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Green vegetation (top) and processed image (bottom) of same area showing vegetation as white. Link to photo information
Computer software processes digital images of rangeland to show the green vegetation (top) as white (bottom), enabling scientists to quickly assess erosion risk by measuring ground cover.Click the image for more information about it.

Innovations in Rangeland Monitoring

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
February 10, 2006

Four complementary software programs that provide cost-effective new methods for monitoring vast tracts of U.S. rangelands have been developed by Agricultural Research Service scientists and a collaborator. The custom computer applications are geared to aid land managers in collecting and analyzing rangeland-monitoring data.

Project coordinator and rangeland scientist D. Terry Booth, with the Cheyenne, Wyoming-based ARS Rangeland Resources Research Unit, received funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management. Booth collaborated with ARS biological science technician Sam Cox and Colorado-based independent programming consultant Robert D. Berryman to create the programs.

Light-weight, slow-flying airplanes equipped with a high-resolution digital still camera, a Global Positioning System and computers are used to collect thousands of data images.

The images are then used to measure the risk of soil erosion by quantifying and comparing levels of ground cover over time. Conventional methods, which are time-consuming, require ground crews to collect measurements on foot, using tape measures.

Two of the new software applications, LaserLOG and Merge, are bundled with a database, ImageMeasurement, as an interrelated package. The applications provide accurate image-resolution calculations and adjust for factors that affect object-to-camera distance.

The stand-alone application, SamplePoint, allows technicians to measure bare ground and ground cover, such as vegetation, litter and rock. Each data image contains millions of tiny picture elements, or pixels. SamplePoint helps the user visually classify ground cover using 100 sample pixels for each image. The measurements are then compared with measurements taken from other data images acquired in the same geographic areas over a span of years.

Test studies so far show the innovative aerial process to be efficient and cost-effective for monitoring both dry and wet rangeland areas. Copies of the new applications can be obtained by contacting Booth at

Read more about the research in the February 2006 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.