Mapping plan includes Southeast kelp beds

Posted: Thursday, August 02, 2001

FAIRBANKS - A satellite will focus on Southeast Alaska waters this year to assess three species of kelp to help develop a commercial harvest plan.

Other areas, including more than 11,000 square miles of the Interior, also will be mapped by remote sensors through grants from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ordered by Congress. In all, $3.5 million will be spent in Alaska.

Among the other projects: a high-altitude review of land formations to analyze potential untapped placer gold mining reserves in Northwest Alaska; a review of hazardous dead tree stands from spruce bark beetle infestation on the Kenai Peninsula; and a search for lost or discarded driftnets on the high seas, which can catch fish and other marine life for years.

The high-resolution imagery project in the Interior, which is also to involve airplane-mounted cameras, is being overseen by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources in cooperation with Tanana Chiefs Conference.

The department has long wanted to use the technology to map vegetation and identify potential wildlife hazards, according to Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, who chairs the state Telecommunication Information Council. The data also can be used to inventory utility locations, airstrips, docks and trails, Ulmer said.

Many of the topographic maps of the Interior rely on data collected in the 1950s. State officials said the addition of current high-resolution information can be particularly useful for disaster response programs and search-and-rescue operations.

"There may be a lot of spinoffs for this project," said Gordon Worum, a DNR cartographer.

He said the high-resolution images can help the agency identify threats such as a large amount of flame-prone black spruce near cabins or residential areas.

The money will become available in September. Worum said he hopes the project can begin this fall.

Ulmer's office worked with a 25-member scientific review committee to evaluate proposed projects.

One will give three-dimensional imaging of 11 Alaska mountain passes to improve aviation safety. The passes, which have combined for over 75 accidents since 1970, include Thompson Pass, Mentasta Pass, Isabel Pass, Anaktuvuk Pass and Atigun Pass.

The digital imagery to be produced from the satellite data is to be used for simulations in flight-training schools.

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