Dr. Grant Snitker receives nearly $1M from DoD to advance use of tech in cultural resource management 

Dr. Grant Snitker receives nearly $1M from DoD to advance use of tech in cultural resource management 

Dr. Grant Snitker receives nearly $1M from DoD to advance use of tech in cultural resource management 

Dr. Grant Snitker and Alex Fetterhoff setting up a fuels sampling plot within an archaeological site to accompany terrestrial LiDAR scan measurements.

Dr. Grant Snitker of NMC’s Center for Applied Fire and Ecosystem Science (CAFES), has been granted nearly $1M by the Department of Defense (DoD) through the Environmental Security Training Certification Program1 (ESTCP) for his work on integrating advanced laser scanning and machine learning technology in the management of cultural resource sites. Cultural resources include archaeological sites, historic sites, and traditional cultural properties, including those identified as having important traditional or spiritual values to Tribes or other groups. Dr. Snitker works closely with other archaeologists and land managers in government agencies to identify, preserve, manage and interpret cultural resources, ensuring compliance with relevant laws and regulations. Cultural resource managers perform pedestrian surveys to identify cultural resources and make informed decisions about how to best conserve and protect them for future generations. 

Currently, the logistics, cost and capacity for land managers to complete cultural resource surveys can be impeded by limits on time and resources. However, aerial Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology can increase the speed and efficiency of detecting and monitoring cultural resources over a large spatial scale. LiDAR is a remote-sensing method that uses laser light to characterize vegetation, structures, and measure distances to the earth’s surface from an aircraft or satellite, thereby creating a 3-D rendering of the landscape. Dr. Snitker and colleagues use LiDAR data of known cultural resources paired with terrestrial LiDAR-inventoried fuels data to identify the potential for direct and indirect adverse effects on those resources from wildfire and prescribed fire. 

Historic artifacts impacted by high severity fire during the Caldor Wildfire in 2021 on the Eldorado National Forest, CA.

Identifying these risks can inform pre-fire planning strategies or which sites to prioritize after a disturbance has occurred. While remote sensing technology is becoming increasingly common in cultural resource management, its availability and adoption may be limited by agency budgets, technological infrastructure or availability of staff training programs. It is imperative for agencies like the DoD, which has the largest inventory of federally-managed cultural resources, to have the most advanced tools available when managing such a large portfolio of assets. With this award, Dr. Snitker’s goal is to develop a LiDAR toolkit that is flexible enough to be deployed to any DoD installation with a cultural resource management program, known archaeological sites for model development, and existing aerial laser scanning datasets. The toolkit will aid DoD cultural resource managers in completing surveys, performing long-term monitoring and rapidly identifying fuelbeds that can be hazardous to archaeological sites during fires. 

Example of point cloud characterizations of vegetation and terrain generated from a terrestrial LiDAR unit.

Dr. Snitker will work in collaboration with his CAFES co-Investigators Dr. Claudine Gravel-Miguel, Scott Pokswinski, and Dr. Rachel Loehman of the US Geological Survey. 

More information on the Environmental Security Training Certification Program (ESTCP) and awardees can be found at: https://serdp-estcp.mil/newsitems/details/9af54a44-d44f-4f7a-b67c-4abdfb2dc0a9/estcp-announces-2024-new-project-selections






Top Photo – Dr. Grant Snitker placing a terrestrial LiDAR unit to characterize fuels within an archaeological site.