OpenTopography Blog

Information and discussion related to high-resolution LiDAR topography for the Earth sciences

OpenTopography rides along on airborne lidar survey with NCALM

Posted on Wed, November 26, 2014 by Emily Kleber in Research

Recently, an OpenTopography team member had an opportunity to assist NCALM with their Seed grants campaign in October 2014. She was awarded a NCALM student Seed grant in winter 2014 and the data collection occurred in Fall 2014. This year’s campaign included areas of Idaho, Montana, Colorado, California and Utah. Emily had a chance to assist with her own data collection with the NCALM team members in collecting two Seed datasets in Owen’s Valley and the southern San Joaquin Valley.

We met at the Epic Jet center in Bakersfield California on a clear, warm Thursday, October 22, 2014. The airplane had just arrived from Wyoming where there was a slight delay. This airplane had been jumping all over the western US for the last week encountering some weather delays. Leading up to the trip, I experienced the anticipation of data collection and the reality of delays from weather, instrumentation and Canadian customs. This was the first campaign for the new laser scanner, which was built in Canada.

The Navajo Piper plane on the tarmac at Epic Jet Center, Bakersfield, CA

At approximately 10am, the Navajo piper took off from Bakersfield and headed northeast over Sequoia National Park and the Southern Sierra and into Owen’s Valley. The plane tracked around from the high Sierra winds while I marveled at the 180 degree view of the Southern Sierra, Owens Valley and Inyo mountains: a veritable geologist’s playground. We landed at the Bishop Airport around 11am to top off the plane and set up 2 GPS base station (1 second) for georeferencing with a close by Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO) GPS station.

image image
(left) GPS base station set-up at Bishop Airport. (right) Looking north along the Sierra Nevada front

The laser we were using is NCALM’s brand new Optech Titan scanner. It contains 3 lasers: one is green which can be used for both shallow bathymetric and land surveys, one has the ability to take full waveform data, and one is a standard lidar sensor. A pre-planned survey flight path was generated to optimize data coverage for the area specified by the PI. Once the plane, laser, and laptop were running, we took off towards the edge of the Bishop Tuff. The survey was fairly simple, turning the laser on and off with different passing, checking optimum range, and monitoring laser function. We flew less of a lawnmower pattern and instead focused on being efficient in the air by going from line 1 to 7 to 3 and so on.  We flew around the Owen’s Valley ramping between the Sierra Nevada and the White Mountains fronts. Additionally, we flew 3 calibration lines for data processing and calibration. There is already some point cloud data on OpenTopography from this area.

Layout and execution of the Bishop survey

After fueling up at Bishop, we flew back to Bakersfield to set up for the second survey at Wheeler Ridge. The process was essentially the same, except we flew round trip from Bakersfield. The second survey area had a bit more topography, so we had to adjust for range by decreasing the output laser frequency and adjusting our flying height for different survey lines. It was a long but fun day observing and participating in lidar data collection with NCALM. Thanks to the NCALM team for a great day! -Emily

Long shadows as we take a last line on Wheeler Ridge, looking east

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High school summer interns generate OpenTopography user and data analytics

Posted on Mon, September 29, 2014 by Chris Crosby in EducationNewsOpenTopography Updates

This summer three San Diego high school students interned for OpenTopography as part of the Research Experience for High School Students (REHS) program at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UCSD. The students primarily worked on analysis of anonymized user behavior data as well as data usage patterns to identify relationships and trends in OpenTopography system use. A summary of their work was presented in a scientific poster session at SDSC (included below). Some of the students were also featured in a story on the local San Diego CBS news about the internship program.

The interns collectively wrote the following blog post summarizing their REHS experience working on OpenTopography:

By: Rosalle Chen, Poway High; Lobna Allam, Westview High; Alec Wall, University City High

Our first day at SDSC (San Diego Supercomputer Center) started with a REHS orientation session where use interns were informally introduced to each other and to the organizers during registration. The administrative staff organized some activities to better acquaint us with our fellow interns and the UCSD campus. Also we were introduced to the center?s many supercomputers with a machine room tour and has our hands scanned (biometric security) for off-hours building access.

