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Lidar and Google Earth: Simplifying access to high-resolution topography data

By
Christopher J. Crosby
Christopher J. Crosby
San Diego Supercomputer Center, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0505, USA
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Published:
October 01, 2012

High-resolution topography data acquired with lidar (light detection and ranging) technology are revolutionizing the way we study Earth surface processes. These data permit analysis of the mechanisms that drive landscape evolution at resolutions not previously possible yet essential for their appropriate representation. Unfortunately, the volume of data produced by the technology, software requirements, and a steep learning curve are barriers to lidar utilization. To encourage access to these data we use Keyhole Markup Language (KML) and Google Earth to deliver lidar-derived visualizations of these data for research and educational purposes. Display of full-resolution images derived from lidar in the Google Earth virtual globe is a powerful way to view and explore these data. Through region-dependent network linked KML (a.k.a., super-overlay), users are able to access lidar-derived imagery stored on a remote server from within Google Earth. This method provides seamless, Internet-based access to imagery through the simple download of a small KML-format file from the OpenTopography Facility portal. Lidar-derived imagery in Google Earth is the most popular product available via OpenTopography and has greatly enhanced the usability and thus impact of these data. Users ranging from scientists to K–12 educators have downloaded KML files ~12,000 times during the first eight months of 2011. The overwhelming usage of these data products demonstrates the impact of this simple yet novel approach for delivering easy to use lidar data visualizations to Earth scientists, students, and the general public.

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GSA Special Papers

Google Earth and Virtual Visualizations in Geoscience Education and Research

Steven J. Whitmeyer
Steven J. Whitmeyer
Department of Geology & Environmental Science, James Madison University, Memorial Hall, MSC 6903, Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807, USA
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John E. Bailey
John E. Bailey
Scenarios Network for Alaska & Arctic Planning, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska 99709, USA
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Declan G. De Paor
Declan G. De Paor
Department of Physics, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia 23529, USA
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Tina Ornduff
Tina Ornduff
Google Inc., 1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy, Mountain View, California 94043, USA
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Geological Society of America
Volume
492
ISBN print:
9780813724928
Publication date:
October 01, 2012

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