GEOG 481
Topographic Mapping with Lidar

Welcome to GEOG 481 - Topographic Mapping with Lidar


New to GEOG 481?

The schedule of course offerings can be found in the Penn State GIS program calendar. Class size will be limited to 25 students on a first-come, first-served basis.

Not registered? Students who register for this Penn State course gain access to assignments and instructor feedback and earn academic credit. The registration process is described at the GIS: Start Today page. Information about Penn State's Online Geospatial Education Certificate and Degree programs is available here.

Registered students - If this is your first visit to this course website, please take some time to become familiar with the assignments and course environment by going to the Orientation.

Penn State logo
Students who register for this Penn State course gain access to assignments and instructor feedback, and earn academic credit. Information about Penn State's Online Geospatial Education programs is available at the Geospatial Education Program Office.

Quick Facts about GEOG 481

Instructor: Karen Schuckman, CP, PLS, MGIS

Course Structure:

  • Online: 12 - 15 hours per week for 10 weeks

Course Description: An introduction to Light Detection and Ranging (lidar) systems for topographic mapping and GIS applications. This course assumes that students have prior knowledge and experience in mapping and GIS. Students who successfully complete GEOG 481 will be able to apply knowledge about airborne topographic lidar mapping systems, processing of lidar data, and lidar-derived data products to a variety of GIS application scenarios. They will be able to describe methods used to georeference and classify these data using commercially available software tools in order to produce digital terrain models and other GIS-ready data products. Finally, students will each develop a final project of their own design, demonstrating their ability to apply their new skills to a real-world situation of personal or professional interest.


  • Geog 480
  • Self-assessment using the anonymous online quiz is highly recommended for those who desire a waiver of prerequisites

Overview: The course is specifically designed for adult professionals and is offered exclusively through the World Campus and the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Geog 481 is a required course in the Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing and Earth Observation. Geography 481 also fulfills a remote sensing requirement for the Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in GEOINT Applications and can be used as an elective in the Certificate of Geographic Information Systems, Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security - Geospatial Intelligence Option or the Master of Geographic Information Systems.

Students who register in the course for credit will complete one orientation lesson and nine content lessons with corresponding quizzes, hands-on assignments, and online discussions (in Canvas). An individual final project is designed and executed by the student in an application area of their choice. Throughout the course, students confront realistic problem scenarios that incorporate such skills and concepts as definition of data needs, metadata content standards, data formats and types, analysis methods, and spatial accuracy requirements. Those who successfully complete the course will be able to define lidar project specifications in the context of an end-user GIS application.

Topics of Study (in Canvas):

  • Lesson 0: Orientation
  • Lesson 1: Lidar Sensors and Data
  • Lesson 2: Lidar Systems and Calibration
  • Lesson 3: Lidar Data Processing, Part 1
  • Lesson 4: Lidar Data Processing, Part 2
  • Lesson 5: Accuracy Assessment and Quality Control
  • Lesson 6: Lidar Applications - Topographic Analysis
  • Lesson 7: Lidar Applications - Feature Extraction
  • Lesson 8: Lidar Applications - Forestry
  • Lesson 9: Lidar Applications - Corridor Mapping
  • Final Project: Leveraging Lidar Data to Confront Contemporary Challenges in Geospatial Analysis