Geo Week News

July 21, 2011

Turns out people do want to scan trees

The other day, Optech announced it had a YouTube channel. Dutifully, I went and checked out. One of the prettier videos posted there involved a 3D spinning tree.

“Pretty,” I thought to myself, “but who’d ever want a 3D scan of a tree?”

Well, ask a hypothetical question, get a real-life answer. Today I stumbled across this project, done with an Optech scanner no less, which involves the laser scanning of historic trees in Auburn, Alabama. Apparently, these trees were poisoned by an evil-doer (it’s really unclear why someone would want to do such a thing). Now, the race is on to save the trees. But, in the meantime, they want a 3D record of the trees for posterity:

Luke Marzen, Associate Professor of Geology and Geography at Auburn said, “We are putting new technology in use in a way that could actually help preserve those trees.” 

Marzen worked with a team from the US Geological Survey Alabama Water Science Center to do a 3D scan of the trees. Using a light detection laser scanner, the result was an exact replica of the famous oaks. 

Marzen said, “You can take a picture of a tree, and you just have a two dimensional picture of a tree, right?  But with this light scan, you get three dimensions, so we can make a 3D model of this tree.” 

And as Horticulturists and other experts do everything they can to save the trees, Auburn’s library is also working to save and preserve the memory of what happened there. 

Pretty cool, right? You can see a slide-show of the scanning work being done here. (I am going to refrain from commenting on the fact that one of the major issues here is “what will the students roll before football games,” meaning what campus location will be covered in toilet paper, since these trees are now sick and off-limits. The “Please Do Not Roll Trees” signs are priceless. I would surely have had to have one of those for the dorm room back in the day …)

Here’s the resultant 3D tree (I’m pretty sure – they’re both oaks – though the video doesn’t explicitly say it’s from the Auburn project):


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