Climate change is effecting the Earths landscape much faster than anyone expected. Each new day brings raging forest fires that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, more animals lose their homes due to deforestation, and more major glaciers melt due to raising global temperatures.
If the Earth continues to deteriorate, scientist and researchers will have less time to learn from it’s past, and understand it’s countless mysteries. Two scientists have thought of a way to document the Earth before it completely disappears.
The Earth Archive is a non-profit project spearheaded by Archaeologist Chris Fisher and geographer Steve Leisz. The project aims to create a detailed 3D map of the worlds landscapes as they are today.
“The climate crisis threatens to destroy our cultural and ecological patrimony within decades,” Fisher said during a TEDx talk earlier this year.“How can we document everything before it’s too late?”
The answer, according to Fisher and Leisz is to use light detection and ranging, or Lidar for short. The Earth Archive plan on using an aircraft to shower different landscapes with a dense net of fine lazer beams. Researchers will then measure how long it takes for the beams to bounce back, then combine the results from millions of different beams to create a detailed 3D map of the landscape. The technology works in the same way as driverless vehicles work, scanning the surrounding area to create a detailed map, which the car uses to safely navigate the roads.
The technique of using lidar technology has become far more prominent in the the past decade. Lidar has helped archeologists uncover lost cities in heavily forested parts of South America and Africa, along with previously undiscovered cityscapes in Cambodia. Fisher said the areas they intend on scanning first will be those most at risk of irreversible change, such as the Amazon forest, or costal areas at risk of rising sea levels. Fisher claims it would cost well over R200,000,000 (about $15 million) and two to three years to scan the entire Amazon rainforest.
Such an ambitious project will undoubtably attract skeptics. Mat Disney, a professor at the University of London’s Department of Geography, brought up the logistical issue of getting permission to do detailed mapping over areas like the Amazon Jungle for example. “Who is going to give them permission to fly over Brazil? The Brazilian government aren’t,” Disney said when talking to The Guardian.
He then went on to mention that such an ambitious project would undoubtably draw funding away from other research projects that are already underway.
Image: Wyoming Geospatial Organization