On the second day, we were formally introduced to our mentors, data scientists that worked in the Advanced Cyberinfrastructure Development (ACID) group at SDSC, who were going to guide us for the next two months. They debriefed us on the OpenTopography and Tropical Ecological Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM) projects.

On the third day, we got down to business. Our first assignment was to get familiar with SQL code using online tutorials from SQLZoo and W3Schools. This was followed by learning HTML & CSS from CodeAcademy. After two weeks of familiarizing ourselves with the languages and PostgreSQL database that we would be utilizing in our tasks, we were given data in a CSV file containing de-identified user visit and registration information. We were told to upload the data into PostgreSQL database and utilize our newfound knowledge in SQL to analyze the data, extract the essential relationships, and the graph the resulting patterns we saw in Microsoft Excel. After a few days of working on our first task together (we are a team of three), each of us completed our own graphs. After we each sent them to our mentors, we each were assigned three different tasks that we had to complete over the remaining few weeks.

For our respective first tasks, we analyzed user registrations and site visits, categorized them by domain and country, and observed the impact of meetings, conferences, and dataset releases on the overall user growth in OpenTopography. Site traffic and user visits/registrations were positively affected by dataset releases, especially the SRTM dataset. Additionally, annual geoscience workshops boosted site traffic especially during October and November. Most users yielded from private companies/personal emails and educational facilities.

Our second task consisted of generating heatmaps (hot spot regions that are selected most often) for the SRTM, B4, and Indiana lidar (raster and point cloud) datasets. Our mentors introduced us to Google Fusion Tables and walked us through some of the basic concepts of making and inputting correctly formatted bounding boxes into the table, which allowed us to generate and visualize the heat maps. Analyzing user queries to generate heat maps helped determine more optimal cost-effective storage solutions.

Our third task consisted of creating pivot charts in Excel that analyzed lidar scientific datasets use over time and compared that to the use of popular datasets like Youtube. We noticed that lidar scientific datasets received continued use over time where as a popular data set (non-scientific) such as those of a youtube video receive access in the first days of its release and die off.

As of now, we are entering our last week of the summer internship at SDSC and will be presenting our completed posters to our parents and other groups on Friday. This summer truly was an eventful, fun, and stimulating learning experience at the San Diego Supercomputer Center. The internship helped increase our interest in pursuing careers in the STEM fields.

Click image to view larger

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AGU 2014 Session: High-resolution topography for analyzing Earth-surface dynamics

Posted on Wed, July 30, 2014 by Chris Crosby in MeetingsNews

Members of the OpenTopography team are co-convening a session at the fall 2014 American Geophysical Union Meeting in San Francisco:

AGU Session #3486: High-resolution topography for analyzing Earth-surface dynamics

Session description:
The surface of the Earth is a dynamic interface on which atmospheric, hydrologic, geomorphic, biotic, tectonic, and human processes interact.  The prediction of water, sediment, and nutrient transfer, natural hazard mapping, radiation balance, and biophysical feedbacks that control landscape form and function have been previously limited by the coarse representation of the Earth’s surface. High-resolution topography allows the characterization of many features and perturbations, both natural and anthropogenic, that exert control of mass and energy transfer at a range of spatial scales. We seek contributions that use high resolution topography data (e.g., airborne and terrestrial LiDAR, Structure from Motion, IfSAR) to further our understanding of Earth-surface processes, including how ecologic, hydrologic, geomorphic, and tectonic processes are coupled, how life and landscapes co-evolve, and how environmental fluxes are transported through landscapes.

We are pleased to confirm the following invited speakers for this session:
Nancy Glenn
Edwin Nissen
Francis Rengers
Dimitri Lague

The AGU deadline is fast approaching (06-08-14) and we hope interested individuals will consider submitting an abstract to this session.

Best wishes,
Thad Wasklewicz, Paola Passalacqua, Ramon Arrowsmith, and Christopher Crosby

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Introduction to Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) Short Course at GSA 2014

Posted on Tue, June 17, 2014 by Chris Crosby in MeetingsNewsTLS

The 2014 Geological Society of America Annual Meeting (in Vancouver, BC, Canada, October 18-22, 2014) short course program is now live. For the fifth year in a row, UNAVCO will be offering a one-day introduction to terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) short course. This course has always filled to capacity, so register early if you are interested in participating.

