As part of the New Survey of Clare Island project, an exciting airborne study of the island, funded by the Heritage Council and Mayo County Council, was conducted in May 2007, the results of which are already proving beneficial.
LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) surveys involve the emission of a narrow, high-frequency laser beam towards the earth from an aeroplane. A sensor then records the time difference between the emission of the beam and the return of the reflected signal, giving the distance between the earth and the sensor. Using specially designed computer software, the data are then processed into an accurate three-dimensional model of the ground surface.
Conducted by the Environment Agency Science Group, led by the principal scientist Bob Davidson, the Clare Island LIDAR survey has generated up-to-date and detailed vertical overviews of the existing stock of 250 or so archaeological and architecturally significant locations on the island, providing an important tool for the future management of these sites. The survey has also facilitated the identification of more than a dozen new locations of archaeological interest, illustrating the huge potential that LIDAR offers for archaeological field reconnaissance from the desk. In addition, the island's monuments and archaeological sites can now be placed in a wider landscape context. In particular, information regarding the boundary-plot pattern and ridge-tillage matrix on the island will be particularly important in enriching the understanding of the island's social history in the post-medieval period.
The data set arising from the LIDAR survey will form the basis of a digital repository for the research carried out as part of the New Survey of Clare Island and the original Clare Island Survey of 1911, as well as for other studies relating to the island. The resulting website will make a wide range of data available to the general user, as well as to the academic specialist, allowing unprecedented scope for cross-comparison of data sets across and within a wide range of disciplines.
Work based on this LIDAR survey will remain an invaluable resource for years to come, building on the 100+ years of academic research on this island, facilitating future study and enabling the dissemination of findings to a wider audience in an accessible way. Significantly, in addition to enhancing the work that has already been completed by the New Survey of Clare Island, the LIDAR survey has produced an important record of the island at a point in time, providing a vital baseline for future research and assessment of landscape change.