How Collecting LiDAR is Being Supported by the USGS 3D Elevation Program

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LiDAR has quickly become one of the most important tools to help federal, state and local agencies, as well as private organizations for flood risk management, wildfire management, planning and response, natural resources conservation, coastal and riverine protection, infrastructure management and geologic resource assessment.

Recognizing the promise LiDAR holds, five years ago the United States Geological Survey (USGS) rolled out its 3D Elevation Program (3DEP). The program was established by the USGS due to the growing national need for standards-based 3D representations of natural and constructed above-ground features. It was also established to provide valuable data and insights to federal and state agencies, as well as municipalities and other organizations across the U.S. and its territories.

3DEP provides matching federal funds for large-area LiDAR collections that benefit a range of different groups with common geospatial needs.  The application process was opened in September with a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) for fiscal year 2019. Detailed information on how to acquire high-quality 3D elevation data by partnering with the USGS is available at Fed Biz Opps (Reference Number 140G0118R0037) and Grants.gov (Opportunity Number G18AS00078).

Answering the country’s vital need for high-quality topographic data, Quantum Spatial (QSI) is currently working on more than two dozen LiDAR collection projects in support of the 3DEP. Here’s a look at three of the projects QSI has worked on in 2018, and how the data collected by QSI will allow organizations to assess resources, monitor environmental changes, manage land, and identify hazards.

Wisconsin Land Information Program

In partnership with Ayres Associates, QSI is designing the latest component of the ongoing multi-year effort from the Wisconsin Land Information Program (WLIP) to complete LiDAR coverage throughout Wisconsin. The WLIP survey spans 4,791 square miles throughout Wisconsin, and the elevation layer data collected will be used by FEMA for floodplain delineation projects, as well as by the EPA and county offices to monitor watersheds and pollution levels. The data will aid government agencies, tribal organizations, private businesses, and individuals in planning and zoning, land conservation, utilities and road and economic development. QSI’s partnership with Ayres Associates and WLIP has grown significantly, resulting in cleaner, better data sets.

The image below depicts a LiDAR point cloud, colorized with aerial imagery, of farmland in Door County, Wisconsin.


Crown of Maine

QSI has undertaken several LiDAR projects covering more than 23,500 square miles throughout Maine since 2010. QSI’s most recent project is to acquire LiDAR data for 6, 691 square miles in order to complete the GeoLibrary’s long-term goal to obtain initial statewide coverage. GeoLibrary will be able to publicly distribute the geospatial and LiDAR information collected by QSI in order to modernize government land records and encourage innovative economic development.

This image below is a LiDAR-derived bare-earth model of the tallest peak in Maine, Mount Katahdin. The LiDAR model clearly shows the glacial cirques that were carved into the granite by alpine glaciers.

Prince of Wales Island, Alaska

In 2018, QSI has worked on the second phase of the BAA award-winning project for The Nature Conservancy to survey 2,055 square miles of Prince of Wales in Alaska. Now in partnership with the Metlakatla Indian Community and Organized Village of Kake, QSI will survey the southeast area of the island, which is covered with closed-canopy, coniferous forest and steep slopes. This project will measure current and future timber ability, assist in fish management studies, evaluate transportation infrastructure, detect geologic hazards, characterize cultural heritage and mining sites, and assist ongoing U.S. Forest Service land management programs. QSI has been instrumental in helping The Nature Conservancy develop this project as well as a cost share model, organize groups in joining the project, and draft the BAA proposal.

The image below was from the first phase of the BAA project and shows an oblique view of a LiDAR derived 3D model covering the Town of Craig, Alaska illustrating LiDAR’s ability to detect critical infrastructure such as buildings, roads, storage tanks, helicopter landing pads and docks.

About the Author

Mike Shillenn has more than 30 years of experience in the design, management and execution of photogrammetric mapping, LiDAR, GIS and data conversion projects for a broad range of customers and end user applications. He has been granted the title of Certified Photogrammetrist by ASPRS. He is currently serving as vice president and program manager working from Quantum Spatial’s West Chester, Pa., office supporting the USGS, as well as other key federal, state and local customers.


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