliver a Product Preview Presentations at the Exhibit Hall Theater, Wed. Oct. 30 at 1:45 pm.

“We built the SolSpec platform to unlock the unprecedented value that can be created by combining aerial data with ground-based project data,” said Tobias Kraft, founder and CEO of SolSpec. “We’re working with some of the nation’s largest energy infrastructure operators, environmental consulting firms and policymakers to advance our our risk prediction models and analyses to deliver fast, reliable solutions that help solve complex problems involving energy, civil infrastructure, environment and natural resources management. We’re excited to announce a new wave of customer onboarding to the SolSpec platform for accurate geohazard risk monitoring and mitigation.”

The SolSpec platform has been in closed beta for three months, used in conjunction with SolSpec’s recently-released ROW Integrity Management product, a programmatic approach with a suite of tools, analytics and reports currently used by dozens of contractors, surveyors, engineers and pipeline operators in the oil and gas and energy industries. To date, the platform has processed and analyzed over 130 TB of aerial data, collected from over 3 million acres, with millions more planned for the first half of next year. SolSpec is now welcoming a limited number of qualified companies to join the early access program. Interested energy, civil and surveying professionals can apply here.

Geohazards and land disturbances such as landslides, erosion and subsidence, and other mass soil movement pose a threat to critical infrastructure such as pipelines. Through a combination of SolSpec’s drone flight plans and manned-aircraft operations, data collection and advanced analytics powered by SolSpec’s massively-scalable processing engines, operators can detect and predict hazards and gather actionable insights to strategically prioritize mitigation efforts. This proactive approach enables stakeholders to address issues before they become problems, reduce or eliminate the severity of impact, reduce time to respond or repair, and reduce costs, while protecting the environment and public safety.

Key features and capabilities:

  • Supports imagery from airborne sensors including drones, manned aircraft and satellites, and processes multiple data types including photogrammetry, GIS Data and survey data.
  • The company routinely incorporates project-specific data collected by environmental consulting firms to strengthen models.
  • Using high performance cloud computing and spatial clustering the platform is massively scalable, able to process large datasets simultaneously with unprecedented speed and geodetic accuracy — processing imagery in minutes or hours, not days or weeks.
  • Intuitive, easy-to-use web interface allows users to easily create and share interactive maps, models, and reports. The ability to process multiple flights from numerous pilots on shared projects simultaneously allows for efficient, rapid workflows.
  • Secure, redundant and unlimited storage prevents loss and unauthorized access of data.
  • A full suite of industry-specific analysis tools and workflows tailored to the oil and gas industry and civil engineering industries.
  • Streamlined compliance reporting with at-a-glance summaries and regulator-approved reporting documentation, covering projects ranging from a few acres to thousands.

“With SolSpec, we eliminate much of the guesswork from identifying issues that pose the greatest risk to our projects,” said Todd Knapp, Vice President at Hanging H Companies, a pipeline construction company. “Using SolSpec, we can now confidently and accurately predict where and how geohazards, stormwater and erosion could impact assets before they occur, and assess why they occurred after the fact. This means better construction planning, safer operations, fewer incidents and shut-ins, reduced costs and greater confidence for pipeline integrity and safe operations.”

Todd Knapp and SolSpec CEO Toby Kraft will present during the Commercial UAV Expo on “Advancing Pipeline Safety with Aerial Analytics and UAVs,” Tuesday 10/29 at 2:00 pm in Pavilion 3. For more information visit https://www.expouav.com/session/energy-vertical-breakout-session.

The broad commercial release of the platform is expected in the first quarter of 2020.

About SolSpec
SolSpec, Inc. is a leading provider of data analytics to the energy and civil engineering markets. SolSpec’s solution utilizes high-throughput data processing and artificial intelligence algorithms to identify and predict project-based risk for pipeline right of ways (ROW), infrastructure construction and large land development projects. Founded in 2017, SolSpec today works with some of the largest companies in the midstream oil and gas industry. Visit us online at solspec.io.

How Can Big Data Impact Land Reclamation?

How Can Big Data Impact Land Reclamation?

Toby Kraft, Founder and CEO of SolSpec, spoke about “Playing Offense and Being Industry Advocates” at the May 19, 2019 Summit for Reclamation and Construction. The annual Summit, hosted by Huwa Enterprises in Keenesburg, Colorado, is a unique conference where professionals come together to learn, share, and network with industry experts dedicated to protecting the environment.

