Lidar Base Specification

Techniques and Methods 11-B4
National Geospatial Program



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

Suggested Citation

Heidemann, Hans Karl, 2018, Lidar base specification (ver. 1.3, February 2018): U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods, book 11, chap. B4, 101 p.,

ISSN: 2328-7055 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Collection
  • Data Processing and Handling
  • Deliverables
  • Digital Elevation Model Surface Treatments
  • References Cited
  • Tables
  • Figures
  • Glossary
  • Appendix 1. Common Data Upgrades
  • Appendix 2. Hydro-Flattening References
  • Appendix 3. Light Detection and Ranging Metadata Example
  • Appendix 4. Light Detection and Ranging Metadata Template
  • Appendix 5. Well-Known Text Coordinate Reference System Examples
  • Appendix 6. Supplemental Information
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Lidar base specification
Series title Techniques and Methods
Series number 11-B4
DOI 10.3133/tm11B4
Edition Version 1.0: Originally posted August 17. 2012; Version 1.1: October 29, 2014; Version 1.2: November 12, 2014; Version 1.3: February 28, 2018
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center, NGTOC Rolla
Description viii, 101 p.
Larger Work Type Report
Larger Work Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title Section B: U.S. Geological Survey standards in Book 11: Collection and delineation of spatial data
Public Comments This report is Chapter 4 of Section B: U.S. Geological Survey standards in Book 11: Collection and delineation of spatial data.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details