HoustonPBS UH Moment: Did LiDAR Uncover the Lost City?

Researchers from the University of Houston’s National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM), a collaborative program between UH and the University of California at Berkeley, routinely take to the skies to better understand the ground below using LiDAR, or light detecting and ranging technology.

“LiDAR is a fairly new technology that sends LiDAR pulses from the airplane to the ground as your plane is flying,” said Ramesh Shrestha, profressor of civil and environmental engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering.

LiDAR planeWith LiDAR, researchers can map remote areas of the world, not easily accessibly by foot. The work being done by NCALM caught the attention of filmmaker Steve Elkins, who asked them to map a remote rainforest in Honduras that may contain the legendary lost city of Ciudad Blanca. The researchers did find evidence of archeological ruins beneath the dense canopy. Shrestha said the team was able to map a vast area of ground in a short amount of time by collecting the data from more than four billion laser pulses.

“This kind of quick, large area mapping showing these potentially man-made features could expedite the understanding of archeology in Honduras in the future,” said Shrestha.  “In my opinion, without using the LiDAR technology, like we did, it could take another generation, if ever, to be done.” 

Is the lost city found? Shrestha said Elkins plans to send another team of scientists, including archeologists, into the area on foot to take a first-hand look at the formation that NCALM was able to map.

“I am hopeful that at least the technology provided the backdrop and essential information for the archeologists to go in on the ground and verify what is there.”