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-serve 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 Web site, please take some time to become familiar with the assignments and course environment by going to the Orientation.

This Web site provides the primary instructional materials for the course. The Resources menu contains links to important supporting materials, while the Lessons menu contains links to course lessons. Canvas, Penn State's course management system, is used to support the delivery of this course, providing the primary communications, calendaring, and assignment submission tools.

Browse the Course Content: Use the links under the Lessons to preview the online course content. All of the course content is freely available through the Open Educational Resources Initiative. You are welcome to use and re-use materials that appear in this site (other than those copyrighted by others) subject to the licensing agreement linked to the bottom of this and every page.

Quick Facts about GEOG 481

Instructor: Karen Schuckman, CP, PLS, MGIS

Course Structure:

  • Online: 12 - 15 hours per week for 10 weeks.
  • Resident: 8 - 10 hours per week for 15 weeks.

Course Description: An introduction to Light Detection and Ranging (lidar) systems for 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.


  • World Campus students: There are no formal prerequisites for graduate students taking this course. However, prospective students should have some working knowledge of the following topics, covered in GEOG 480, 482, 483:
    • Geospatial coordinate systems and datums
    • Basic GIS or CAD data processing experience
    • Geospatial metadata
  • Resident undergraduate students: GEOG 160, 362, and 363
  • Self-assessment using the anonymous online quiz is highly recommended for those who desire a waiver of prerequisites

Overview: Geography 481 fulfills a remote sensing requirement for the Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Intelligence or the Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security - Geospatial Intelligence Option. It can also be used as an elective in the Certificate of Geographic Information Systems 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. 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:

  • 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