LiDAR Data Consumability

I stumbled upon this pdf this morning. Assembled in 2010 by FEMA, it attempts to outline all the LiDAR data collected in the United States that theoretically is accessible by anyone who wants it. The amount of collected LiDAR is vast; and the paper outlines future projects (which are now completed) which increase the size and coverage of the current LiDAR holdings. But with this data availability comes a serious accessibility problem for the real users of LiDAR data.

For example, it is easy to download LiDAR deliverables – contours, water features, 10 ft DEM, etc. However, if you want to work with the original .las files, youll have to call, email, snail-mail a hard-drive or even pay to obtain those files. There is a county in South Carolina that is charging $35,000 to deliver the .las files on a hard drive that is someones tax dollars that paid for this!

If you’re an experienced LiDAR user, having the raw .las files is the only way to consume LiDAR data.

Here are the problems I see with the LiDAR delivery system as it exists today.

1) Central Repository For LiDAR

It doesnt exist. There desperately needs to be a go to source for LiDAR data. Right now regional entities are burdened with the task of disseminating LiDAR data that they are neither equipped for, nor have the motivation to hand out in an efficient manner.

2) Multiple files

Currently the USGS and NOAA LiDAR sites are the main repositories of raw LiDAR files. The USGS Click website is straight out of 1995; the NOAA site is slightly more up-to-date. The main drawback with both is that you are forced to download .las tiles individually. USGS click does this by forcing you to check a box next to each .las tile that you want (this can easily number into the 1,000s); NOAA does this in a roundabout way by severely limiting the number of points you can download at a time.

Let me choose how much data I want, by highlighting the tiles that I need; then send them to me in a .zip file via FTP.

3) Stop Complaining

People who are not accustomed to the file sizes associated with LiDAR constantly bemoan the size, cost and time involved with transferring raw .las files. DEAL WITH IT! This is valuable data; it contains a TON of information. LiDAR file sizes are not getting smaller and the demand for raw .las files is increasing.

About the Author

Thad Wester

Thad Wester ... Thad has an undergraduate (2009) and master degree (2011) in Geography from East Carolina University. While at school Thad's research used terrestrial laser scanners to measure the pattern and sequence of sediment movement in steep recently burned basins located in southern California, in an effort to improve U.S.G.S warnings of deadly post fire debris flows. Thad is currently employed as a GIS contractor at Sandhill Telephone Cooperative in South Carolina where he is working to develop an enterprise GIS based on an ESRI platform. In his personnel time Thad is working to introduce the focused use of laser scanning and has developed relationships with local architects, engineers, surveyors and some national businesses. Thad also actively consults several local clients on the use of GIS for their business. When not working Thad spends time with his wife Georgiana, playing tennis, surfing and sailing at his families beach house in Bald Head Island, NC.
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