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Yellowstone Park deploys unique tool to rebuild highways destroyed by flood

Posted at 8:00 PM, Jun 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-27 11:15:45-04

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS - Scientists at Yellowstone National Park are using a unique tool to help them reconstruct the highways demolished by last year’s floods.

It’s called LIDAR, and it uses a laser to let them clearly see the land surface under the trees, water, and other ground cover.

Two years before historic floods wiped out sections of the roads inside Yellowstone’s north and northeast entrances, park geologist Dr. Jefferson Hungerford saw the completion of a project he had long envisioned: the LIDAR survey of Yellowstone’s entire 2.2 million acres.

“What it is, is a pulse of light, laser hitting the ground and being bounced back up to a receiver,” Hungerford said.

Hungerford said that the receiver measures the time it takes for the pulse of light to bounce back and uses that information to reveal the topography beneath the ground cover.

The LIDAR system used in the 2020 survey was 10 times more detailed than older systems, Hungerford said.

“It is gorgeous,” he said, adding that the resulting gigantic files of data produce “a high-resolution topographic map of the ground.”

Hungerford says the 2020 LIDAR survey produced a produced a baseline map, but now scientists can use it to look at events like the June 2022 flood.

This is where the 2020 parkwide survey comes in handy.

“We can go ahead and fly LIDAR again over those areas, and quickly tell us…. How much of that bank did we lose during that event? Where did we move that channel to? Where did we erode away into a big, big cliff?” Hungerford said.

The Lamar Canyon roadway is being closed every night, to allow blasting into the hillside.

Engineers say it is necessary because the rushing river has destabilized the existing road.

Hungerford said surveys will help engineers plan the reconstruction of the road all the way to the northeast entrance to help prepare it for future flood events.