“So as all good millennials do, I wake up every single day and spend every waking hour engaging with some social media platform,” Kraft opened, introducing the value of big data by drawing a common big data comparison with the advertising world. Social media platforms store extensive information related to their users’ interests, and the massive amount of data generated by millions of users drives much of the backbone of modern marketing.

Why let retail be the main industry that capitalizes on big data? Why aren’t the construction and reclamation and energy industries taking advantage of big data for their projects? These are the questions at the core of Toby’s presentation. Collecting data and providing information from past and current projects can build benefits for all – we can learn from the mistakes others have made and drive future success. “A lot of you are probably thinking ‘Yeah, okay, that sounds utopian,” quipped Kraft.

Big data can empower decision makers in the construction, energy, and reclamation industries and result in safer, more successful projects. But success can only come from working together to improve our industries’ practices. Kraft called on his colleagues at the Summit to remember that “our neighbor’s failure or our competitor’s failure is our failure.” Collaborating and building databases of geographic information doesn’t weaken your company or strengthen the opposition. Uniting our data and sharing information is the approach that will keep our industries strong, because without it our future work is threatened.

Kraft’s vision with SolSpec is not just to identify hazards that already exist. Combining data gathered regarding surface hydrology, soil information, geologic details, and the massive stores of siloed data that runs across the industry and third parties makes it possible to predict future hazards. A prioritized list of current and potential hazards empowers decision makers to prioritize mitigation efforts and resources, and do better work for long-term success and improved community relations.

Diving into real-life scenarios, Kraft highlighted for the audience the value and impact of data-driven solutions in land reclamation and construction. One example was Appalachia, one of the richest areas in natural gas in North America. Recent construction of infrastructure, more in the last five years than in the previous fifty, has resulted in loss of vegetation in deciduous forests. These forests and unconsolidated soils cover the characteristic steep slopes of the region. Big rainstorms in this context can cause mass soil movement and landslides, which compromise local pipelines and assets. Compromised pipeline and right-of-way integrity cause undue risk, environmental damage, and financial loss.

Another example Kraft discussed was California, which is dealing with increased threats from fires. Last year’s Camp Fire burned 150,000 acres, destroyed the city of Paradise, and killed 46 people. The likely cause of the fire was a spark from a utility asset that caught the vegetation near the asset. Data gathered from flyovers and processed with analytics can reveal vegetation encroachment. That information can help direct fire prevention efforts around existing utilities and stop a destructive disaster.

“What could the headlines look like a year from now if we all come together around these issues and we get ahead of it and we play offense? What could the future look like?” asked Kraft. Fewer disasters, increased efficiency, prioritized use of resources, and improved reputations for our industries. To learn more about how Kraft and the team at SolSpec are taking our industries to the cutting edge, go to https://solspec.io.

If you’re interested in attending, sponsoring, or exhibiting at the 2020 Summit, go to www.usareclamation.com for more information.

Why Continuous Monitoring Is Essential to ROW Management

Why Continuous Monitoring Is Essential to ROW Management

An enormous amount of time, energy, and resources are devoted to the maintenance of ROWs. Unfortunately, all of this effort and money can be wasted through improper management. Because of this, it is essential that right-of-way management teams have all the information they need to be successful.

Why is continuous monitoring indispensable to a ROW management plan? Continuous monitoring gives companies the ability to easily track the progress of the project, manage vegetation growth, detect hazards, keep the environment safe, and manage stormwater runoff. Let’s look at why this is important.

Tracking the Project’s Progress

A ROW covers hundreds of miles and the projects they are based around can often take years to complete. These projects must adhere to proposed budgets and timelines. It’s crucial for right-of-way management teams to accurately track the progress of their project, so they know whether they’re on schedule or they need to make changes.

For example, an oil and gas pipeline project uses its ROW to build, operate, inspect and maintain its pipelines. This makes the right-of-way a critical component of laying the pipeline in place as running it is not feasible or even safe if the foundations for the right-of-way are not adequately prepared.

Managing Vegetation Growth

Once the right-of-way is in place, it can be encroached upon by natural vegetation. Managing this vegetation growth is crucial or serious problems can occur.

For example, the EPA found that overgrown trees were the cause of the massive blackouts on August 14, 2003, in both the United States and Canada. These blackouts affected over 50 million people and cost the American economy $7-$10 billion. This entire situation could have been avoided if the trees were simply inspected, cut back or taken down where appropriate.

