USGS launches a billion-dollar initiative to map the West in 3D

LIDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, uses lasers to create intricate three-dimensional maps in places where bad weather or thick vegetation hampered traditional aerial mapping. Though the technology itself isn’t new, it’s about to become more widespread: The 3D Elevation Program, a billion-dollar initiative launched this summer by the U.S. Geological Survey and numerous partners, seeks to remap the country using LIDAR — and make the maps public. “There doesn’t seem to be a limit to how creative people can use this technology,” says Kevin Gallagher, associate director for USGS Core Science Systems. “It’s like looking at the world through a new pair of glasses.”

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