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Did you know which are the sources for free LiDAR data?

6 Minutes Read

LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is an active remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure distances to Earth. While the hardware is still expensive and processing is time-taking, use of LiDAR data is picking up across diverse fields — from building 3D models of buildings to vegetation health to environment science, not to mention the scramble for HD maps to enable autonomous driving. But did you know there are some sources where you can download free LiDAR data? Here are some of the most reliable sources for free LiDAR data.

sources for free LiDAR data
Structures in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina. Courtesy USGS

1United States Geological Survey

The USGS is a source of authoritative free LiDAR data which it collected as part of the partnership to develop the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP). The primary goal of 3DEP is to systematically collect enhanced elevation data in the form of high-quality LiDAR data over the conterminous United States, Hawaii, and the US territories with data acquired over an 8-year period.

LiDAR data from airborne sensors are available through The National Map Download Client. These data are discrete-return, classified point-cloud data provided in LAS format.

You can also use the Earth Explorer (USGS). Enter LiDAR in the Data Sets tab search window, or find the checkbox under Digital Elevation.

2The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration US

NOAA’s LiDAR datasets are some of the most-often-used data by coastal communities, since they are updated, authoritative and free for use. The 600-plus datasets on Digital Coast cover 550,000 sq miles and represent the efforts of many organizations and agencies such as the US Army Corps of Engineers and NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey.

NOAA’s Data Access Viewer  is an online tool which allows a user to search for and download LiDAR, imagery, and land cover data hosted by the NOAA Office for Coastal Management by user-defined geography. Once found, the data can be downloaded with an easy-to-use checkout interface.

Coastal Topographic LiDAR under the NOAA Office for Coastal Management Is a repository containing US topographic data gathered by many groups using a variety of LiDAR sensors.

LiDAR Datasets at NOAA Digital Coast has LiDAR datasets available where users can use an ftp link to access the full datasets in compressed point cloud LAZ format.

3United States Interagency Elevation Inventory

United States Interagency Elevation Inventory (USIEI) is a collaborative effort of the USGS and NOAA with contributions from other federal agencies. It is a comprehensive, nationwide listing of known high-accuracy topographic and bathymetric data for the country. The inventory supports the 3D Elevation Program and the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping effort. The data is updated every spring and fall. One can visit the USIEI web map and download free LiDAR data.

4National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping

Supported by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), NCALM is an  online data distribution center. NCALM’s mission is to provide research-quality airborne LiDAR data to the scientific community and advance the state of the art in airborne laser mapping.

This site provides public access to high-resolution airborne laser swath mapping data acquired by NCALM for NSF sponsored research projects. One can also visualize the location of the available projects and download data files using a Google Earth interface. The interface also provides on the fly, multi-resolution shaded relief overlays for the LiDAR DEM that can be used to preview the data and see the accurate extent of the dataset.
The Google Earth KML file can be used off-line to browse project locations and meta data.

5Open Topography

As an NSF-funded data facility, OpenTopography’s primary emphasis is on Earth science-related, research-grade, topography and bathymetry data. OpenTopography hosts a commendable amount of LiDAR dataset which are available in point cloud format for download and processing (e.g., creating custom DEMs).

The portal also provides an on-demand processing facility which allows users to define an area of interest as well as subset of the data (e.g. “ground returns only”). The users can download the results of this query in ASCII or LAS binary point cloud formats. There is also the option to generate custom derivative products such as digital elevation models produced with user-defined resolution and algorithm parameters. The system also generate geomorphic metrics such as hillshade and slope maps, and will dynamically generate visualizations of the data products for display in the web browser or Google Earth.

6Puget Sound LiDAR Consortium

Set up in 1999, Puget Sound LiDAR Consortium (PSLC) is an informal group of local agency staff and Federal research scientists devoted to developing public-domain high-resolution LiDAR topography and derivative products for the region. The initial data contributors were Kitsap County, Kitsap PUD, City of Seattle, Puget Sound Regional Council, NASA, and the USGS, and it has been joined by Clallam and Island counties. The PSLC has been acquiring high-quality LiDAR data for over a decade in the Pacific Northwest region. Most of this dataset is adequate for determination of flood hazards, for geologic mapping, for hydrologic modelling, for determination of slope angles, for modelling of radio-wave transmission, and similar uses with a level of detail appropriate to a horizontal scale of 1:12,000 or smaller and vertical accuracy on the order of a foot.

7data.gov US

The home of the U.S. Government’s open data, data.gov, has a section where you can find LiDAR elevation data that can be downloaded by selections of tiles using individual, box graphic, polygon graphic, or by GIS polygon features. However, this data is only for informal purposes and can’t used for navigation. While the Public dataset is free and accessible for all, the Non-Federal section is governed by different terms of use.

8National Ecological Observatory Network US

The National Ecological Observatory Network or NEON is an open data repository supported by the US National Science Foundation to understand how our aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems are changing. NEON conducts airborne remote sensing flight surveys to collect quantitative information on land cover and changes to ecological structure and chemistry, including the presence and effects of invasive species across landscapes 100-300 sq km surrounding NEON sites. One can still access the full repository of 2013-2017 free LiDAR data via the request form. A subset of airborne data products are also available to download from the data portal.

9Environment Agency UK

The Environment Agency of UK made its LiDAR data free for use in 2015 to encourage businesses and communities to build flood risk models. As of now, the Environment Agency’s LiDAR data archive contains digital elevation data derived from surveys carried out by the Agency’s specialist remote sensing team. Accurate elevation data is available for over 70% of England, which has been merged and re-sampled to give the best possible coverage. The data, which is available at 2 meter, 1 meter, 50 cm, and 25 cm resolution, can be supplied as a DSM or as a DTM produced by removing objects from the Digital Surface Model.

10Current Elevation File Netherlands

The Current Elevation File Netherlands or Actueel Hoogtebestand Nederland (AHN) is  a digital height map for the whole of the country. It contains detailed and precise height data with an average of eight height measurements per square meter. Since the entire dataset is available as open data. Both the raster data and the point clouds can be downloaded via PDOK and the NationalGeoregister. The downloads are offered per card sheet and  geographical files with the mapsheet layout can be downloaded from here. You can also check out the AHN2 point cloud viewer which has a graphical interface, export points and navigation.

11National Geographic Institute Spain

The download center of the National Geographic Institute Spain provides data that covers entire territory of Spain by point clouds with X, Y, Z coordinates and attributes such as classification or color, obtained by airborne LiDAR sensors. The density of points is 0.5 points per sq meter in the first coverage and 1 point per sq meter  in the second coverage. The applications of the project cover a wide range such as digital models of land; surface models of buildings, vegetation, power lines or communication lines; studies of flood areas; hydrographic models; automatic detection of terrain modifications or elements such as buildings; base for Orientation maps among others.

12National Land Survey of Finland

The National Land Survey of Finland has been collecting laser scanning data to produce elevation models and collect information about forest resources. Currently laser scanning data is available only from certain parts of Finland and the aim is to cover the entire country in a few years. All laser scanning data is available as a version where the points that represent the ground surface are automatically classified at the NLS File service of open data. You can choose the data you want and select its format and coordinate system, as well as the area the data covers.

WATCH: What is LiDAR? How does it work?