Keeping the Environment Safe

stormwater management example
Aerial imagery and analysis support detailed reporting required to stay in compliance.

Critical habitat compliance is an integral part of any right-of-way management plan. This helps to keep endangered species from peril and strengthens the local environment around the ROW. It also helps people comply with the FWS, and any other state and local government agencies regulating local wildlife safety.

Continuous monitoring can help the management team immediately identify and rectify any intrusion into nearby endangered species habitats. This keeps wildlife safe from harm and the company safe from litigation.

Managing Stormwater Runoff

Mismanaged stormwater runoff can cause many problems for both the infrastructure found within the rights-of-way as well as the areas surrounding it. Stormwater can pollute local waterways and can cause flooding which can damage the right-of-way, the project found within, as well as the local community.

These floods can become safety concerns and can even open up the right-of-way management team to legal issues. Therefore, many state and federal regulators have strict enforcement procedures managing stormwater runoff.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, for example, asks sites for their specific plans to deal with stormwater runoff. Once these plans are in place, the right-of-way management company must work within these parameters. This is not possible without continuous monitoring of the area.

Detecting Hazards

Other hazards may pose an even greater risk to the ROW. For example, slope degradation can occur which will eventually lead to landslips. According to Access Science, “every year, landslides claim thousands of lives and cause considerable economic damage to buildings, roads, and other infrastructure around the world.”

Landslides can form as a result of human interference as well as natural causes like rainfall and snowmelt. Unstable slope conditions can occur overnight which often makes them difficult to detect before they become a problem.

Continuous monitoring helps reduce this issue as problems can be detected as they form. Once at-risk slopes are discovered, they can be repaired or modified to prevent a landslip event.

This process of continuous monitoring for landslides doesn’t have to be labor-intensive. Hazard detection software can be used to predict where issues are most likely to occur. This software can detect slope grade changes, inspect soils, and predict landslides long before they occur.

How to Continuously Monitor a ROW

Because of how important it is to monitor a right-of-way, you may be wondering how continuous monitoring is accomplished. There are two ways that you can do this. The first is ground-based monitoring systems and the second is aerial monitoring.

Ground-based monitoring is done with trucks, ATVs, and people. Aerial monitoring can be done with planes, helicopters, UAVs, and even satellites.

Ground-Based Monitoring Vs. Aerial Monitoring

In years past, inspectors would have to inspect everything from the ground or from aircraft such as planes and helicopters. Aerial monitoring was expensive but still better than ground monitoring. This was because some areas of a ROW could be challenging to access, and many rights-of-way are hundreds of miles long making them hard to continuously manage without an extensive inspection team.

Aerial monitoring enabled inspectors to cover hundreds of miles in a single day and gave them easy access to areas otherwise difficult to reach. Unfortunately, this was expensive, and still required people to fly the planes and inspectors to sit inside the aircraft.

Today it relies more on technology and airborne vehicles equipped with LiDAR and photogrammetry equipment to make monitoring activities much less labor-intensive. These technologies, combined with advanced prediction and monitoring software, make it efficient and accurate.
stormwater management example
Planting vegetation is one of the many ways to mitigate the movement of earth on pipelines.

What Is the Best Type of Aerial Monitoring System

As discussed earlier, there are a few different aerial monitoring systems that can be used to monitor a right-of-way. Each system has advantages and disadvantages, which we’ll discuss in the rest of this section.

Current aerial monitoring systems include:

Helicopter and Airplane monitoring. It’s expensive, often requiring large amounts of fuel. Monitoring this way can also be inconvenient for local residents and poses higher risks. For example, flying large aircraft near residential areas increases the likelihood of crashing.

On the other hand, airplanes and helicopters can carry heavy monitoring equipment as well as people. This means the instant an issue is detected, people can be dropped off at the site to physically inspect the area.

Satellite monitoring is excellent for covering large areas as it can watch over all of these areas at one time. It also excels in monitoring areas when high wind conditions make this impossible by aircraft.

The drawback to this technology is that it’s costly and can only provide a bird’s eye view of the ROW. This means that hazards such as weak slopes that are located under dense vegetation may never be seen by the satellite.

UAV monitoring, on the other hand, is extremely flexible and can often inspect areas that even small planes and helicopters cannot. It is also a much more cost-effective solution than satellites, airplanes, and helicopters. A multitude of UAVs can be used to monitor large swaths of a ROW for a fraction of what it would cost to monitor these areas with just one plane or one helicopter.