507. Introduction to Terrestrial Laser Scanning (Ground-Based LiDAR) for Earth Science Research
When: Sat., 18 Oct., 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
Where: Centre for Dialogue, ICBC Concourse Level Salon 10
Cost: US$41. Includes lunch.
Instructors: Christopher Crosby, UNAVCO; Marianne Okal, UNAVCO; Carlos Aiken, Univ. of Texas at Dallas Cosponsor: UNAVCO
CEU: 0.8 | Max. class size: 24

Course Description
This one-day course will provide faculty, students, and professionals with an introduction to Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS—aka ground-based LiDAR). TLS provides high-resolution three-dimensional images of geologic features, and has emerged as a powerful tool for applications ranging from outcrop mapping to analysis of earth surface processes. The course will focus on TLS technology, data collection, processing and analysis, and examples of science applications. A combination of lectures and hands-on demonstrations of TLS equipment and data processing will be used. Limited financial support is available for students (see the UNAVCO Short Course Series page at for details).

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GSA 2014, Session T18 - Landscape Records of Earthquake Deformation

Posted on Tue, June 03, 2014 by Chris Crosby in MeetingsNews

GSA 2014 meeting session of possible interest to the OpenTopography community. Via SCEC:

T18, Landscape Records of Earthquake Deformation, at the GSA Annual Meeting 19-22 October, 2014 in Vancouver, BC. The submission deadline is Tuesday, July 29th (

This session will focus on the expanding array of high-resolution topographic data (i.e., lidar) and processing tools that offer new opportunities for analyzing surface deformation along active fault zones. Together with the proliferation and refinement of surface dating techniques, such data sets provide a rich archive of incremental and finite strain during individual earthquake surface ruptures and over multiple seismic cycles. Such records bridge a critical gap between geodetic and geologic records of tectonic deformation and enable distinction among competing models for earthquake behavior. We seek presentations that capitalize on high-resolution topographic, stratigraphic, geomorphic, paleoseismic, and remote sensing records to characterize spatial and temporal patterns of fault slip in active tectonic landscapes.

Invited Speakers:
Eric Kirby – Oregon State University
Kate Scharer – USGS Pasadena
Ed Nissen – Colorado School of Mines

GSA Structural Geology and Tectonics Division; GSA Geophysics Division; GSA Environmental and Engineering Geology Division; GSA Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division; European Geosciences Union Division on Tectonics and Structural Geology

Thank you, and we hope to see you in Vancouver!

Colin Amos (WWU) and Andrew Meigs (OSU), Session Conveners

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Geological and Geomorphological Applications of Digital Terrain Analysis at GSA 2014

Posted on Tue, May 06, 2014 by Chris Crosby in MeetingsNews


Geological Society of America Annual Meeting
Vancouver, B.C, Canada, 19-22 October 2014

Topical Session T128.
Geological and Geomorphological Applications of Digital Terrain Analysis

Carlos Henrique Grohmann, Christopher J. Crosby, Edwin Nissen

Abstracts submission deadline: 29 July

Monitoring and quantification of rates of geomorphic processes requires repeated acquisition of accurate, high­ resolution topographic information. The rapid growth in the availability of Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) such as the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, TerraSAR­X Satellite Mission, ICESat and CryoSat missions, photogrammetric­ derived DEMs from orbital imagery (ALOS, ASTER, SPOT) or from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and laser altimetry/scanning (LiDAR), provide a way to look at the topography of our planet in unprecedented detail, often allowing the recognition of previously unknown features and the establishment of their spatial relationships.

Digital Terrain Analysis (DTA) provides the framework for terrain quantification classification and monitoring, aiming at the recognition and simulation of geomorphic processes. Advances in DTA have impacted areas such as hazard and risk assessment, geomorphologic process evaluation, morphotectonic interpretation, and geophysical data processing.

