EAARL Coastal Topography and Imagery--Naval Live Oaks Area, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida, 2007
A digital elevation map (also known as a Digital Elevation Model, or DEM) of the Naval Live Oaks Area in Florida's Gulf Islands National Seashore was produced from remotely sensed, geographically referenced elevation measurements cooperatively by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Park Service (NPS), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Elevation measurements were collected over the area using the NASA Experimental Advanced Airborne Research Lidar (EAARL), a pulsed laser ranging system mounted onboard an aircraft to measure ground elevation, vegetation canopy, and coastal topography. The system uses high-frequency laser beams directed at the Earth's surface through an opening in the bottom of the aircraft's fuselage. The laser system records the time difference between emission of the laser beam and the reception of the reflected laser signal in the aircraft. The plane travels over the target area at approximately 50 meters per second at an elevation of approximately 300 meters. The EAARL, developed by NASA at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, measures ground elevation with a vertical resolution of +/-15 centimeters. A sampling rate of 3 kilohertz or higher results in an extremely dense spatial elevation dataset. Over 100 kilometers of coastline can be surveyed easily within a 3- to 4-hour mission. When subsequent elevation maps for an area are analyzed, they provide a useful tool to make management decisions regarding land development.
For more information on Lidar science and the Experimental Advanced Airborne Research Lidar (EAARL) system and surveys, see http://ngom.usgs.gov/dsp/overview/index.php
Raw lidar data are not in a format that is generally usable by resource managers and scientists for scientific analysis. Converting dense lidar elevation data into a readily usable format without loss of essential information requires specialized processing. The U.S. Geological Survey's Coastal and Marine Geology Program (CMGP) has developed custom software to convert raw lidar data into a GIS-compatible map product to be provided to GIS specialists, managers, and scientists. The primary tool used in the conversion process is Airborne Lidar Processing System (ALPS), a multi-tiered processing system developed by a USGS-NASA collaborative project. Specialized processing algorithms are used to convert raw waveform lidar data acquired by the EAARL to georeferenced spot (x,y,z) returns for "first surface" and "bare earth" topography. The zero crossing of the second derivative (that is, detection of local maxima) is used to detect "first surface" topography, while the trailing edge algorithm (that is, the algorithm searches for the location prior to the last return where direction changes along the trailing edge) is used to detect the range to the last return, or "bare earth." Statistical filtering, known as the Random Consensus Filter (RCF), is used to remove false bottom returns and other outliers from the EAARL topography data. The filter uses a grid of non-overlapping square cells (buffer) of user-defined size overlaid onto the original point cloud. The user also defines the vertical tolerance (vertical width) based on the topographic complexity and point sampling density of the data. The maximum allowable elevation range within a cell is established by this vertical tolerance. An iterative process searches for the maximum concentration of points within the vertical tolerance and removes those points outside of the tolerance (Nayegandhi and others, 2009). These data are then converted to the North American Datum of 1983 and the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (using the GEOID03 model). Canopy height can then be determined by subtracting the "bare earth" elevations from the "first surface" elevations. Each file contains data located in a 2-kilometer by 2-kilometer tile, where the upper-left bound can be assessed quickly through the filename. The first 3 numbers in the filename represent the left-most UTM easting coordinate (e###000) in meters, the next 4 numbers represent the top-most UTM northing coordinate (n####000) in meters, and the last 2 numbers (##) represent the UTM zone in which the tile is located (for example, fs_e123_n4567_16).Once the EAARL topography data have been processed, the ALPS software can then use them with the raw geopositional and orientation data from the survey to georeference color-infrared (CIR) imagery co-acquired alongside the lidar data. Each image is first roughly projected into coordinates using a specialized processing algorithm (in ALPS) that incorporates information from the camera lens parameters, the raw data, and an estimated initial elevation. The georeferencing is then iteratively improved by using the lidar elevation data in the algorithm until the solution stabilizes. This georeferencing method creates a world file and projection file for each CIR image. Once the imagery has been assessed visually by an operator for quality issues, the imagery and associated data are then processed using commercial software to mosaic the images into seamless 25-centimeter-resolution images using the 2-kilometer by 2-kilometer tiling scheme described above.The development of custom software for creating these data products has been supported by the U.S. Geological Survey CMG Program's Decision Support for Coastal Parks, Sanctuaries, and Preserves project. Processed data products are used by the U.S. Geological Survey CMG Program's National Assessments of Coastal Change Hazards project to quantify the vulnerability of shorelines to coastal change hazards such as severe storms, sea-level rise, and shoreline erosion and retreat.