These advantages make UAVs the most efficient and effective type of continuous monitoring a right-of-way can employ. As UAV and detection software technology continues to improve this will become even more evident.

How Are UAVs Used to Monitor ROWs

To demonstrate how UAVs are used to monitor ROWs, we’ll talk about the most critical component of monitoring a right-of-way; the detection and prevention of landslides. Landslides pose a significant safety risk to the people and infrastructure working inside a right-of-way. For this reason, it is vitally important that they are detected before they are triggered.

A landslide occurs when a slope becomes unstable. Heavy rains, snow melts, and even human intervention can cause this instability. Fortunately, this instability can often be seen before it results in a real landslide.

UAVs can detect this instability as it happens by first creating 3D maps of the right-of-way and surrounding areas. Once these maps are created, the UAV will continue to create new maps with each flight. Early detection software can compare these maps to look for any differences.

Upon identifying a potential problem area, a UAV can be sent to take a closer look. It can use photogrammetry to take pictures that human inspectors can examine. This helps speed up the detection process and aids in keeping human inspectors out of harm’s way. It also helps to inform slope repair crews of the dangers and challenges they’ll face during the repair before entering the affected area.

Final Thoughts

With today’s technology, all parts of a right-of-way can be monitored continuously. There are many efficient and cost-effective solutions to meet almost any management plan’s budget constraints. Continuous monitoring should, therefore, be a part of every right-of-way management plan. It is the responsible thing to do.

Since 2016, SolSpec has helped identify possible landslide areas near pipelines. Our company is helping maintain safe pipeline rights-of-way using the latest in landslide prediction models and software.

Aerial Analytics: LiDAR vs. Photogrammetry

Aerial Analytics: LiDAR vs. Photogrammetry

Two of the best land survey methods are LiDAR and photogrammetry. These survey methods can collect more data in a shorter timeframe than any other survey methods.

But what is better, LiDAR or photogrammetry? Before we can answer this question, we have to talk about what LiDAR and photogrammetry really are; and their similarities and differences.

In the next few sections, we will go over what LiDAR and photogrammetry are and how they are used to collect data. We will also address their practical use in the field, as well as the cases in which one might be better than the other.

What is LiDAR?

The acronym LiDAR stands for “light detection and ranging.” Simply put, LiDAR is a laser beam-based technology that uses laser light to help create maps. A laser beam and a sensor are used in conjunction to determine where objects are in relation to the sensor as well as each other.


These LiDAR point clouds are a collection of points that represent a 3D shape or feature

This technology can be mounted on ground-based devices, airplanes, helicopters, satellites, and UAVs. LiDAR use on UAVs is increasingly popular as it is less expensive than using aircraft and satellites, and faster and more efficient than using ground-based tools.

LiDAR system components

Lidar consists of four main components.
The vehicle on which the LiDAR system is mounted, such as a plane, UAV, satellite, or ground based system. This will have the LiDAR unit mounted to it. This is the device that contains the sensor and the laser.

A GPS receiver is also located on the device. This receiver is used to determine not only the latitude and longitude of the objects that are scanned but the altitude as well.

An inertial measurement unit helps to improve GPS receiver accuracy. The unit determines the angle of the vehicle. For example, the inertial measurement unit will keep track of the angle of the plane as it flies over the targeted area.

A computer is used to record all of this data. It records the burst of light that is sent out from the LiDAR system as well as the reflected light energy that is recorded from the LiDAR system. The time that it takes for the light energy to get from the object back to the LiDAR system is used to determine distances and altitudes.

What is LiDAR Used For?

LiDAR technology is used by many different industries and government agencies. It can be used to help predict the weather, create topographic maps, survey water bodies, and even create autonomous vehicle navigation systems.
An example of LiDAR data in use is the NOAA using it to monitor coastlines. This LiDAR data has been made public and is available here.

Another example might be the use of LiDAR data to create a pipeline corridor map. LiDAR data use, in this instance, would help the pipeline company access the terrain to plan construction and maintenance work.
photogrammetry image
This is an example of a photogrammetry output.

What is Photogrammetry?

Photogrammetry uses cameras to create photographs that can be used to create measurements. In essence, it takes 2D photographs and converts them into 3D models.

Like LiDAR, a photogrammetry system can be mounted on ground-based devices, planes, helicopters, satellites, and UAVs. Also, as with LiDAR, UAVs are becoming popular vehicles for photogrammetry systems.

