ESTCP’s Wide Area Assessment (WAA) Pilot Program explored the use of an integrated suite of airborne and ground-based technologies as a means to streamline the WAA process. Light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and orthophotography were the subjects of this demonstration.

The first phase of the WAA Pilot Program examined three sites—the Pueblo Precision Bombing Range (PBR) site near Pueblo, Colorado; the Kirtland PBR site near Albuquerque, New Mexico; and the Victorville DBT “Y” site near Victorville, California. All three sites were desert bombing ranges with little vegetation and few nonmilitary land uses. A second phase was added to the program, including the former Camp Beale, California, which is more complex than the Phase 1 sites, with more vegetation types, more complex topography, and a wider variety of land uses.


The objective of the demonstration was to document and validate the ability of LiDAR and orthophotography to contribute to the WAA process by: 

  • Identifying munitions response sites (MRS) and individual munitions-related ground features
  • Providing information about the site and the MRS to support future investigation, prioritization, and cost estimation
  • Providing information to support regulatory decisions, including decisions as to requirements for further investigation, institutional controls, or no further action
  • Describing the certainty associated with the initial conceptual site model (CSM) and examining the incremental contributions of each technology to improvements in that certainty.

An additional objective was to develop information about the factors that would affect the cost and performance of both technologies, including the relationship between levels of effort and confidence in conclusions. Performance factors tested included orthophoto and LiDAR data density, flight line orientation, and at the former Camp Beale, preliminary investigation of vegetation effects. Data artifacts and noise effects were observed and documented.

Demonstration Results

Results from all three sites support the general premise of the WAA Pilot Program that LiDAR and orthophotos should be the first technologies to be deployed after completion of the Archives Search Report (ASR) and the initial CSM. At all three sites, LiDAR and orthophotos were successful at revealing and verifying the broad picture of munitions use. LiDAR was very successful at delineating targets and crater fields, along with ambiguous features that warranted investigation. The two technologies complemented each other well, each providing data that the other did not. Both technologies provided base data that were useful for planning subsequent investigation. 

The former Camp Beale site was a logical extension of the WAA Pilot Program to a more complex site. The site was more challenging in at least two dimensions. First, the area had been used for a wider variety of munitions-related activities than the previous sites, including not only bombing ranges but also firing and training ranges. Second, the site was used for a much wider variety of non-munitions-related activities, especially including mining exploration. As a result of both these factors, the former Camp Beale site presented a much wider range of potential features. Nevertheless, the overall objectives of the demonstration were met. 

The demonstration provided information as to the advantages and limitations of these technologies.

Advantages include the following:

  • Rate of coverage of 5,000 acres or greater per day
  • Ability to delineate MRS and munitions and explosives of concern (MEC)-related features Contribution to planning and risk assessment
  • Increased confidence through cross-validation with other technologies
  • Detailed topographic data that can be used in subsequent phases of site investigation, site remediation, and range management.

Limitations include the following:

  • Inability to directly detect munitions or their components.
  • Detection depends on the persistent or continued presence of surface features. Features can be subject to erosion or destruction from human or animal activities. Orthophotos do not contain elevation information.
  • Orthophotos do not “look through” vegetation, and LiDAR point densities will be lower in vegetated areas.

Implementation Issues

At the Kirtland site, two areas of interest were identified using magnetometry that were not detected using LiDAR and orthophotos, presumably because these areas did not leave any indications on the ground surface. However, at the Kirtland and Victorville sites, LiDAR and orthophotos were used to identify bombing targets that had little to no magnetic signature, possibly due to earlier cleanup efforts. In this sense, LiDAR and orthophotos complemented the magnetometer and EMI technologies, and the combination resulted in a higher level of confidence than either separately.

The primary difference between the former Camp Beale site and first phase sites was that at former Camp Beale there were a larger number of features whose origins could not be determined using the LiDAR and orthophoto data alone. The history of mining exploration at the site was particularly problematic since this activity produced depressions that could not easily be distinguished from potential craters. However, the origin of most or all of these features could be resolved with field investigation using handheld magnetometry.

These results emphasize the appropriate use of LiDAR and orthophotos at the beginning of the site investigation process, and the importance of following the use of LiDAR and orthophotos with technologies such as magnetometry and EMI that directly detect munitions components. Since vendors generally offer the LiDAR and orthophotos together, it makes sense to acquire both at future production sites.