Landforms in Lidar: Building a Catalog of Digital Landforms for Education and Outreach Abstract


  • Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) has emerged as a fundamental tool in the earth sciences. The collection of high-resolution lidar topography from an airborne or terrestrial platform allows landscapes and landforms to be spatially represented in at sub-meter resolution and in three dimensions. While the growing availability of lidar has led to numerous new scientific findings, these data also have tremendous value for earth science education. The study of landforms is an essential and basic element of earth science education that helps students to grasp fundamental earth system processes and how they manifest themselves in the world around us. Historically students are introduced to landforms and related processes through diagrams and images seen in earth science textbooks. Lidar data, coupled with free tools such as Google Earth, provide a means to allow students and the interested public to visualize, explore, and interrogate these same landforms in an interactive manner not possible in two-dimensional remotely sensed imagery. The NSF-funded OpenTopography facility hosts data collected for geologic, hydrologic, and biological research, covering a diverse range of landscapes, and thus provides a wealth of data that could be incorporated into educational materials. OpenTopography, in collaboration with UNAVCO, are developing a catalog of classic geologic landforms depicted in lidar. Beginning with textbook-examples of features such as faults and tectonic landforms, dunes, fluvial and glacial geomorphology, and natural hazards such as landslides and volcanoes, the catalog will be an online resource for educators and the interested public. Initially, the landforms will be sourced from pre-existing datasets hosted by OpenTopography. Users will see an image representative of the landform then have the option to download the data in Google Earth KMZ format, as a digital elevation model, or the original lidar point cloud file. By providing the landform in a range of data types, educators can choose to load the image into a presentation, work with the data in a GIS, or do more advanced data analysis on the original point cloud data. In addition, for each landform, links to additional online resources and a bibliography of select publications will be provided. OpenTopography will initially seed the lidar landform catalog, but ultimately the goal is to solicit community contributions as well. We envision the catalog development as the first phase of this activity, and hope that later activities will focus on building curriculum that leverages the catalog and lidar data to teach earth system processes.


publication date

  • 2012

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