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Hidden New England Landscape Comes to Life

William Ouimet, assistant professor of geography, and Katharine Johnson, a PhD. student, look over old maps of New England. (Photo by Peter Morenus)

William Ouimet, assistant professor of geography, and Katharine Johnson, a PhD. student, look over old maps of New England. (Photo by Peter Morenus)

Assistant professor of geography and geosciences William Ouimet and Ph.D. student Katharine Johnson have successfully combined state-of-the-art remote sensing technology with their mutual appreciation of New England’s rich and varied history to uncover long-lost features beneath the forest canopy that covers the region.

As part of their research into the cultural, climatic, and geological transformation of the region over time, Ouimet and Johnson have gathered images of the towns of Ashford, Conn., Westport, Mass., and Tiverton, RI, that were taken by airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) laser-based scanners. The scanners provide high-resolution, three-dimensional images of topographic and archaeological features that are hidden by the forest, such as stone walls, building foundations, mill dams, and abandoned roads and pathways.

Modern laser-based remote sensing dates from the 1970s, starting with efforts by NASA for atmospheric research and meteorology. With the addition of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in the 1980s that allowed for precise positioning of aircraft, the resolution and quality of LiDAR has improved through the years, and now the technology is regularly utilized by geologists, archaeologists, and other scientists who need detailed topographic information. The quality of currently available images has given researchers such as Ouimet and Johnson access to a trove of information that had previously been difficult, if not impossible, to access.

“Even though we think of New England as being densely populated, there is a lot of forested land for which detailed maps don’t exist,” Ouimet says. “Roads and population centers have shifted and previously occupied land has long been abandoned. It would take an enormous amount of time if we had to go out into these forests and map the land ourselves. Using LiDAR is like surveying on steroids – you can see so much detail immediately, including features as small as two or three feet across.”

Read the full story at UConn Today.


By Sheila Foran


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