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Land cover data draped over lidar and aerial photography for the Upper Mississippi River System floodplain, between Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Cairo, Illinois. (Image: Public domain.)


Denver — The USGS 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) team was selected as the recipient of the 2018 “LiDAR Leader Award”, presented Feb. 5 at the International LiDAR Mapping Forum in Denver.

The “Outstanding Enterprise Achievement in LiDAR” award is open to private and government organizations that demonstrate exceptional achievements in the area of service, project management or product development within the realm of geospatial LiDAR technology.

The 3D Elevation Program was cited for the promotion and advancement of the uses of lidar technology across the nation. Through the efforts of the 3DEP team, the program communicates the value of LiDAR, builds LiDAR partnerships, makes data visible and accessible, improves data acquisition and quality, and most importantly, produces freely available LiDAR data for use in an endless array of applications.

The data that 3DEP provides support a broad range of nationally significant applications including:

  • flood risk management;
  • infrastructure construction and management;
  • energy development;
  • geologic resource assessment and mapping;
  • natural hazards assessments and mitigation;
  • natural resource management;
  • precision agriculture, and more.

3DEP was born from the National Enhanced Elevation Study (NEEA) that documented the data needs of 34 federal agencies, 50 states, and a sampling of local, tribal and private organizations. 3DEP is designed based on the NEEA benefit-cost analysis to conservatively provide new benefits of $690 million/year with the potential to generate $13 billion/year in new benefits through applications that span the economy. The 2012 study not only underpins the goals of 3DEP, it also continues to build a strong case for lidar among decision makers, for the USGS and the whole community.

With the program design established, the 3DEP team has worked to build lidar acquisition partnerships among federal, state, local, tribal and other entities, to work toward the goal of nationwide LiDAR coverage (IfSAR in Alaska) in eight years. The USGS and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are co-leads of the OMB A-16 Elevation Theme under the Federal Geographic Data Committee, and jointly lead the 3D Nation Elevation Subcommittee to coordinate terrestrial and bathymetric elevation data and perform National Geospatial Data Asset portfolio management functions for the elevation theme.

The 3DEP Executive Forum and Working Group leads federal coordination and the processes to engage non-federal partners in 3DEP data acquisition and other program matters. In partnership with NOAA, the 3DEP team maintains the U.S. Interagency Elevation Inventory annually to document all publicly available LiDAR available, in work, or planned, so that all users across the community can discover data and plan projects to avoid duplication.

The 3DEP Working Group also supports and populates federal data requirements in the NOAA Seasketch tool to stimulate and broadly promote leveraging of partnerships. The federal requirements compiled in Seasketch are published in the annual Broad Agency Announcement, to solicit partnerships from all sources.

Additional enhancements the 3DEP team is working toward are to establish a national multiyear plan for acquisition made up of state acquisition plans, and a national tiling scheme for planning and data delivery. These efforts will result in an orderly, systematic plan for completing 3DEP data coverage for the nation. When the partnerships have been formed, the data are acquired through the Geospatial Products and Services Contracts (GPSC) or cooperative agreements.

The 3DEP team has processed growing data acquisition investments, for example in FY17 nearly $87 million of data acquisition was processed for a large range of federal, state, local, tribal and other partners. When the data are delivered from the private sector contractors and cooperative agreement partners, the 3DEP team QCs the data, using the USGS LiDAR Base Specification to ensure data quality and consistency. The specification is maintained by the 3DEP team and used as a standard across the industry. After the data pass inspection, the 3DEP team processes and publishes the data in The National Map, which is publicly accessible.

The 3DEP team is working with NOAA to develop the successor to NEEA, the 3D National Requirements and Benefits Study, to further document user needs for elevation data from the depths of the oceans to the peaks of the mountains and into the future. The team also continues to look forward and is moving to the cloud, assessing emerging technologies for use in the program, and testing inland topobathymetric data acquisition, to one day extend the elevation surface under water bodies.

In summary, the efforts of the 3DEP team span the full life cycle of LiDAR data, from requirement to distribution, and into the future as we envision the next generation of elevation data. The impacts of the team’s work are far reaching, in providing data to critical applications, in sharing tools like the USIEI and best practices like the LiDAR base specification, to building the case for lidar among the nation’s decision makers. The Outstanding Enterprise Achievement in Lidar Award recognizes the 3DEP team’s varied work to bring national leadership to the lidar community.

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