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3D Virtual Tour of Eastern Idaho’s Water Resources

A narrated movie touring several interesting and important water resources in eastern Idaho using LiDAR imagery, photography, and Google Earth. Produced for the BLM/USFS Eastern Idaho Visitors Center (Deycie Luke (BLM); Harold “Skip” Jones (BLM) and Gretchen Martin (USFS), Idaho Falls, ID).

Watch shorter version of the above video on YouTube.

3D Virtual Tour of the Idaho EPSCoR Raft River Research Site

A narrated movie highlighting the NSF funded study on surface energy balance and water use behavior of cheat grass communities to assess the impact of climate change on the region’s water. Uses Google Earth, photography, videography, and Landsat-based imagery.

The Boise River: From Snow to River to You

This 9 minute video seeks to educate 4th-6th graders about the Boise watershed, where their water comes from, and the many uses of that water in the Treasure Valley. Produced in partnership with the NRCS Snow Survey, Boise WaterShed Environmental Education Center, and Bogus Basin Snow School. Uses LiDAR, GIS data, Google Earth, photography, diagrams, narration, and musical composition.

BCAL and partners awarded $668,000 in grants

Idaho State University geosciences researchers received two grants this fall totaling more than $688,000 to study fuels in shrub-dominated landscapes in the Northwest and to gather remote-sensing data to assess floodplains.

The largest amount—$546,723—is from the Joint Fire Science Program, an interagency research and development partnership between the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The Joint Fire Science Program awarded the money to the U.S. Geological Survey and ISU’s Boise Center Aerospace Laboratory over three years.

The goal of the project, which will focus on lands in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area south of Boise, is to provide land managers with better tools to assess fuel volumes before a fire and how best to manage a landscape after a blaze, said Nancy Glenn, ISU geosciences research professor and BCAL director.

Fuel volume—combustible grasses, shrubs and trees—is calculated by tons of fuel per acre. The higher the fuel volume, the hotter the fire will burn.  ISU’s portion of the project is to characterize the vegetation for fuel inventories by using remote-sensing or LiDAR data and to process the data.

“This project is a great opportunity for ISU students to work closely with the USGS, Bureau of Land Management and Orchard Training Area scientists. It’s also an opportunity for federal agencies to better utilize remote-sensing tools and software for land management,” said Glenn.

The Idaho Department of Water Resources awarded BCAL a $142,000 contract to collect and analyze airborne LiDAR imagery to assess floodplains.  The images will provide precise elevation data, enabling scientists to study floodplains in greater detail and identify flooding hazards.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided funding to IDWR and ISU to monitor several areas in Idaho, including the Priest and Snake River regions. The project also supports the newly formed Idaho LiDAR Consortium led by ISU.

For more information about the grants, contact Nancy Glenn at (208) 373-1819.  To read more about the Idaho LiDAR Consortium, visit

BCAL and INL awarded grant to monitor water resources

ISU INL research team

ISU-INL research team at the ISU Department of Geosciences Lost River Field Station north of Mackay on the Big Lost River near the base of Borah Peak.

Idaho State University’s Department of Geosciences and the Idaho National Laboratory have received an $855,000 federal grant to develop and process remote-sensing technologies that will help communities monitor water resources and vegetation.

This project is a jump-start to the newly established ISU- INL Collaborative Remote Sensing Program to strengthen research at both institutions, including the INL Geospatial Science and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle programs, according to Nancy Glenn, research professor and director of the Boise Center Aerospace Laboratory.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Laboratory-Directed Research & Development Program awarded the three-year grant in October. ISU’s share is $477,000.

Glenn—assisted by ISU graduate students and INL scientists—will spend this year gathering field data using INL’s newest Terrestrial Laser Scanner, a powerful surveying instrument that captures 3-D images of the Earth’s surface using the remote-sensing technology called LiDAR.

LiDAR utilizes laser pulses to determine the distance to an object or surface without coming in physical contact with the object. INL’s TLS captures data in full waveform— meaning that multiple targets or layers of information can be detected through vegetation. This is especially important in mountainous terrain with different densities of vegetation where scientists are interested in both the vegetation and the terrain, said Glenn.

“It’s the newest sensor on the market and one of the first five in the United States,” she said.

Glenn and her research team at INL will use the sensor to monitor vegetation biomass—the amount of vegetation in an area–and develop data processing techniques to apply to water resource management. The monitoring techniques can help scientists determine the structural integrity of dams and levees.

