Airborne Lidar deployed for mapping snowpack depth in Canadian Rockies

Airborne Lidar deployed for mapping snowpack depth in Canadian Rockies

Lidar data from the Canadian Rocky Mountains, captured by Teledyne Geospatial's Optech Galaxy system, is being used to gain critical insights into landcover, snowpack and, most importantly, the water balance on Alberta’s Eastern Slopes.

Led by Dr Chris Hopkinson, principal investigator at the University of Lethbridge, this Government of Alberta-sponsored project aims to significantly advance the understanding and management of water resources in Alberta’s mountainous regions. The snowpack in these mountains is vital for water availability, directly affecting agricultural irrigation and urban water supplies. This research will enhance scientific knowledge and investigate the use of aerial Lidar as an operational tool for resource monitoring, flow forecasting and drought prediction. By comprehending snowpack dynamics and water availability, the Alberta government can implement more sustainable water management practices, preserve ecosystems, support wildlife habitats and ensure a resilient water supply for future generations.

“Airborne Lidar has proved to be a viable method of snowpack depth mapping, sampling and unit imputation over forested and mountain environments,” said Chris Hopkinson. “Lidar data, when processed with terrain information, land cover data and satellite imagery, allows for continuous snow depth imputations. This is crucial for calculating sub-basin-scale snow water equivalent (SWE), which informs water availability and directs management strategies, particularly in the emerging drought situation in Alberta this year.”

Hundreds of millions of measurements

The Optech Galaxy system successfully covered 250km² in one hour, capturing hundreds of millions of individual measurements and producing a high-fidelity 3D model of the mountain slopes. In contrast, traditional manual methods would have collected only a few data points and covered no more than 3km² in the same timeframe. The Lidar approach enabled extensive coverage and provided rich data suitable for large-scale scientific studies.

Malek Singer, airborne product manager, Teledyne Geospatial, commented: “The adage ‘You cannot manage what you do not measure,’ cannot be truer in this innovative application. Downstream communities in Canada and around the world rely on snowpacks as a crucial source of water. We are proud to support Dr Hopkinson and the Government of Alberta in this endeavor and are committed to developing more efficient data-collection tools like the Galaxy and Galaxy Onboard which provide analysis-ready-data faster than any available alternative.”

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