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USGS Chesapeake Bay Activities

USGS 3D Elevation Program Supports Science Activities in the Chesapeake Watershed

(Released December 2017) (PDF Version)

Increased acquisition of lidar in the Chesapeake Watershed

The Chesapeake Bay Program has a critical need for enhanced land cover and land-use information to better inform restoration and conservation efforts throughout the watershed. An important component of land information is more detailed land elevation data, which are collected using lidar (light detection and ranging), a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), through the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP), has partnered with other agencies to increase lidar acquisition in the Chesapeake watershed during 2017.

Applying lidar to improve restoration and conservation

USGS scientists, working with partners, are using LIDAR data in the Chesapeake watershed to:

USGS leads partnership to coordinate lidar acquisition

The collection of topographic lidar data is coordinated by the USGS, through the 3DEP, and is a partnership with 16 Federal Agencies, states, and other interested groups. Since 2014 there has been a national effort focused on acquiring LIDAR meeting QL2 specifications at a minimum in all areas of the U.S. other than Alaska. NOAA coordinates the collection of Topo/Bathometric lidar, which is focused on tidal waterways and is used to revise navigational charts.

Lidar has been collected in the Chesapeake Bay watershed since 2005 (see map) and the quality has improved over time as technology has advanced. There are three quality levels available in the Bay watershed, initial lidar (shown in yellow on the map) has a Quality Level 3 (QL3), which provides vertical resolution of 18.5cm, QL2 (green color) and provides 10cm vertical resolution, and QL1 is the most detailed elevation data which collects 4 times the point density of QL2 data.

For more information

Contact Roger Barlow, U.S. Geological Survey, at or visit the USGS Core Science Systems Mission Area:

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Lidar Data by County, 12/2017, and link to larger size

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