Photogrammetry systems components

A photogrammetry system consists of a few essential parts, they are:

The vehicle to which the photogrammetry system is mounted. A satellite, UAV, helicopter, plane, or ground-based vehicle can be used to carry a photogrammetry system. The vehicle used to carry the system can be as simple as a person with a tripod or as advanced as a satellite in Earth’s orbit. But, nowadays, the most common vehicle for a photogrammetry system is a UAV.

The camera will take photographs from different angles.

The GPS system and inertial measurement unit both work to determine where the camera is and what angle the vehicle and camera are at when these pictures are taken. The computer will store this data or transmit it back to a larger and more powerful server.

A computer. This data will then need to be processed by advanced software to create useful information. Photogrammetry usually requires much more data analysis and detailed maps. Photogrammetry can often take five times as long to create when compared to LiDAR data post production times.

What is Photogrammetry Used For?

Photogrammetry is used to create maps, drawings, and 3D models. Engineers, land surveyors, real estate firms, and many other businesses have found ways to use photogrammetry.

An engineer might, for example, use photogrammetry to help them plan a highway, a railroad, or even a dam. Before starting a new development project, a real estate firm could use photogrammetry to survey a particular piece of land.

Another example would be the use of photogrammetry to create accurate aerial views of pipelines for natural gas. They could then use this data to help keep the gas lines free from growing vegetation or inspect potential landslide hazards.

Advantages of LiDAR vs. photogrammetry

Advantages of LiDAR

Advantages of photogrammetry

Extremely accurate when it comes to surveying an area, especially when collecting data from the ground. Can create full-color 2D and 3D models, whereas LiDAR can only capture data in monochrome.
Captures more data, faster than photogrammetry. When taken from UAVs or other aerial vehicles, photogrammetry systems can often create models more accurately.
Data can be captured in low-light settings, including completely dark environments. This accuracy can also be achieved at a much lower price point. The laser source and detector, timing electronics, mirror, and motor are all more expensive for LiDAR than photogrammetry technology, according to csengineermag.com.
Data can be processed faster into usable information and maps than photogrammetry. According to Geoawesomeness.com, the raw data from LiDAR can be processed in just a few minutes. Comparatively, photogrammetry can take five to ten times longer. Equipment for photogrammetry is lighter than LiDAR. This means a lighter UAV can be used. A larger UAV might need a more experienced operator to fly.

When to Use LiDAR Over Photogrammetry

LiDAR excels in low-light environments and in creating astonishingly precise models. It’s also great to quickly collect and interpret data. This makes it ideal for projects where specific timelines need to be met.

A situation in which one might want to select LiDAR over photogrammetry is in high vegetation survey areas. This is because the vegetation will create shadows and obscure the ground, making it more challenging to collect accurate data using photogrammetry.

An example of this could be the U.S. Forestry Service using LiDAR to monitor a state forest section’s health. In industry, it could be a company using LiDAR to help autonomous vehicles navigate a highway at night.

When to Use Photogrammetry Over LiDAR

Photogrammetry can create full – color maps with images that are much more detailed than those created by using LiDAR. Often at lower prices.

In industry, a mining company may want to use photogrammetry to show the elevation and terrain around a mine or transport route, such as a pipeline or railroad. This information might help prevent natural disasters like floods and landslides.

A government agency may want to create topographic maps that can be used to help with rescue operations. For example, a drone might be sent to an area that is experiencing wildfires. Photogrammetry could be used to map areas that are currently fire-affected to help rescue crews evacuate surrounding areas.

This is not the only area where the government could use photogrammetry. One surprising way in which it is currently being used is in crime scene investigation. They use photogrammetry to quickly create a record of the crime scene so that it can quickly be cleaned up before the investigation is complete. This has become especially helpful in traffic collisions as roads can be reopened without any delays from crime scene investigators.

Final Thoughts

LiDAR and photogrammetry both use some of the same vehicles to collect their data. With the data they collect, they can also create some of the same resources.

These technologies, however, are both very different, and they both have strengths and weaknesses that complement each other. Sometimes using LiDAR data will be more beneficial than using photogrammetry, while other times the reverse will be true. In other cases, you might want to collect data using both of these technologies.

SolSpec uses LiDAR and photogrammetric units mounted to UAVs to inspect gas and oil pipeline pathways. Our fast data gathering and turnaround, as well as the latest in LiDAR and Photogrammetric technologies, facilitate regulatory compliance and environmental safety.