New application: Google Earth to forest mapping
CGP/DICYT The cooperative Agresta and the Fundación Cesefor have developed an application that enables to turn Google Earth into a 3D forest simulator. The demo version, called Forest Up, is available online on the project website and can be downloaded for free. This first version includes 600,000 trees data (European black pine, sandarac tree, etc.) located on a hill in the Cañón del Río Lobos Natural Park (Soria, Spain); data has been collected with Light Detection and Ranking (LIDAR).
As DiCYT was told by Alfredo Fernández Landa, an expert at the Agresta office in Soria participating in the R&D project, the initiative is based on earlier research based on a forest inventory using aerial LIDAR imagery, a laser technology that allows to build a 3D model of the land and to get diverse information. “It was about to explore forest applications of LIDAR technology in order to identify individual trees with sensor data”, he explains.
With this project, also involving Cesefor, they produced databases with hundreds of thousands of trees (number, height, wood volumes, biomass, etc.); the information they considered “interesting for the public portrayed in a simple and visual way with a program used by everyone: Google Earth”.
So Forest Up was developed, an application that can be used to see 3D images with data from these trees, take a virtual walk through the woods, fly over trees and interact with forests. This way, as Fernández Landa explains, the application is able to simulate disturbances, the results of specific interventions or to understand how a forest will look within 10 or 20 years.
In order to use the first demo, you need to register and download a file hosted on the project website. Once installed, the application contains a virtual position and provides information on the features of the forest where the user is located, tree and shrub species, size and development of trees and the degree of competition among them. In addition, it is possible to screen information and to select 3D images of individual trees or forests and to export them to a KML file or Excel. Furthermore, it can display 2D images; in this case each tree is represented by an icon, which allows better performances on slow connections.
According to Fernández Landa, this application is important because “it is a good spreading method of forest natural values; it is also useful to woodland management since it provides information on wood volume and biomass, allows to simulate selvicultural interventions and to understand the evolution of a forest in the future”. Moreover, he adds, it allows to asses forest management, something generally unknown by the general public but essential “to make woodlands diverse and productive elements and to make them better for public use”.
After setting up the first demo, containing data from about 600,000 trees at the Cañón del Río Lobos Natural Park, researchers are to create another one on parks and gardens. The main purposes are: to spread the importance of these green spaces in towns, to portray the different species recorded and their features and to perform 3D tours. Additionally, they want to include more forest demos using other data such as those collected by the Inventario Forestal Nacional (National Forest Inventory).
Forest Up was granted a InnoEmpresa subvention by the Comunidad de Madrid, a support program to innovation for small and medium enterprises.