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Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR)

LiDAR, what is it and why do we need it? Many might ask why it is worthwhile to spend $200 to $300 per square mile to acquire this data. LiDAR technology produces one of, if not the most valuable data sets for remote sensing of the earths surface. Wikipedia provides a informative and brief description of what the data actually is, a set of points that are defined by X,Y, and Z coordinates defining the points location in space. The LiDAR acquired for Maine by the GeoLibrary is specifically georeferenced to locate the data in terms of latitude, longitude and elevation. This data can be used for many purposes including determining:

  • Land use/land cover
  • Land cover characterization
  • Vegetation classification
  • Buildings and structures
  • Biomass and carbon/Green House gas calculations
  • Transmission and utility maps
  • Emergency response plans
  • Pre- and post-event/disaster planning

Statewide LiDAR Acquisition

The Maine GeoLibrary, with support from the Maine Office of GIS continues to work on acquiring LiDAR for the state of Maine. Since 2009 the GeoLibrary has initiated projects that emphasize collaborative partnerships to maximize the size and cost effectiveness of data acquisition. The first project included all of the coastal states in the Northeast from New York to Maine. So far these efforts have accomplished the acquisition of nearly 10,000 sq. mi. of data with vertical accuaricies of +/- 18 cm or better. The latest data was acquired in 2013 and will be delivered to the Maine Office of GIS for processing in July of 2014.

The USGS 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) initiative was developed to assist states in collecting high resolution topographic data. This program will provide up to 50% matching funds for projects meeting it's specifications. g. Larger projects of 5,000 sq. mi. or more can command as much as a 20% discount in acquisition costs. Consequently the GeoLibrary is looking forward to participating in this program and is actively searching for partners to pursue applications for this funding.

Cost Benefit Analysis and Typical Uses of LiDAR Data

LiDAR data provides extensive benefits to numerous diverse economic development interests. The USGS has complete an extensive cost benefit analysis of this program. An analysis of 10 business needs showed a cost benefit of at least 4:1 using the most conservative benefit estimates. A separate analysis fact sheet was completed for each state. A review of the Maine fact sheet shows an annual benefit of $4.73 million annually. This is probably a low estimate considering the fact that data acquisition costs have been falling significantly since the study was first commissioned. The USGS estimate of cost for completing acquisition for the whole state is $10.85 million based on data acquisition costs of over $300/sq. mi. Recent projects have realized a reduction in cost to $252/ sq. mi. and with larger acquisitions of 5,000 sq. mi. or greater we could see competitive pricing of less than $200/ sq. mi.

  • Transportation

The Missouri Department of Transportation commissioned a study to evaluate LiDAR technology and its value to MODOT in 2010. The report was completed by the Sanborm Map Company. The report contains an impressive analysis comparing using traditional photogrametric, mobile LiDAR, Static LiDAR and aeial LiDAR acquistion data sets. The result is a very favorable cost benefit analysis which is enhenced multiple agencies share the costs of data acquisition.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation completed a research project "Infrastructure Inverstment Protection with LiDAR". This study provides acomprehensive analysis of various methods of LiDAR collection and its cost effective application to various project types. It shows very favorable safety, applicability, data collection productivity, and cost effectiveness fixed terrestrial, Mobile terestrial, and airborne lidar collection methods. Again the cost effectiveness of this data is greatly improved when the costs of data acquisition are shared.

  • Agriculture and Forestry

Adam Birr, Ph. D. of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture completed a research project in cooperation with the University of Minnesota. The project was titled "Identifying Critical Portions of the Landscape for Water Quality Protecion Using Terrain Analysis" One of the conclusions of this project was that LiDAR Based GIS surveys could be completed in a matter of hours and a county wide study could be copmpleted in just a few weeks, compared to doing an on the ground walking survey that could take years to complete and require thousands of man hours to duplicate.

Photogrametric Engineering & Remote Sesing published an interesting article on segmenting trees heights in complex mixed connifer forests on rugged terrain in its January 2012 Vol. 78, No. 1 issue. It was written by Wenkai Li and Winghua Guo are with the Sierra Nevada, Research Institute, School of Engineering, University of California, Merced, CA 95343 (

For more information on the program check out our links below. To find out how your community can participate in the program contact Michael Smith or Joseph Young. You will find a history of LiDAR acquisition projects on the MeGIS web site.

Current Status of LiDAR Acquisition

LiDAR Status Map 2013



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