LiDAR will help you look deeper into the ocean

(ORDO NEWS) — Usually, when scientists want to track environmentally important phenomena such as algal blooms, they use satellite photographs. According to researchers at Meige Bigelow’s Ocean Science Laboratory, satellite cameras can usually only “see” at depths of 5 to 10 meters.

In search of a better alternative, Bigelow’s team, led by Dr. Barney Balch, turned to the ship’s LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) devices.

LiDAR devices, which are most commonly found on robots and self-driving cars, work by emitting laser beams and then measuring the exact time it takes light to bounce off any objects. Thus, it is possible not only to detect the presence of obstacles, but also the distance from the user and their contours.

Working with colleagues from another university, Balch’s team used this technology on a 2018 Gulf of Man exploration cruise. As a result, they were able to successfully collect information on the bloom of coccolithophores, which are a species of algae.


The organisms surround themselves with protective calcium carbonate plates that clearly scatter reflected light. Therefore, by analyzing the reflected laser light, scientists were able to establish the presence of algae and in what quantities.

In fact, it turned out that the region has seen the largest flowering of coccolithophores in the last 30 years. Using LiDAR, the observation was carried out three times deeper than in the case of satellite photographs.

Since then, the technology has been successfully tested in the Sargasso Sea and off the coast of New York. It is hoped that LiDAR will eventually allow scientists to quickly, cheaply and easily collect oceanographic data without stopping ships to collect samples from deep water bodies.

The research is described in an article in the journal Applied Optics.


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