“The partnership with INL provides cutting-edge research opportunities for students and an opportunity for them to work with INL scientists,” said Glenn. “It’s also good for INL because it provides a potential workforce stream and academic and business opportunities for INL’s scientists.”

Lidar-derived carbon estimates in encroaching juniper woodlands

Woody encroachment into shrub steppe and grassland ecosystems is a global phenomenon. Juniper encroachment is one of the most prominent changes occurring in rangelands of western North America. The spatial extent of pinyon-juniper woodlands, the third most common vegetation type in the USA, is documented to have increased by an order of magnitude since the mid-19th century. Juniper encroachment can decrease understory vegetation cover and forage, increase soil erosion, alter soil fertility, and deteriorate wildlife habitat. Intensive land treatments, including prescribed burning and cutting, are commonly performed to reduce woody cover. The consequences of both woody encroachment and intensive land treatments for terrestrial carbon (C) stocks are unclear. Woody encroachment may contribute significantly to the global C sink. Large uncertainties exist, however, in global- and continental-scale estimates due to the coarse-scale of the data and models. Intensive land treatment activities can slow down or reverse the accumulation of C stocks that occurs with woody encroachment.

Juniper tree biomass map

A total of 60,628 individual juniper trees were identified and their aboveground biomass estimated using lidar point cloud data in the South Mountain watershed study area. Biomass amounts ranged from 0kg to 300kg.

Estimates of C accumulation associated with juniper encroachment have varied greatly from -0.11 to 0.22 MgC/ha/yr due to the methods and scale of analysis. Previous optical and multispectral remote-sensing approaches provide only a 2-dimensional measurement of juniper cover change. To improve estimates of aboveground woody C storage, we test a new technique using high-resolution, 3-dimensional lidar measurements of individual juniper trees. In this study, we test an object-based tree crown delineation approach, with segmentation followed by local-maxima to detect individual tree crowns, and compute the metrics from the lidar points within each tree crown area. This approach of computing metrics directly from the lidar point cloud, rather than from an interpolated raster surface, is expected to improve lidar-based tree biomass estimation.

Field-measured tree age data indicate that the western juniper communities in the study area of South Mountain watershed in southwestern Idaho are characteristic of post-settlement expansion communities. Our results indicate that lidar-derived measurements produced accurate estimates of juniper tree height, canopy cover, and density. Furthermore, individual tree and landscape-scale biomass can be quantified with lidar, which greatly extends the ability to accurately classify successional stages of juniper encroachment relative to previous 2-dimensional remote sensing procedures. Our results indicate that above-ground storage of C is enhanced during the transition from phase I to phase III of successional stages of juniper encroachment; phase III can store almost three times the aboveground C as encroachment phase I.


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LiDAR for hydrological studies

An introduction to LiDAR and example of using LiDAR for hydrological studies.

A contribution from above

Inside the Boise Center Aerospace Laboratory in downtown Boise, Idaho State University researchers are monitoring the effects of climate change in Idaho.

They’re poring over vast amounts of data gathered by remote-sensing technologies-the use of sophisticated sensors or cameras that photograph the Earth’s surface from satellites, airplanes and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

“Remote sensing is ideally suited for monitoring the effects of a changing climate,” said BCAL director and ISU geosciences research professor, Nancy Glenn. BCAL, established in 2004, is southern Idaho’s only remote-sensing laboratory.

Remote sensing is like taking a DNA fingerprint of the Earth’s surface without touching it, says Glenn. Thanks to the technology, scientists can monitor changes in glaciers, wetlands, vegetation, soil distribution and greenhouse gas emissions over lengthy periods of time.

NASA-the National Aeronautics and Space Administration-has compiled 30 to 40 years of remotesensing imagery in a public database, an invaluable resource to Glenn and her team. Because satellites are collecting the same information over and over, scientists have the opportunity to obtain a consistent and unbiased view of the data, she explained.

In recent years, Glenn and geosciences research assistant professor, Teki Sankey, along with scientists at the USDA Agricultural Research Service, are using remote-sensing technology to study the effects of climate change on vegetation in the Reynolds Creek Watershed southwest of Nampa.

Ultimately, they’d like to develop methods using NASA satellites to monitor the change in vegetation biomass- the amount of living matter-over large areas of the western United States.

