GEOG 481
Topographic Mapping with Lidar

Welcome to GEOG 481 - Topographic Mapping with Lidar


GEOG 481 is 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.

Professor Introductions

Karl Heidemann

Karl Heidemann

Educated in geography at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the University of South Carolina, Mr. Heidemann began his career in geoscience as a GIS specialist in water resource management and FEMA floodplain mapping at HSM&M and then at Woolpert. Continuing from there as GIS Manager at EarthData International of NC, he entered the lidar field in 1999, building the lidar department and processes, preparing the company for the first-ever statewide lidar mapping program in 2001. While at EarthData, Karl refined processes for lidar data calibration, automated classification, surface generation, and data management. His contributions there further included development of an automated process for direct-from-lidar land cover classification, and algorithms for derivation of 3D hydrologic breaklines - the core of which remain the foundation for current industry software.

Joining the USGS at EROS in 2008, Mr. Heidemann revamped data lidar data ingest and distribution for the CLICK portal, and supported numerous collection and scientific efforts including a national collection for El Salvador. He played a leading role in the integration of lidar- derived data into the NED, developing the standards for hydro-flattening topographic DEMs. He has been a leading advocate of a USGS migration from traditional quad-based tiling to a CONUS- based Cartesian system more suitable for seamless lidar data management.

Karl is a long-standing and active member of ASPRS, having served on numerous committees across multiple divisions and chairing the Lidar Committee until its conversion to a Division. He currently serves as the Chair of the Lidar Certification Review Committee. Mr. Heideman has been a contributor to major industry publications including the ASPRS DEM Users' Manual, 3 rd Edition and the ASPRS Manual of Airborne Topographic Lidar. He co-authored the 2014 ASPRS Positional Accuracy Standards for Digital Geospatial Data. He has conducted innumerable workshops and classes in lidar in both the public and private sectors.

Mr. Heidemann is best known as the author of the USGS-NGP Lidar Base Specification (LBS), originally introduced in 2010, published in 2012, and revised in 2014 and 2018. This seminal document provided the first lidar guidance centered on the primacy of the point cloud as source data, opening the way for consistent use of lidar data for extra-DEM applications, and establishing data handling practices that substantially improve capacity for cross-collection, multi-vendor, multi-instrument data analysis. Beyond its use for NGP-funded collections, the LBS has become the base of countless collection contracts, federal agencies, state and local standards, and national specifications for Canada, Australia, New Zealand, El Salvador, and others.

Want to join us? 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.