Bolstering Indiana's Sense of Place 

click to enlarge LiDAR imagery of White River's channels, present and past. - COURTESY OF INDIANA GEOLOGICAL SURVEY/THE STATE OF INDIANA
  • LiDAR imagery of White River's channels, present and past.
  • Courtesy of Indiana Geological Survey/The State of Indiana


This image, taken with airborne laser technology known as LiDAR, offers an image of the upper reaches of the East Fork of the White River in Bartholomew County previously unseen by any of its inhabitants.

Whereas aerial photography of the past enabled a two-dimensional view of Indiana's landscape, LiDAR enables its users to determine the topography of the landscape. In this case, cartographers at the Indiana Geological Survey were able to use GIS (geographic information system) software to analyze the elevation data acquired through the LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) imaging project.

The modern river channel, just south of the confluence of the Driftwood and Flatwood Rivers near Columbus, appears as the bold white trail. Older channels are shown in shades of blue, with the oldest - and most shallow - channels shown in progressively darker blue.

"Although this image looks more like art than something that can be used in research, many geomorphologies, geologists and geographers will see past its beauty to the underlying scientific value in floodplain and river channel mapping, paleo-channel development, and fluvial sedimentology of a dynamic channel system," researchers wrote in a caption for the picture, which they used in a recent calendar.

Indiana Geographic Information Officer Jim Sparks certainly sees the potential of the imagery, which looks somewhat like an x-ray of the landscape.

"When that project is complete, we'll have full levee inventory for the first time," Sparks said, adding that the images also help people to understand how many times a river changes course - and how wide-ranging its meanders can be - throughout the course of history.

At the 2014 Indiana GIS Conference, held May 7-8 in Indianapolis, participants in the stateside IndianaMap project discussed the progress to date on the three-year the project to collect LiDAR imaging of the entire state.

The IndianaMap.org website represents the combined efforts of federal, state, local organizations and agencies, and universities to provide a centralized repository of maps and GIS data to help Hoosiers better develop their sense of place and policies toward land use.

The applications of GIS are even more wide-ranging than the White River's historic channel path. Presentations at the GIS Conference covered a variety of subjects, from targeting crime hot spots to mapping the best morel hunting locations.

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Rebecca Townsend

Rebecca Townsend

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Rebecca Townsend served as NUVO news editor from May 2011 to August 2014. During a 20-plus year career, her bylines have appeared in publications ranging from Indiana AgriNews to the Wall Street Journal. Her undergraduate degree is in sociology and anthropology from Earlham College, and her master's is in journalism... more

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