Mt. Rushmore Faces to Get a Laser Treatment
The stoic faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln will never know what hit them.
This fall, crews from Scotland and California will shoot laser beams at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial as part of a project to create a digital three-dimensional model of the iconic mountain carving from all angles.
The effort, known as laser scanning, will give archaeologists and others the data needed to repair or rebuild the colossal monument in case it is ever damaged by an attack, an earthquake or some other calamity, says Navnit Singh, director of interpretation and education at Mount Rushmore.
"It's revolutionary," Singh says of the technology, pioneered by Ben Kacyra, whose California-based firm CyArk, works to digitally preserve cultural heritage sites using laser scanning.
The digital data collected can be viewed in 3-D images from several vantage points.
The primary reason for the efforts: Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota and other culturally significant sites worldwide are a "narrative of our human history," Singh says, but many are under increasing threats from climate change, war, natural disasters and other perils.
Long list of sites
The Statue of Liberty was among the first major monuments to undergo laser scanning in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, says Richard O'Connor, chief of the National Park Service's Heritage Documentation Programs.
The park service usually combines laser technology, which costs about $100,000, with more traditional methods of measuring and photographing sites to create a lasting record, O'Connor says.
CyArk is working to create 3-D representations of 500 sites around the globe. The company has identified several "at-risk" places including the Acropolis of Athens (threatened by acid rain); Machu Picchu in Peru (excessive tourism); and the French Quarter in New Orleans (flooding), says project director Elizabeth Lee.
The Scottish government has already created 3-D models of Stirling Castle and Rosslyn Chapel, says Scottish Minister of Culture Michael Russell.
Scotland will provide equipment and manpower for the laser scanning of Mount Rushmore, Singh says. It is expected to take two weeks. The 3-D data will later be available on CyArk's website, Lee says.
Ability to do repairs
This month, members of the environmental group Greenpeace climbed up the back side of Mount Rushmore and unfurled a banner next to Lincoln's head, urging President Obama to help stop global warming.
"Say it was something more than a banner, something more malicious," Singh says. "We would have the ability to go back and do repairs" using the information from the laser scanning.
Laser scanning measures the time it takes a laser beam to bounce back off the surface being scanned. The process will be performed at many points all around the carving, Singh says. An airplane also will fly over Mount Rushmore to record the terrain.
Singh envisions using the 3-D images to show students the monument from angles that could not be seen during a typical visit. There is a canyon near the heads, and "we could take them virtually up into the canyon and let them see from the top of Washington's head," he says.
Valerie Krone, a kindergarten teacher at Peach Hill Academy in Moorpark, Calif., spends a week each year teaching students about Mount Rushmore.
"The kids would really love seeing something up close and personal," she says.
Martin reports for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D.