Landslide remediation costs Kentucky more than $10 million each year for infrastructure repair. Sarah Johnson, an assistant professor of physics and geology at NKU, studies landslides and recently discovered more than 100 undocumented events in the state. She received a 2018 CINSAM grant to continue her work in northern Kentucky.
With the help of Dr. Hongmei Wang, she identifies areas where land surface has risen or sunk using high-resolution LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data, a remote-sensing technique that measures the time delay between transmitted pulses of light and their reception to determine elevation.
“By filtering out all of the reflections but the bare-ground surface,” she says, “a digital elevation model (DEM) is created that allows us to effectively ‘see’ a high-resolution image of the ground beneath the vegetation.”
Johnson will use four undergraduate students to map landslides in Kenton and Campbell counties and catalog the data for the statewide inventory. She believes research helps students fully absorb the subject matter.
“It’s the best way for them to experience the process of science—the ideas that don’t work, the problem solving, the surprises—that we don’t always get to experience in classes, where all the kinks have already been worked out.”