OpenTopography Blog

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

Category: Resources

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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United States Interagency Elevation Inventory

Posted on Wed, November 21, 2012 by Chris Crosby in DataResources

A common question we receive at OpenTopography is ”do you know if there is lidar available for location xxx?”. Typically, when we get this question I refer people to the OpenTopography Find Data page (an increasingly rich source for lidar data) and this page of links to online sources of lidar. But, there are large amounts of data collected by federal, state, and local agencies that can be hard to track down.  Earlier this year, NOAA and the USGS, in collaboration with FEMA, released the United States Interagency Elevation Inventory which is meant to be a clearinghouse for “high-accuracy topographic and bathymetric data for the United States and its territories”. The site does not host data, but it provides metadata and links to dataset sources. As you can see from the screen-cap, there is an impressive amount of high-resolution topography data available if you know where to look:


The elevation inventory was completed in May 2012, and will be updated annually. Although relatively comprehensive, it is not complete, and it currently lacks many datasets collected for the academic community by NCALM and available through OpenTopography. It is also worth noting that the data shown in the Elevation Inventory are highly variable in terms of resolution, quality, data products available, coordinate systems, metadata, etc. Remember, all lidar are not created equal. Regardless, the site is a great resource for anyone trying to determine if there is data available for their location of interest, and goes a long way towards making it easier to locate datasets collected by federal, state and local agencies.

More details from the US Interagency Elevation Inventory site:

The U.S. Interagency Elevation Inventory displays high-accuracy topographic and bathymetric data for the United States and its territories. The project is a collaborative effort between NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey, with contributions from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

This resource is a comprehensive, nationwide listing of known high-accuracy topographic data, including lidar and IfSAR, and bathymetric data, including NOAA hydrographic surveys, multibeam data, and bathymetric lidar. This inventory was completed May 2012 and will be updated annually.

The information provided for each elevation dataset includes many attributes such as vertical accuracy, point spacing, and date of collection. A direct link to access the data or information about the contact organization is also available through the inventory.

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Measuring Earthquake-Generated Surface Offsets from Lidar

Posted on Sun, August 07, 2011 by Chris Crosby in ResourcesTutorials

David Haddad, a PhD student at Arizona State University and one of the most frequent users of OpenTopography, recently sent along a PDF document that he has prepared on his recent work using lidar data accessed via OT to constrain meter-scale offsets along strike-slip faults in southern California.  David’s document provides an overview of the workflow involved in calculating surface slip offsets using LiDAR-derived DEMs and is a nice tutorial on how to access data from OT.  An introduction to the document provided by David:

High-resolution digital topographic data products such as LiDAR-derived digital elevation models (DEMs) provide unprecedented insights into the geomorphic response of earthquake-generated surface deformation. By measuring meter-scale offsets of geologic and geomorphic markers, we can understand the surface slip history associated with recent earthquake ruptures, their spatiotemporal distributions, magnitudes, and recurrences. Surface offsets also facilitate physical constraints on surface slip distributions, thus providing physical guides to earthquake forecast models such as the Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities‘ (WGCEP) Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecasts (UCERF).

In collaboration with the University of Oregon’s Neotectonics lab, the Arizona State University active tectonics, quantitative structural geology, and geomorphology lab is building a database of surface offsets measured using LiDAR datasets, among other data. The goal of this database is to (1) assess how surface offset measurement techniques compare with each other, (2) collect most recent event (MRE) data and the “best” slip rate estimates in a manner that makes them accessible to the scientific and engineering communities via web-based products (e.g., Google Earth kmls), and (3) build a comprehensive understanding of “what’s out there” as far as what data are available (and what are not) to help construct geologically sound fault, deformation, and earthquake forecast models.

Measuring earthquake-generated surface offsets from high-resolution digital topography (PDF)


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LiDAR 101 Video

Posted on Thu, April 01, 2010 by Chris Crosby in EducationResourcesVideo

I just stumbled upon this LiDAR 101 video, produced by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at University of Georgia, while Googling for something else.  In ~13 minutes, it does a nice job of summarizing LiDAR technology, data products, the costs associated with acquiring data, and various applications.  It is worth a watch if you are looking for a quick crash-course in LiDAR or need a video to show in the classroom:

Are there other good introduction to LiDAR videos out there?  Leave a comment if you are aware of others.

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Geomorphology: Understanding earth surface processes from remotely sensed digital terrain models

Posted on Tue, January 19, 2010 by Chris Crosby in PublicationsResources

I’m a bit late on this, but the December 1, 2009, Geomorphology special volume: Understanding earth surface processes from remotely sensed digital terrain models, edited by Paolo Tarolli, J Ramon Arrowsmith and Enrique Vivoni is an excellent collection of papers related to the study of geomorphic processes with terrestrial laser scanning, airborne lidar, and satellite-based topographic remote sensing. 

Ramon kindly provides a link to the volume’s preface for those who are interested.

