New Review Pubs: Lidar for Mass and Energy Transfer Through Landscapes; Critical Zone Science

Jul 22, 2015

Two new review papers, co-authored by OpenTopography staff, have been published recently that focus on the use lidar and high resolution topography for understanding mass and energy transfer through landscapes and the critical zone respectively.

Analyzing high resolution topography for advancing the understanding of mass and energy transfer through landscapes: A review


    The study of mass and energy transfer across landscapes has recently evolved to comprehensive considerations acknowledging the role of biota and humans as geomorphic agents, as well as the importance of small-scale landscape features. A contributing and supporting factor to this evolution is the emergence over the last two decades of technologies able to acquire high resolution topography (HRT) (meter and sub-meter resolution) data. Landscape features can now be captured at an appropriately fine spatial resolution at which surface processes operate; this has revolutionized the way we study Earth-surface processes. The wealth of information contained in HRT also presents considerable challenges. For example, selection of the most appropriate type of HRT data for a given application is not trivial. No definitive approach exists for identifying and filtering erroneous or unwanted data, yet inappropriate filtering can create artifacts or eliminate/distort critical features. Estimates of errors and uncertainty are often poorly defined and typically fail to represent the spatial heterogeneity of the dataset, which may introduce bias or error for many analyses. For ease of use, gridded products are typically preferred rather than the more information-rich point cloud representations. Thus many users take advantage of only a fraction of the available data, which has furthermore been subjected to a series of operations often not known or investigated by the user. Lastly, standard HRT analysis work-flows are yet to be established for many popular HRT operations, which has contributed to the limited use of point cloud data.

    In this review, we identify key research questions relevant to the Earth-surface processes community within the theme of mass and energy transfer across landscapes and offer guidance on how to identify the most appropriate topographic data type for the analysis of interest. We describe the operations commonly performed from raw data to raster products and we identify key considerations and suggest appropriate work-flows for each, pointing to useful resources and available tools. Future research directions should stimulate further development of tools that take advantage of the wealth of information contained in the HRT data and address the present and upcoming research needs such as the ability to filter out unwanted data, compute spatially variable estimates of uncertainty and perform multi-scale analyses. While we focus primarily on HRT applications for mass and energy transfer, we envision this review to be relevant beyond the Earth-surface processes community for a much broader range of applications involving the analysis of HRT.


    Passalacqua, P., Belmont, P., Staley, D. M., Simley, J. D., Arrowsmith, J R., Bode, C. A., Crosby, C., DeLong, S., Glenn, N., Kelly, S. A., Lague, D., Sangireddy, H., Schaffrath,K., Tarboton, D., Wasklewicz, T, Wheaton, J., 2015, Analyzing high resolution topography for advancing the understanding of mass and energy transfer through landscapes: A review. Earth-Science Reviews, Volume 148, Pages 174?193, doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2015.05.012

Laser vision: lidar as a transformative tool to advance critical zone science


    Observation and quantification of the Earth surface is undergoing a revolutionary change due to the increased spatial resolution and extent afforded by light detection and ranging (lidar) technology. As a consequence, lidar-derived information has led to fundamental discoveries within the individual disciplines of geomorphology, hydrology, and ecology. These disciplines form the cornerstones of Critical Zone (CZ) science, where researchers study how interactions among the geosphere, hydrosphere, and ecosphere shape and maintain the “zone of life”, extending from the groundwater to the vegetation canopy. Lidar holds promise as a transdisciplinary CZ research tool by simultaneously allowing for quantification of topographic, vegetative, and hydrological data. Researchers are just beginning to utilize lidar datasets to answer synergistic questions in CZ science, such as how landforms and soils develop in space and time as a function of the local climate, biota, hydrologic properties, and lithology. This review’s objective is to demonstrate the transformative potential of lidar by critically assessing both challenges and opportunities for transdisciplinary lidar applications. A review of 147 peer-reviewed studies utilizing lidar showed that 38 % of the studies were focused in geomorphology, 18 % in hydrology, 32 % in ecology, and the remaining 12 % have an interdisciplinary focus. We find that using lidar to its full potential will require numerous advances across CZ applications, including new and more powerful open-source processing tools, exploiting new lidar acquisition technologies, and improved integration with physically-based models and complementary in situ and remote-sensing observations. We provide a five-year vision to utilize and advocate for the expanded use of lidar datasets to benefit CZ science applications.


    Harpold, A. A., Marshall, J. A., Lyon, S. W., Barnhart, T. B., Fisher, B. A., Donovan, M., Brubaker, K. M., Crosby, C. J., Glenn, N. F., Glennie, C. L., Kirchner, P. B., Lam, N., Mankoff, K. D., McCreight, J. L., Molotch, N. P., Musselman, K. N., Pelletier, J., Russo, T., Sangireddy, H., Sj?berg, Y., Swetnam, T., and West, N., 2015, Laser vision: lidar as a transformative tool to advance critical zone science, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 19, 2881-2897, doi:10.5194/hess-19-2881-2015.