The Obama administration is arming cities across the country with lasers to help combat the effects of climate change.
The lasers won’t be used, however, to blast tornadoes to pieces or to zap-flash floods before they devastate a town. Instead, they’ll help spot potential climate change hazards before they become a problem.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Geological Survey announced that it would launch a $13 million 3-D elevation program using light from lasers to create an advanced mapping system that could make it easier to detect potential flooding issues or find ideal spots for wind turbines and solar panels.
The system uses light from lasers to identify the elevation of any point on the map. Experts say the technology is extremely cost effective and could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in savings.
A 2012 USGS report estimated that the monetary benefits from flood preparation alone using this technology, known as lidar, would be somewhere between $295 and $502 million a year.
“It gives us a 3-D picture. That’s what makes lidar a game-changing technology,” Vicki Lukas, the USGS chief of the topographic data services team, told USA Today. She added that USGS has been working with lidar technology for years but this is the first time they’re getting high quality and consistent data from all 50 states.
The maps can do more than detect potential floods. The National Journal reported that USGS used the system to detect a surface rupture in Washington State that led to the redesign of a $735 million suspension bridge. In the future, the data potentially could be used to provide insight on where to avoid building major infrastructure projects that could be at risk from earthquakes and other natural disasters.
This is just the latest among the president’s plans to address climate change. Earlier this year, Obama announced a $1 billion fund to make rural communities more resilient to natural disasters. In another effort, the Bureau of Indian Affairs got a $10 million grant to teach tribes how to develop climate adaptation plans.
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