My Experience with LiDAR in the Cabeza Prieta My Experience with LiDAR in the Cabeza Prieta
07 August 2022

My Experience with LiDAR in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

Written by: Kameron Hall

Hello, my name is Kameron. I am an African American male who has traveled from Tennessee to New Mexico to assist the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Southwest District. My work largely focuses on utilizing remote sensing technologies, such as satellite and aerial imagery, within several Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to assist in the USFWS’s management efforts across Southwestern US.  My main project involves using geospatial data, including Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and aerial imagery, to locate orphan oil wells within the region.

As you may have thought, remote sensing and GIS work involves spending large amounts of time performing calculations using specialized software; however, an essential part of remote sensing is the ability to understand your research area beyond remotely sensed data such as aerial and satellite imagery.

A few weeks ago, I went to the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge to assist research and management staff from the US Geological Survey and the USFWS with setting up for terrestrial LiDAR scanning (TLS) and collecting GPS coordinates to form a 3D model on artificially expanded tinajas. Tinajas are natural openings in rock depressions that form temporary ponds (1).

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Image shows artificially widdened tinaja.

This refuge has very little developed infrastructure and is very mountainous. Due to variations in temperature and climate, it is essential for managers to be able to approximate the amount of water currently stored within tinajas across the refuge. Driving to several tinajas can be very time consuming, taking up to several hours travel to a single site. These tinajas need adequate water stores because many native animal species that rely on them as a water source. Managers need to know the amount of water stored within tinajas to effectively plan trips to inspect the water levels or to pump additional water.

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Elevation map of visited tinajas.  Elevation data from GMTED2010. Maps made by me.

This is where terrestrial LiDAR comes in. Terrestrial LiDAR can be used to create 3D models of complex surfaces. This works by sending a laser out to a surface and measuring the amount of time it takes to return (2). The travel time of the reflected laser is used to determine the travel distance of the laser (2).

The LiDAR that was collected from this fieldwork will allow managers to understand the volume of these tinajas as tinaja as well as other important measurements within the interior and exterior surroundings of the tinajas.

This opportunity not only allowed me to better understand the field techniques involved with collecting TLS data, but it has also enlightened me on the some of the conditions and terrain of the areas that I evaluate during my projects in the office. The experience has also been highly enjoyable as I have gained an invaluable experience of working within a team to conduct fieldwork, especially within remote environments. This has been one of my favorite experiences so far within the Hispanic Access Foundation’s MANO program and the USFWS.

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Image taken by me



Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Location: Southwestern Regional Office

MANO Project
is an initiative of Hispanic 
Access Foundation.

P: (202) 640-4342