A first instalment of this session took place during the 2013 GSA meeting. It was well attended and involved a wide spectrum of terrain analysis applications and data collection techniques, such as ground­ based/airborne LiDAR, SRTM, ASTER GDEM and Structure from Motion. We expect this session to build on last year’s momentum and to extend and expand DTA discussions and networking between scientists in this rapidly­ growing field.

This session will provide an excellent opportunity to present and discuss recent advances in methods, algorithms, and applications of DTA to geology and geomorphology.

Altmetrics! help us track the reach of this Call for Abstracts by visiting (and sharing!) it at Figshare:

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Geoscientific applications of HD topography at Japan Geoscience Union meeting

Posted on Thu, January 30, 2014 by Chris Crosby in MeetingsNews

Our colleagues at the Center for Spatial Information Science, The University of Tokyo are organizing a session focused on geoscience applications of high-definition topography at the 2014 JpGU meeting in Yokohama that may be of interest to the OpenTopography community:

The next JpGU meeting will take place in Yokohama, Japan from April 28 to May 2, 2014, and we would like to draw your attention to the session related to high-resolution topographic data:

H-TT08 Geoscientific applications of high-definition topographic data

Along with the technical revolution of topographic measurements including aerial and terrestrial laser scanning, various applications have been performed in geosciences using such high-definition or high-resolution topographic datasets. In this session, we will discuss on acquisition, processing and analysis of high-definition point cloud data and DEMs (digital elevation models) particularly focusing on, but not limited to, terrestrial and aerial laser scanning, photogrammetry, SfM (structure from motion) and multi-beam sonar, through various case studies.

Advance submission close: At 24:00 JST [15:00PM UTC] on 3rd February, Monday, 2014
Final submission close: At 12:00 JST [3:00AM UTC] on 12th February, 2014

Please visit the JpGU website for more information:

Yuichi S. Hayakawa and Hiroshi P. Sato
Center for Spatial Information Science, The University of Tokyo

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PhD Assistantship in lidar feature extraction at Utah State University

Posted on Wed, January 08, 2014 by Chris Crosby in EducationJobsResearch

Via the Gilbert Club email list, a PhD assistantship position at Utah State University working with Patrick Belmont on feature extraction from lidar topography data:

I have an open PhD assistantship for a project focused on feature extraction and analysis of lidar topography data. The student will be involved in an NSF/USGS Powell Center Synthesis Working Group and will have the opportunity to work closely with leaders in the field from across the US and France, including Paola Passalacqua, Jeff Simley, Dennis Staley, Joe Wheaton, Nancy Glenn, Chris Crosby, Steve DeLong, Thad Waskelwicz, David Tarboton, Collin Bode, Ramon Arrowsmith, and Dimitri Lague.

I would appreciate receiving applications by Jan 20, but may consider applications beyond that date for this or other opportunities in my research group. Competitive applicants are expected to have an MS in geomorphology or a related field as well as strong computational skills (proficiency in Python and/or Matlab preferred). 

Utah State University is situated in bucolic Cache Valley, at the mouth of Logan Canyon and just a short drive from the Grand Tetons and the red rocks of southern Utah. The Department of Watershed Sciences has an excellent MS/PhD program spanning Earth-surface processes, hydrology, climatology, limnology, aquatic and riparian ecology and a particular strength in geomorphology, including 4 faculty within our department (Jack Schmidt, Peter Wilcock, Joe Wheaton, Patrick Belmont) and many others across campus (e.g., Joel Pederson, Tammy Rittenour, David Tarboton).  Contact me if you are interested in applying for this position ().

Patrick Belmont

Patrick Belmont, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Watershed Sciences
Utah State University
5210 Old Main Hill, NR 350
Logan, Utah 84322-5210
Phone:  435-797-3794
Fax: 435-797-1871

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Digital Landscapes Sessions at 2014 EGU Meeting

Posted on Fri, December 06, 2013 by Chris Crosby in MeetingsNews

A series of three related sessions at next spring’s European Geoscience Union meeting in Vienna - (27 April – 02 May, 2013) - that should be of interest to the OpenTopography community. All three sessions focus on “Digital Landscapes”, and are part of the “GM2 - Geomorphometry” program group:

GM2.1 - Digital Landscapes: Insights into geomorphological processes from quantitative interrogation and use

We encourage abstracts which concern the exploitation of elevation data for geomorphological analysis. This inter-disciplinary session will highlight developments driving innovation in the exciting uses of digital landscapes (DEM, DTM, or DSM) of the Earth, seafloor or planetary terrains. Much interest is expected in high-resolution DEMs on Earth, but any data source (e.g. laser scanning, SAR, photogrammetry, structure from motion, satellite-derived) is welcome. 