“In Idaho, we are concerned how climate change affects vegetation, habitat and water availability, so we are developing quantitative methods to monitor these changes,” Glenn said.

Glenn’s postdoctoral student, Jessica Mitchell, is using remote sensing to map sagebrush distribution in portions of the vast Idaho National Laboratory site in eastern Idaho, a vibrant habitat for mule deer, grouse, pygmy rabbits and antelope.

Mitchell and her INL research team are mounting hyperspectral sensors on UAVs that weigh about 80 pounds and fly 1,000 to 3,000 feet above the ground.

“We’re looking at nitrogen in sagebrush to determine the nutritional status of the vegetation. Typically, the more nitrogen you have, the healthier the patches of sagebrush, which indicates a better quality habitat for wildlife,” said Mitchell. That kind of information is useful to land managers who want to protect rich wildlife habitats.

Glenn and Mitchell view their research as tools that can help public and private agencies, the corporate and agricultural communities, and recreationists manage lands effectively in the face of a changing climate.

“We want to provide data and information that will help them make the right decisions,” said Glenn.

Source: ISU Magazine

Mapping leafy spurge with field spectroscopy

Jacob mapping leafy spurge in the field

Mapping leafy spurge with field spectroscopy, Swan Valley, Idaho

BCAL has been in forefront of research on mapping leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula L.) and other invasive species in Idaho using various remote sensing techniques.

BCAL graduate students Jessica Mitchell, Jacob Mundt, and Nagendra Singh have written Master of Science thesis on the topic. The results have been presented at several national conferences, as well as published in peer-reviewed journals.

Related Publications

Joel Sankey receives outstanding graduate student award

BCAL doctoral student Joel Sankey received ISU Outstanding Graduate Student award for 2010. A gifted researcher and scholar, Joel grew up with a fascination for the Earth and its resources. “I’ve always been interested in environmental science – how people use water, our impact on the environment, and how we can work to conserve resources,” Sankey said.

Sankey recently completed his doctorate in engineering and applied science. His research involves using remote sensing technology-sophisticated satellite imagery-to study soil erosion on burned range lands in eastern Idaho. The goal is to identify areas that are prone to wind and soil erosion, restore those lands and work to prevent future erosion, says Joel.

“Joel is a truly talented scientist and gifted in both field-based and laboratory analysis,” said his research professor Nancy Glenn. Sankey holds a bachelor’s degree in soils and environmental sciences and a master’s in land rehabilitation from Montana State University in Bozeman. He will pursue postdoctoral studies at ISU.


Virtual tours of eastern Idaho water resources and Mt. Borah quake

Want to learn more about eastern Idaho’s majestic waterways and how they drive the Idaho economy?  Curious about the earthquake that shook Borah Peak in 1983?   Ever wonder about the ground water in your Pocatello neighborhood?

Answers to those questions and dozens more are just an online click away in a series of  3-D videos and interactive maps created by Idaho State University’s Department of Geosciences. The videos can be accessed at

The videos combine standard photography with satellite imagery to illustrate the topography of numerous regions in southeast Idaho, including American Falls Reservoir, Henry’s Lake, Upper Mesa Falls, and Palisades Reservoir.

Satellite images and sophisticated remote-sensing technology called LiDAR, which uses laser pulses to map the Earth’s surface, were combined with Google Earth, said Nancy Glenn, research associate professor and head of ISU’s Boise Center Aerospace Laboratory.

One video—which features natural springs, reservoirs and waterfalls along the Snake River—will soon greet the 30,000 visitors who drop by each year to the Bureau of Land Management/ U.S. Forest Service Visitor’s Center in Idaho Falls.

“Many people ask about the scenic places where they can go,” said Glenn. “We thought it would be an excellent opportunity to point out those areas and explain the importance of water resources within those regions,” she said.

Geosciences student Carol Moore, of Idaho Falls, who led production of the water video, said water is vital to energy production, agriculture, and recreation in Idaho.

Others who worked on the videos were geosciences Assistant Professor Sylvio Mannel, and Sara Ehinger, a geosciences graduate student.

A 3-D virtual tour of the Borah Peak earthquake fault was produced for science classes in Idaho Falls School District #91 and comes with a study guide for students.

Moore noted it’s an excellent tool for school districts that don’t have the funds for field trips.

