Geologists have built a new tool to study how earthquakes change the landscape down to a few inches, offering insight into how earthquake faults behave. A team of scientists from the U.S., Mexico, and China reports a comprehensive before-and-after picture of an earthquake zone, using data from the magnitude 7.2 event that struck near Mexicali, northern Mexico in April 2010.

The team, working with the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM), flew over the area with LiDAR (light detection and ranging), which bounces a stream of laser pulses off the ground. New airborne LiDAR equipment can measure surface features to within a few inches. The researchers were able to make a detailed scan over about 140 square miles in less than three days.

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Also: A laser transmitter can be used for precision mapping and remote sensing.