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Lidar base specification

January 1, 2012

In late 2009, a $14.3 million allocation from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for new light detection and ranging (lidar) elevation data acquisition prompted the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Geospatial Program (NGP) to develop a common minimum specification for all lidar data acquired for The National Map. Released as a working draft in 2010 and formally published in 2012, the USGS–NGP Lidar Base Specification (LBS) was quickly embraced by numerous States, counties, and foreign countries as the foundation for their own lidar specifications.

Prompted by a growing appreciation for the wide applicability and inherent value of lidar, a consortium of Federal agencies commissioned the National Enhanced Elevation Assessment (NEEA) study in 2010 to quantify the costs and benefits of a national lidar program. Published in 2012, the NEEA report documented a substantial return on such an investment, defined five quality levels (QL) for elevation data, and recommended an 8-year collection cycle of QL2 lidar data as the optimum balance of benefit and affordability. In response to the study, the USGS–NGP established the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) in 2013 as the interagency vehicle through which the NEEA recommendations could be realized.

Lidar is a quickly evolving technology and much has changed in the industry since the previous version of the Lidar Base Specification (LBS) was published. Lidar data have improved in accuracy and spatial resolution, the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing has revised the geospatial accuracy standards, industry standard file formats have been expanded, additional applications for lidar have become accepted, and the need for interoperable data across collections has been realized. This revision to the LBS addresses some of those changes and provides continued guidance towards a nationally consistent lidar dataset.


Future versions of the Lidar base specification will be released online at

Publication Year 2012
Title Lidar base specification
DOI 10.3133/tm11B4
Authors Hans Karl Heidemann
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Techniques and Methods
Series Number 11-B4
Index ID tm11B4
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center; NGTOC Rolla