A third activity—an interactive water quality map exploring the Portneuf aquifer—was produced for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Children’s Outreach Program in Pocatello.

The videos were funded by the community outreach component of a $15 million grant on climate change secured by Idaho’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research and funded by the National Science Foundation.  The five-year grant is shared by Idaho State University, Boise State and University of Idaho.

For more information, contact Nancy Glenn at (208) 373-1819.

Source: ISU Headlines

NOAA funding to develop tools for watershed management

Two Idaho State University geosciences professors—Nancy Glenn and Daniel Ames—are developing high-tech tools to help local communities, agencies, and governments analyze and manage watersheds—vast areas of land that drain into lakes and rivers.

Watersheds are important because they provide water for drinking, irrigation, wildlife, recreation and commerce, said Glenn, Ph.D., who heads the ISU Boise Center Aerospace Laboratory. Ames, Ph.D., is based at the ISU Geospatial Laboratory at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies in Idaho Falls.

Glenn and Ames—assisted by graduate students—will spend the next three years developing sophisticated light detection and ranging tools known as LiDAR to analyze topography, vegetation and soil types in Idaho. U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson secured $340,650 from the Physical Sciences Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to fund the project, which began in October.

LiDAR is a remote-sensing technology that utilizes laser pulses to determine the distance to an object or surface without coming in physical contact with the object.  The lasers are often mounted on aircraft or satellites.

“The beauty of LiDAR data  is that it’s used by most every public entity in the State of Idaho, including state, county and city agencies,” said Glenn, noting the tools will be free for public use.

In addition to watershed modeling, LiDAR can be used to analyze the shape and height of sagebrush to understand wildlife habitat; to determine the height and density of trees to predict fire risk; and to map flood plains to guide decisions on appropriate land use or flood insurance coverage.

To create the software, the ISU team will couple a geographic information system developed by Ames called MapWindow GIS with remote sensing tools developed by Glenn at BCAL.

“This technology will not only elevate ISU’s presence on the national front, but allow land managers in Idaho to use state-of-the-art technology to make better decisions that benefit taxpayers and communities as a whole,” said Glenn.

For more information, contact Nancy Glenn at (208) 373-1819.

Wind erosion research may improve air quality

Drive along I-84 or I-15 in southern Idaho on a windy day, when fields are bare, and you can be smacked head on by a cloud of dust so dense it is impossible to see through.

Dust storms caused by wind erosion are part of the high-desert landscape of Idaho. They’ve led to deadly car crashes on the freeway, damage to rangeland and deterioration of air quality.  So what if there were a way to predict wind erosion and ultimately limit the severity of dust storms?

That’s the goal of two Idaho State University professors and their graduate students, who were recently awarded a three-year, $360,515 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to study wind erosion and its effects on the environment.

The Defense Department may seem like an unlikely source for such funding, but the military wants answers about wind erosion too. It’s a major concern on the battlefields of the Middle East where blowing sand and dust can impede visibility or lead to the transport of bacteria in soil.

“Three out of every four helicopter crashes in Iraq and Afghanistan are caused by helicopter brownout – where the rotors stir up dirt making visibility impossible,” says project director and ISU-Boise geosciences associate research professor Nancy Glenn, PhD, who is based at ISU-Boise.

Glenn points out that the semiarid landscape of Southern Idaho is similar to the fragile desert terrain of the Middle East, making Idaho an ideal location to conduct the research. She and her team will use remote-sensing technology – including light-detecting cameras attached to aircraft – to analyze Idaho’s soil, vegetation and topography without disturbing the Earth’s surface.

“It’s like taking a DNA fingerprint of soil or vegetation,” the scientist says.

On the ground, colleague and associate ecology professor Matt Germino, PhD, will measure the rate at which soil is lost or re-deposited and why. Is it due to climate, moisture or vegetation cover?

The first area researchers will study is the Crystal Fire area north of American Falls Reservoir.

In three years, Glenn and her team hope to develop a model capable of predicting wind erosion and identifying the speed at which soil particles become airborne – a key to helping soldiers control dust on the battlefield or minimize damage to the landscape during training exercises.

That same model could be used to improve Idaho’s air quality, reduce traffic hazards caused by dust storms and assist the Bureau of Land Management with re-vegetation efforts, says Glenn.

For more information, contact Nancy Glenn, 208-345-1994 or e-mail

Source: Idaho State University Headlines