Maps Made with Light Promote Safer Communities, Spark Economic Growth

Release Date:


FPO only-
FPO only-
FPO - bitterroot animated gif
Image showing part of Montana’s Bitterroot Valley in an overlay of both high-resolution lidar and satellite data. TheBitterroot River flood plain is in the center, and a scarp of the Bitterroot fault is left of center. Lidar imagery fromMichael Stickney, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology

Lidar, which stands for “light detection and ranging,” is the 21st-century version of George Washington’s surveyor’s compass and chain. Unlike aerial photography, lidar shows not only vegetation and objects on the land’s surface, but the structures beneath. 


FPO only

With lidar images, a forester can gauge the yield

of a stand of trees. A solar power entrepreneur 

can estimate the energy reflectance of rooftops.

A vehicle designer can improve fuel efficiency with

technology that uses elevation data to determine

when transmissions should upshift or downshift.

A structural engineer can study an aging bridge

for signs of potential failure.





FPO Only

Lidar mapping is usually done to meet specific needs:

private companies conduct data-gathering flights and

provide information to business and government clients.

Clients’ requests and company practices determine what

areas are mapped, how accurately and how often, and how data are analyzed, used, stored, and shared. The result

is a crazy quilt that, in 2014, included high-quality lidar coverage of less than one-sixth of the lower 49 States and territories.


FPO only-