The Florida ASPRS Lidar Workshops

9th in series goes virtual

The five Water Management Districts (WMDs) in Florida—Northwest Florida (NWFWMD), St. Johns River (SJRWMD), Suwannee River (SRWMD), South Florida (SFWMD), and Southwest Florida (SWFWMD)—along with the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)—have played a major role in acquiring and distributing high-quality elevation data to the State. Beginning in the 2001/2002 flying season, lidar missions started to replace traditional on-the-ground survey for water modeling by the WMDs, and, by 2007, the FDEM and WMDs partnered with USGS to conduct a massive coastal lidar program.

The 2007 FDEM/USGS mission was designed to capture what would become “USGS QL3” data for coastal regions from the western panhandle (NWFWMD) through the Big Bend (SRWMD), along the Gulf of Mexico (SWFWMD) and along the Atlantic Coast (SFWMD and SJRWMD). Although the original intent of the project was to serve coastal areas for storm surge modeling (Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes, SLOSH), many counties, with the aid of the WMDs, “bought up” the lidar for more inland areas to be used for watershed and surface water modeling.

The project, of course, took longer than anticipated to complete, but as the data trickled into the WMDs for surface water modeling, other, inland counties could see the benefits of the lidar-based DEMs. Several of those inland counties cooperated with the WMDs to secure American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to acquire lidar data in the 2009/2010 flying season.

Finally, with the results of the USGS National Enhanced Elevation Assessment (NEEA) in 2011, the creation of the 3D-Elevation Program (3DEP), and the Broad Agency Announcements (BAA) that followed for 3DEP funding partners, there was renewed interest in updating the “QL3” data from 2007 with newer technology and higher density lidar-derived DEMs. Several of the WMDs, counties, and municipalities responded to the BAAs that followed and started acquiring new lidar data. This resulted in a patchwork of elevation data, collected at different times, with different technologies, at varying accuracy levels, to meet different needs, and a general need to coordinate WMD activities.

In the fall of 2015, as I was the newly installed President of the Florida Region of ASPRS and on staff at SWFWMD, several colleagues from the other WMDs approached me for guidance on how to review lidar point clouds and breaklines that they were receiving from the 3DEP program contractors. We conferred among ourselves, started a small working group under the umbrella of the Florida Region of ASPRS, and included our USGS state-liaison and a few selected academic members from around the state. After a few phone conferences (this was all before Zoom and/or Teams), it became apparent that we were discussing so many lidar-related topics that our phone calls were not sufficient. Thus we landed on the idea of a “Lidar Workshop” for the spring of 2016.

That first University of Florida/FL-ASPRS Lidar Workshop was a one-day event held at the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (IFAS/MREC). The venue, in Apopka in central Florida, was convenient to most of the participants and easily accessible by highways in the Orlando area. To help defray rental and lunch costs, the Florida Region involved corporate sponsors and, in return, provided an opportunity to network with the state agency representatives in attendance. The program was incorporated into our biannual ASPRS regional meeting and included the four major components that persist today: state agency updates, a “keynote” topic speaker, a “workshop” of industry innovations, and academic research.

The workshops have registered consistently around 100 people (the fire marshal’s limit on the IFAS/MREC is 110 persons). The participants have represented the three major ASPRS sectors: government, including several of the state agencies, the five WMDs, the US Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District (USACE/SAJ), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and USGS; private enterprise (over 15 different sponsors, including Dewberry, GeoCue, GPI GeoSpatial, Quantum Spatial1, Riegl USA, Surdex, and Woolpert; and academic representatives, including University of Florida, Florida Atlantic University, University of South Florida, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Selected topics have evolved over the nine workshops and have spanned the lidar/remote sensing spectrum. Workshops have been focused on diverse topics such as topobathymetric lidar and sonar; UAV-based lidar platforms; forestry lidar applications; and laser scanning for historical preservation.

While the workshops are open to ASPRS members and non-members alike, over 60% of the attendees are ASPRS members, who are eligible to receive six professional development hours (PDH), while Florida Surveying and Mapping Society members are eligible for two Continuing Education Unit (CEU) hours.

The first eight workshops were in-person meetings at IFAS/MREC, but, as a result of the pandemic, the spring 2020 meeting was abruptly cancelled. The Fall 2020 FL-ASPRS/UF Workshop, the 9th in the series, was the first “virtual” workshop offered by the Florida Region and was conducted on the Zoom platform on 22 October 2020. As usual, there were six “sessions” beginning with a General FL-ASPRS Business Meeting and followed by nine state and national agency updates. The keynote address was delivered by James Van Rens of Riegl USA, discussing a vision of lidar technologies for the next ten years. Sessions 3, 4, and 5 featured technologies and projects by our sponsors, and Session 6 showcased academic presentations by faculty and students from Florida Atlantic University, University of Florida and University of South Florida. Riegl USA and NEI-GPS provided technology updates of their sensors and opted not to publish synopses of their presentations. Similarly, the academic presenters from the University of Florida and Florida Atlantic University opted to submit their research for publication in other outlets. All the remaining presentations are represented in the following articles.

There were 166 unique logins for the event and eight phone-callers. The maximum number of attendees at any one session was 137 and the average, 83. Moreover, in addition to out-of-state attendees, there was a handful of non-US ones, from Brazil, Canada and Netherlands. The attendance, therefore, exceeded in number what could have been accommodated in IFAS/MREC and the geographical reach was vast compared to previous years. Even as vaccines are rolling out and the fight against the pandemic has a chance of success, this broad appeal may suggest merit in running a hybrid event in the future.

Alvan “Al” Karlin, PhD, CMS-L, GISP is a senior geospatial scientist at Dewberry, formerly from the Southwest Water Management District (SWFWMD), where he managed all of the remote sensing and lidar-related projects in mapping and GIS. With Dewberry, he serves as a consultant on Florida-related lidar and imagery projects, as well as general GIS-related projects. He has a PhD in computational theoretical genetics from Miami University in Ohio. He is the immediate past president of the Florida Region of ASPRS, an ASPRS Certified Mapping Scientist—Lidar, and a GIS Certification Institute Professional.

1 Quantum Spatial, Inc. announced its change of name to NV5 Geospatial
on 10 December 2020.

About the Author

Alvan “Al” Karlin

Alvan “Al” Karlin, Ph.D. CMS-L, GISP, is a senior geospatial scientist at Dewberry and formerly from SWFWMD, where he managed all of the remote sensing and lidar-related projects in mapping and GIS. With Dewberry, he serves as a consultant on Florida-related lidar and imagery projects, as well as general GIS-related projects. He is the immediate past president of the Florida Region of ASPRS, an ASPRS Certified Mapping Scientist – Lidar, and a GIS Certification Institute Professional.