Federal grants will pay for Alaska remote mapping

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A satellite will focus its high-tech eyeball on the Tanana Valley and other areas of Alaska in the coming months.

More than 11,000 square miles of the Interior, including 15 small communities from Northway to Tanana are to be mapped by remote sensors through a $600,000 grant from NASA.

Seven other projects elsewhere in the state also will be launched through National Aeronautics and Space Administration grants ordered by Congress for remote sensor work. In all, $3.5 million will be spent in Alaska.

Among the other projects: a detailed assessment of three species of commercial kelp to develop a harvest plan in Southeast Alaska; 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 deplete aquatic resources 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.

Worum 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 $300,000 grant was awarded to the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks along with a Colorado-based satellite provider.

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

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