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Canaan Valley Institute offers LiDAR acquisition and processing at cost to academic researchers

Posted on Fri, May 01, 2009 by Chris Crosby in DataNewsResources

I received this message from Paul Kinder at the Canaan Valley Institute (CVI) regarding their ability to provide LiDAR and digital imagery data acquisition and processing at cost to academic researchers and institutions.  More information about CVI’s LiDAR program can be found at

Canaan Valley Institute (CVI) , a non-profit, non-advocacy, organization established in WV in 1995 is pleased to announce the availability of airborne LiDAR and digital imagery data acquisition and processing at cost to academic researchers and institutions.  In 2005, CVI obtained and modified a Piper Navajo twin engine aircraft to accommodate an Optech Airborne Laser Terrain Mapper (ALTM) with an integrated Applanix DSS 4k by 4k digital camera.  Over the past four years CVI has surveyed over 2 million acres producing bare earth DEM (15 cm vertical accuracy), all points terrain models, 1 – 2 ft contours, floodplain mapping, wetland mapping, forest mapping, etc.  CVI utilizes these systems and equipment in support of research, education, and technology transfer primarily relating to Appalachian water quality, stream restoration, and landscape ecology.  In an effort to maintain these systems for future use and promote the overall sustainability of the program, CVI is reaching out to academic partners to make these resources available virtually at cost, which is significantly below the cost in the private market.  Finally, consistent with its mission CVI envisions the use of these resources and data to promotion economic and environmental sustainability in our nation’s watershed. 

Contact:  Paul Kinder, Director of Science and Technology, Canaan Valley Institute
304-678-7200 mobile, 304-291-5320 Morgantown, WV Office,

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GEON Cyperinfrastructure Summer Institute for Geoscientists

Posted on Wed, April 29, 2009 by Chris Crosby in NewsResourcesWorkshops

For the 6th year in a row, GEON will be hosting the Cyberinfrastructure Summer Institute for Geoscientists at San Diego Supercomputer Center, August 10-14.  Of particular interest to the OpenTopography community, CSIG ‘09 will feature a day devoted specifically to OpenTopo.  We will discuss the technology that makes OpenTopography work as well as brainstorm opportunities for integrating high-resolution LiDAR topography into the classroom.  CSIG is a great chance for earth scientists to gain exposure to the emerging information technology trends and resources that make community, web-based, systems like the OpenTopography Portal possible.


GEON is pleased to announce the 6th Cyberinfrastructure Summer Institute for Geoscientists (CSIG) to be held August 10-14 at the San Diego Supercomputer Center on the University of California, San Diego campus.  General and program information, as well as online registration is available at:

CSIG‘09 will expose participants to emergent Geoinformatics approaches to 3D and 4D integration of geoscience data.  Given the diverse interests of past CSIG participants, and the feedback that they provided, this year’s program will feature two “tracks” of instruction:

“Build”:  Overview of the technologies utilized to develop earth science cyberinfrastructure.
“Education”:  Utilization of cyberinfrastructure-based data systems and tools for earth science education and research.

Interested applicants at all levels are encouraged to apply, including graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and professionals in earth science and related disciplines. 

Course registration and accommodations are paid for with support received from the National Science Foundation (  Selected participants will be responsible for funding their own travel to San Diego for the Institute. 

The Registration Deadline for the CSIG ’09 is June 7th.  Registration can be found at

Please forward this information to anyone that may be interested in this year’s CSIG.

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Global Shaded Relief for Google Earth

Posted on Mon, April 06, 2009 by Chris Crosby in DataGoogle EarthResources

imageThe SRTM KML Project has released a very nice network-linked KML which displays shaded relief images derived from Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) digital elevation models in Google Earth.  Their website reports:

This version covers the entire SRTM dataset (80% of the land on the Earth).  It is based on the SRTM V2 product.  A new “fill” algorithm was developed at CCIC, which significantly improved the cartographic quality of the layer without compromising the accuracy.

The global SRTM shaded relief KML file can be downloaded from:

Via Google Earth blog

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LiDAR Textbook Available

Posted on Mon, March 23, 2009 by Chris Crosby in NewsResources

A new textbook, Topographic Laser Ranging and Scanning, co-edited by Jie Shan and Charles K Toth is now available.  It is apparently the first textbook to tackle the topic of topographic LiDAR technology and processing.  Book summary:

This volume provides the first systematic, yet in-depth, introduction to the basic theories and principles of LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology and data processing, which over the past decade has been successfully used for topographic mapping and 3-D visualization. The information collected in these pages meets the needs of all those working across the many fields LiDAR is impacting, including electrical engineering, signal processing, navigation theory, pattern recognition, and machine learning. Edited by leading experts with broad backgrounds in LiDAR topographic mapping and written by highly regarded specialists, it expands the toolboxes of researchers with novel ideas beyond their own experience.

I don’t have a copy of the book, but based on the Google Books preview it seems like it could be an excellent resource for people trying to get up to speed on LiDAR topography.

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USGS Topo Maps for Google Earth

Posted on Mon, March 23, 2009 by Chris Crosby in DataGoogle EarthResources

The Google Earth Library has announced that they are in the process of importing all 50,000+ USGS topographic maps into KML format for use in Google Earth.  From the website:

A couple months ago I began a project to import all 50,000+ USGS Topographic Maps into Google Earth. This is a huge undertaking that will likely take me several more months to finish all 50 US States. These maps are intended to provide a free alternative to expensive commercial products that often cost $80 or more per state or charge monthly access fees.  Plus you get the benefit of using the topo maps with Google Earth.

The Topo maps are saved as individual KMZ files which must be downloaded in their entirety before they will be visible in Google Earth.  Most of the maps are less than 5 megabytes, but some are as large as 20 megabytes so the speed at which the maps load will depend greatly on the speed of your Internet connection.

Currently, topo quads are available for Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Learn more and download the KML file at:

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