Increasing the Impact of High-Resolution Lidar Topography Through Online Data Access and Processing Abstract


  • Topography data acquired with lidar (light detection and ranging) technology are revolutionizing the way we study the Earth's surface and overlying vegetation. These data, collected from satellite, airborne, tripod, or mobile-mounted scanners have emerged as a fundamental tool for research on topics including earthquake hazards, hillslope processes, and cyrosphere change. The U.S. National Science Foundation-funded OpenTopography (OT) Facility ( is a web-based system designed to democratize access to earth science-oriented lidar topography data. OT provides free, online access to lidar data in a number of forms, including the point cloud and associated geospatial-processing tools for customized analysis. The point cloud data are co-located with on-demand processing tools to generate digital elevation models, and derived products and visualizations which allow users to quickly access data in a format appropriate for their scientific application. The OT system is built using a service-oriented architecture (SOA) that leverages cyberinfrastructure resources at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California San Diego to allow users, regardless of expertise, to access these massive lidar datasets and derived raster data products for use in research and teaching. OT hosts over 600 billion lidar returns covering more than 120,000 km2. These data are provided by a variety of partners under joint agreements and memoranda of understanding with OT. Partners include national facilities such as the NSF-funded National Center for Airborne Lidar Mapping (NCALM), as well as non-governmental organizations and local, state, and federal agencies. OT has become a hub for high-resolution topography resources. Datasets hosted by other organizations, as well as lidar-specific software, can be registered into the OT catalog, providing users a 'one-stop shop' for such information. OT is also a partner on the NASA Lidar Access System (NLAS) project, collaborative research funded by the NASA ACCESS program, that makes NASA airborne and space based laser altimetry data (GLAS and LVIS) available through OT using federated web services. With several thousand active users, OT is an excellent example of a cyberinfrastructure-based airborne science data system that is enabling access to challenging data for research, education and outreach. OT has demonstrated that by democratizing access to lidar topography, the impact of these expensive research datasets is greatly increased, through reused in research, education, and commercial applications beyond their original scope. This presentation will highlight the OT system and lessons learned during its development. We will also highlight ongoing work related to creation of a more flexible and scalable high-performance environment for processing of large datasets; creation of a 'pluggable' infrastructure for third-party programs and algorithms to be run against the OT data holdings; and interoperability of OT with other earth science data systems.


publication date

  • 2013

presented at event