A false-color image of planted trees. State forest agencies and private plantations use lasers to measure tree health and prevent logging waste.

A false-color image of planted trees. State forest agencies and private plantations use lasers to measure tree health and prevent logging waste.

Image credit: Treemetrics

The environmentally friendly rainbow laser forest

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    Image credit: Treemetrics

    Lasers might not be the first things that come to mind when thinking of the conserving the environment. Nonetheless, they're being used to manage commercial forests more efficiently.

    The false-color image above was captured with a "laser radar" LIDAR (light detection and ranging) system from Irish company Treemetrics. The colors are a 2D representation of 3D data that reveals how dense and straight the trees are. This allows plantation managers to understand how many logs can be harvested from any given tree, and what their quality will be.

    Around 20 percent of potential wood from commercial forests is wasted during harvesting. By combining LIDAR information with data from the European Space Agency's Sentinel satellites, aerial imagery and drone photography, Treemetrics is able to cut that figure down to a tiny fraction. This technology is being used by state forest agencies in 26 countries (and private forest owners) to prevent waste and, as Treemetrics puts it, "deliver more wood from fewer trees."

    The Big Picture is a recurring feature highlighting beautiful images that tell big stories. We explore topics as large as our planet, or as small as a single life, as affected by or seen through the lens of technology.

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