New Publication: Lidar and Google Earth: Simplifying access to high-resolution topography data

Feb 12, 2013

A new Geological Society of America Special Paper volume entitled, Google Earth and Virtual Visualizations in Geoscience Education and Research includes a paper on OpenTopography's work to make lidar-derived imagery viewable in Google Earth:

    Crosby, C.J., 2012, Lidar and Google Earth: Simplifying Access to High-Resolution Topography Data, in, Google Earth and Virtual Visualizations in Geoscience Education and Research, edited by S.J. Whitmeyer, D.G. De Paor, J. Bailey, and T. Ornduff, Geological Society of America Special Paper 492, 37-48.


High-resolution topography data acquired with lidar (light detection and ranging) technology are revolutionizing the way we study Earth surface processes. These data permit analysis of the mechanisms that drive landscape evolution at resolutions not previously possible yet essential for their appropriate representation. Unfortunately, the volume of data produced by the technology, software requirements, and a steep learning curve are barriers to lidar utilization. To encourage access to these data we use Keyhole Markup Language (KML) and Google Earth to deliver lidar-derived visualizations of these data for research and educational purposes. Display of full-resolution images derived from lidar in the Google Earth virtual globe is a powerful way to view and explore these data. Through region-dependent network linked KML (a.k.a., super-overlay), users are able to access lidar-derived imagery stored on a remote server from within Google Earth. This method provides seamless, Internet-based access to imagery through the simple download of a small KML-format file from the OpenTopography Facility portal. Lidar-derived imagery in Google Earth is the most popular product available via OpenTopography and has greatly enhanced the usability and thus impact of these data. Users ranging from scientists to K-12 educators have downloaded KML files ~12,000 times during the first eight months of 2011. The overwhelming usage of these data products demonstrates the impact of this simple yet novel approach for delivering easy to use lidar data visualizations to Earth scientists, students, and the general public.

Overview of the Special Paper volume:

GSA Special Paper 492 consists of 35 papers that collectively synthesize the development and current uses of Google Earth and associated visualization media in geoscience education and research. Chapters focus on Google Earth and related tools, such as SketchUp, Google Fusion Tables, GigaPan, and LiDAR. Many of these papers include digital media that illustrate and highlight important themes of the texts. This volume is intended to document the state of the art for geoscience applications of geobrowsers, such as Google Earth, along with providing provocative examples of where this technology is headed in the future.