What is Lidar data and where can I download it?

Light Detection and Ranging (lidar) is a technology used to create high-resolution models of ground elevation with a vertical accuracy of 10 centimeters (4 inches). Lidar equipment, which includes a laser scanner, a Global Positioning System (GPS), and an Inertial Navigation System (INS), is typically mounted on a small aircraft. The laser scanner transmits brief pulses of light to the ground surface. Those pulses are reflected or scattered back and their travel time is used to calculate the distance between the laser scanner and the ground.   

Lidar data is initially collected as a “point cloud” of individual points reflected from everything on the surface, including structures and vegetation. To produce a “bare earth” Digital Elevation Model (DEM), structures and vegetation are stripped away.  

The USGS hopes to complete collection of lidar data for all of the U.S. and its territories by 2022 (status map). Due to high cloud cover and remote locations, Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (IfSAR)—rather than lidar—is being used in Alaska. 

The National Map is the primary repository for USGS base geospatial data. Access lidar data using: 

Learn more:   

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What types of elevation datasets are available, what formats do they come in, and where can I download them?

Digital elevation data for the United States and its territories are available through The National Map Downloader . Click the “Help” link at the top of the page for detailed instructions on how to find and download data. There is a separate site for The National Map Services . The 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) products and services available...

What is the coverage of 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) DEMs?

Elevation products and their areas of availability are summarized on our 3-D Elevation (3DEP) Products and Services website . Detailed availability maps (status graphics) are updated monthly and can be viewed through several sites: 3DEP Product Availability Maps The National Map Download Client – Click “Show” below each elevation product Metadata...

What is the difference between lidar data and a digital elevation model (DEM)?

Light detection and ranging (lidar ) data are collected from aircraft using sensors that detect the reflections of a pulsed laser beam. The reflections are recorded as millions of individual points, collectively called a “point cloud,” that represent the 3D positions of objects on the surface including buildings, vegetation, and the ground...

Can The National Map data be downloaded via direct links?

Direct access to The National Map data is provided via browsable links through:  Amazon's Cloud USGS Server - https://rockyweb.usgs.gov/vdelivery/Datasets/Staged/ Navigate to the appropriate theme folders to access staged products for download.  Data can also be downloaded using The National Map Download Client , 3DEP LidarExplorer (lidar only),...
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August 28, 2020

Lidar Base Specification 2020 rev. A is now available

The 3DEP Lidar Base Specification 2020 rev. A is now available! 

This release of the Lidar Base Specification (LBS) introduces a new version naming convention to aid in tracking revisions and to clarify the year of release. This and following releases will labeled with "YYYY rev. L" where YYYY is the year of the release and L is a letter corresponding to the order of the release. 

Date published: February 7, 2019

USGS 3DEP Lidar Point Cloud Now Available as Amazon Public Dataset

The USGS 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) is excited to announce the availability of a new way to access and process lidar point cloud data from the 3DEP repository.

Date published: June 26, 2018

The 3D Elevation Program Distributing Lidar Data in LAZ Format

In support of ongoing efforts to provide efficient, cloud ready, open data formats for the use of lidar data, the USGS National Geospatial Program and its associated 3D Elevation Program is transitioning all of its lidar data distribution files to LAZ format by September 30, 2018.

Date published: January 24, 2017

Maps Made with Light Show the Way

The topic, officially, was water. But during a scientific conference in Butte, Montana, in 2013, earthquake expert Michael Stickney glimpsed something unexpected in a three-dimensional lidar image of the Bitterroot Valley in nearby Missoula.

Date published: September 5, 2016

EarthWord–Lidar

It’s not a radar for liars, it’s this week’s Earthword...

Date published: March 24, 2016

3D Elevation – We’ve Got You Covered in all 50 States

How 3D Elevation Can Benefit Each State and Puerto Rico

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A comparison of an air photo and a lidar image of an area along Secondary Road and Camp Creek
April 14, 2016

Comparison Lidar and Air Photo

A comparison of an air photo and a lidar image of an area along Secondary Road and Camp Creek, 12 miles north of John Day, OR. The lidar image allows identification of landslide activity that is otherwise masked by trees. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries).

video thumbnail: Elevation
April 30, 2012

Elevation

The National Elevation Dataset (NED) is the primary elevation data product produced and distributed by the USGS National 3D Elevation Program (3DEP). The NED provides seamless raster elevation data of the conterminous United States, Alaska, Hawaii, and the island territories. The NED is derived from diverse source data sets that are processed to a specification with a

video thumbnail: Using bare-earth LiDAR imagery to reveal the Tahoe - Sierra frontal fault zone Lake Tahoe, California.
September 29, 2008

Using bare-earth LiDAR imagery to reveal the Tahoe - Sierra frontal fault zone Lake Tahoe, California.

This video provides a visual example of how airborne LiDAR (Light D
etection And Ranging) imagery penetrates dense forest cover to reveal
an active fault line not detectable with conventional aerial
photography. The video shows an aerial perspective of the range front
Mt. Tallac fault, which is one of five active faults that traverse

Attribution: Natural Hazards