Scotland Has an Ambitious Plan for Its Forests, And It Involves Lasers

Lidar systems are used for similar purposes elsewhere

Inversnaid RSPB Reserve, on shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland.
David Tipling/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Never underestimate the capabilities of a high-tech laser. Lidar, a ground-penetrating laser technology, has been used by archaeologists in recent years to learn more about Vikings and Mayans alike, but as it turns out, archaeology isn’t the only scientific discipline where this can come in handy. As The Guardian reports, the Scottish government is exploring a new way to, well, do some exploring — and, yes, lasers will play a part.

Why is Scotland considering a big investment in lidar? It has to do with the potential dangers that climate change and extreme weather could pose to the country’s ecosystems. Lidar could provide a non-invasive way to monitor the status of these locations annually — and, as The Guardian’s Patrick Greenfield writes, it would represent a more accurate and up-to-date method of technology than what is currently used.

A spokesperson for the Scottish government told The Guardian that “the potential for a national natural asset scan” is being looked into. “A pilot study over a single Scottish region is being considered as an opportunity to evaluate the information content of lidar-imagery data, and the appetite for its use across government,” the spokesperson added.

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As The Guardian‘s reporting details, Scotland would not be the first country to take this approach; both Norway and the U.S. have implemented similar systems. New Zealand’s Ministry for the Environment also maintains a database of lidar data on the nation’s forests and soil.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of a minimally invasive method of monitoring the environment and getting a good sense of how at risk one nation’s landscapes might be. We’ll see what Scotland’s next steps are.

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