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When Charles Lindbergh carried out the first photographic surveys by air, he could scarcely have imagined the power and the richness of detail that we can see today in images obtained by airborne, laser-based mapping techniques. To take just one example, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) has enabled archaeologists to discover ancient settlements in the Mosquitia region of Honduras whose locations had been completely obscured by the overgrowth of dense rain forest. In this article, the authors, who are also researchers at the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, lay out the intricacies of how LiDAR works and why it is so good at letting us look beneath dense vegetation as well as desert sands, snowpack, and bodies of water.
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