GM2.2 - Digital Landscapes: Insights into geomorphological processes from high-resolution topography

This session focuses on advances in close-range high-resolution surveying technology in the geosciences. These technologies allow geomorphologists and geoscientists to benefit from capturing data at both higher spatial resolution and improved precision to monitor and understand landscape evolution. Special attention is paid to data acquisition, data assessment and data handling related to high-resolution process analysis to discuss new technologies, applications and workflows.

GM2.3 - Digital Landscapes: Insights into geomorphological processes from geomorphological mapping

The session focuses on geomorphological maps. These have played an important role in various fields of geomorphology and the geosciences owing to their predictive power for e.g. soil and geohazard mapping purposes. This sub-session focusses on recent advances in generating, assessing, utilizing and disseminating geomorphological maps at different spatial scales and variable environments.

All three sessions above are PICOs (Presenting Interactive COntents) - PICO combines the best of oral and poster presentations, allowing researchers to stand up be recognized for great research by making an oral contribution as well as discuss their work in detail and network with other participants. More about PICO sessions here:

The abstract deadline for the sessions above is January 16, 2014.

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High-Resolution Arctic Digital Elevation Model Mosaics

Posted on Tue, October 22, 2013 by Chris Crosby in DataNewsResources

Paul Morin, Director of the Polar Geospatial Center at University of Minnesota wrote to let us know about the availability of new high-resolution (2 meter) digital elevation models for parts of the Arctic. The data are photogrammetrically derived from DigitalGlobe WorldView-1 and 2 satellite imagery. Details:

Announcing Open Distribution of High-resolution Arctic Digital Elevation Model Mosaics

The Polar Geospatial Center, in collaboration with the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University, are now distributing seamless, 2-meter resolution Digital Elevation Model mosaics of polar regions constructed using SETSM software developed at the Ohio State University and imagery from DigitalGlobe Inc.’s WorldView-1 and 2 satellites provided by the NGA Commercial Imagery Program. The DEMs are distributed ( in GeoTIFF format as 25 km x 25 km geographic tiles and are browsed and downloaded via a web interface (  Each DEM is accompanied with grids providing, for each pixel, the image acquisition day and an interpolated data mask. The data are downloadable at no cost following registration and use agreement.  Currently, data are available for portions of the North Slope of Alaska and West Greenland. In the coming months, a release will be available providing broader geographic coverage, temporal data, and a robust user interface including programmatic access.  A gallery ( of shaded relief images of the DEMs is available for viewing without registration ( Data update announcements will be sent to registered users.

Why is this data being distributed?
The purpose of these data is to serve as a proof-of-concept for the automatic generation of high-resolution DEMs over large, remote areas. More data will be added to the archive as it is acquired and produced, with the ultimate goal of complete topographic coverage for the Arctic and Antarctic. This initial dataset was produced under NASA award NNX10AN61G to BPRC and PGC as part of the Rapid Ice Sheet Change Observatory ( (RISCO) and distributed under NSF Cooperative Agreement ANT-1043681.

What is SETSM?
The SETSM, or Surface Extraction with TIN-based Search space Minimization (, software was produced specifically for fully-automated terrain processing of large amounts of sub-meter commercial imagery.  The software is still under development and testing and is not currently available for general distribution. Please email Dr. Myoung-Jong Noh () with any questions about DEM processing.

What other elevation data products are available from the PGC?
The PGC currently distributes LiDAR data for the McMurdo Dry Valley region of Antarctica and will be providing other datasets at as they become available.

BPRC Team: Myoung-Jong Noh and Ian Howat
PGC Team: Brad Herried, Claire Porter and Paul Morin

Greenland Ice Sheet, Outlet Glaciers - image from Polar Geospatial Center, UMN

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