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Open-File Report 2010–1163

Prepared in Cooperation with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources

Accuracy of EAARL Lidar Ground Elevations Using a Bare-Earth Algorithm in Marsh and Beach Grasses on the Chandeleur Islands, Louisiana

By Kara J. Doran, Asbury H. Sallenger, Billy. J. Reynolds, and C. Wayne Wright

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The NASA Experimental Advanced Airborne Lidar (EAARL) is an airborne lidar (light detection and ranging) instrument designed to map coastal topography and bathymetry. The EAARL system has the capability to capture each laser-pulse return over a large signal range and can digitize the full waveform of the backscattered energy. Because of this ability to capture the full waveform, the EAARL system can map features such as coral reefs, beaches, coastal vegetation, and trees, where extreme variations in the laser backscatter are caused by different physical and optical characteristics. Post-processing of the EAARL data is accomplished using the Airborne Lidar Processing System (ALPS) (Nayegandhi and others, 2009). In ALPS, the waveform of the lidar is analyzed and split into first and last returns. The "first returns" are indicative of vegetation-canopy height, or bare ground in the absence of vegetation, whereas "last returns" typically represent "bare-earth" elevations under vegetation.

To test the accuracy of the first-return and bare-earth EAARL data, topographic and vegetation height surveys were conducted in the Chandeleur Islands, concurrent with an EAARL lidar survey and an aerial oblique-photographic survey from September 20 to 27, 2006. The Chandeleur Islands are a north-south-oriented chain of low-lying islands located approximately 100 kilometers east of the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. The islands are narrow north-south strips of land with marsh on the landward (west sides) and sandy beaches on their gulfward (east sides). Prior to Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall at Buras, Louisiana, as a Category 3 storm on August 29, 2005, prominent, 3- to 4-meter-high sand dunes were present in the northern Chandeleurs. The storm removed them, leaving post-storm island elevations of generally less than 2 meters above 0.0 NAVD88.

This report is part of a study of the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Chandeleur Islands using pre-storm and post-storm lidar surveys to detect morphological changes. The islands lost over 80 percent of their land area during Hurricane Katrina, and in the first 2 years following Katrina, many of the islands experienced continued shoreline retreat (Sallenger and others, 2007). In addition to land-area losses, the loss of dunes made the islands increasingly vulnerable to future storm impacts. The U.S. Geological Survey, along with partners in the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, continues to monitor changes in shoreline position, land area, and elevation in the Chandeleur Islands.

First posted September 22, 2010

For additional information contact:
Kara J. Doran
U.S. Geological Survey
St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
600 4th Street South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701

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Suggested citation:

Doran, K.J., Sallenger, A.H, Reynolds, B.J., and Wright, C.W., 2010, Accuracy of EAARL lidar ground elevations using a bare-earth algorithm in marsh and beach grasses on the Chandeleur Islands, Louisiana: U.S Geological Survey Open-File Report, 2010–1163, 9 p.



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