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What is LIDAR and where can I get more information?

Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) is a technology similar to RADAR that can be used to create high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) with vertical accuracy as good as 10 cm.

LIDAR equipment, which includes a laser scanner, a Global Positioning System (GPS), and an Inertial Navigation System (INS), is generally mounted on a small aircraft. The laser scanner transmits brief laser pulses to the ground surface, from which they are reflected or scattered back to the laser scanner. Detecting the returning pulses, the equipment records the time that it took for them to go from the laser scanner to the ground and back. The distance between the laser scanner and the ground is then calculated based on the speed of light.

While flying, the airplane’s position is determined using GPS, and the direction of the laser pulses are determined using the INS. Because one laser pulse may reflect back from multiple surfaces, such as the top of a tree, a house, and the ground surface, there are multiple returns from each pulse that can be used to map such things as the top of the tree canopy, buildings, and the ground.

Post-processing is used to differentiate between these multiple returns to determine the bare-earth surface. Using the combined information from the laser scanner, the GPS, and the INS, very accurate, closely spaced (typically 1 per square meter) X, Y, Z coordinates are determined from which a DEM is be made.


Learn more:

The National Map: 3D Elevation Program

USGS GlovisNEXT Viewer

USGS EarthExplorer

Tags: Remote Sensing, Imagery, Lidar