3D Elevation Program (3DEP)

Flood Risk Management

Water, in flood stage, is one of the most destructive forces on the planet. Flooding rivers destroy cropped fields, roads, homes, city blocks. Floods are fatal to livestock, wildlife, and humans. For millennia, humans have watched and harnessed floods, and kept detailed records to help predict times of year, rainfall, timing and severity of floods. With each new advance in technology, this process becomes simpler. Using data from the 3D Elevation Program, groups as diverse as the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, the USDA, and regional, state, and local water agencies can reliably predict the size, duration, and velocities of flood stages in rivers across the country, based on the volumetric data collected with the 3D Elevation Program protocols.  In other words, when the Tar River in North Carolina floods, local, state, and national officials will be able to accurately predict the dangers to hog ponds, and the repercussions of hog pond destruction to local human and animal populations.


The United States of America invented modern infrastructure. From an interstate highway system built to accommodate the landing of war planes to the electrification of rural areas, our citizens depend on these systems for the business of living. Our infrastructure is something we all take for granted.  Using the data collected with the 3D Elevation Program, our infrastructure planners can more accurately prepare for the siting, building, and maintenance of these systems. Though we many not perceive it, a grade change of inches over half a mile of road impacts everything from line of sight to road conditions when wet. That same change in grade can also have effect on where and how to site pipeline corridors power lines, communications lines, and sanitary sewer systems. Elevation models inform the decisions to build bridges and tunnels, and the way we build structures into hillsides. This data is used every day in construction projects from mines to road signs, and the more accurate the data is, the better the results. 

 Water Resources

Every living being on the planet requires water. From the smallest of bacteria to the blue whale, from club moss to sequoias, water is the common denominator. In managing our water resources, we have to start with a few simple, but important, pieces of knowledge: we can’t make water, we must keep it clean for consumption, and all water moves downhill. Using 3D elevation models, we can derive information about how and where rainwater flows, how quickly or slowly our reservoirs fill, how violently a flooding river will damage the land and soils along its banks. This information, in turn, helps us harness waterways for hydroelectric power, manage water usage for agricultural lands, and calculate run-off of chemicals and pollutants into our streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, bays, and the oceans. Understanding the lay of the land helps us to understand where, how, and why water moves.  


Runways. Every airport has runways. Their size, width, and surface depth are what determine where and how airplanes can take off and land. They must be evenly graded, and well maintained, for optimal safety and operational standards. When airports add runways, they must consider the available space, soils, topography, and elevation of the available land. 3D elevations, and a precise understanding of topography, helps in preparation for everything from microburst events to noise pollution issues to obstruction studies. Air moves differently over surfaces based on contour and elevation, and the knowledge of how air moves greatly affects the knowledge of how airplanes will move. 3DEP data will help airport managers, engineers, and designers keep our air hubs safe. 

Homeland Security

The threat of dirty bombs that spread noxious gases or radioactive particles through the air are the stuff of public safety officials’ nightmares and blockbuster espionage films. Beyond the need for folks to prevent detonation, we need folks that can manage the fallout – literally and figuratively – should such a disaster occur. Using 3D elevation data married to data such as wind speed, humidity, and barometric pressure, accurate models of aerosol and particulate matter movement can be generated, people evacuated, and lives can be saved. Sometimes, creek bottoms and skyscrapers make a difference that we cannot imagine. With elevation modeling, professionals across all scientific disciplines can factor in the importance of the topography, and estimate areas of targeted impact.

Emergency Response

A few years ago, the emergency responders of the northeast learned something that the responders of the southeast learned long ago: storms will come. Have a plan. To have a plan, Emergency Management officials need data – population, transportation routes, and elevation. Using 3D elevation models, our public safety officials can tie their knowledge of roadways, waterways, beaches, canals, and waterways to what is necessary to move people out of a storm’s path, and predict which buildings, neighborhoods, water pipes, and power lines and poles may be in danger. And, when the storm has passed, they can use that knowledge to make repairs, or re-create vital infrastructure in ways that will better withstand the next storm.

Precision Agriculture

Across the country, on any given day, the wind is blowing.  It blows across lakes, forests, prairies, and fields. In the 1930’s, the wind blew our fields away, and darkened skies as far away as Europe with the soils of North America  In this, we learned a lesson, and contour plowing was implemented across the central plains of North America. Contour plowing is working with the contour – the slope of the land – to best retain soil and soil moisture content, preserving against wind and water loss. As with all things, the land changes over time. Using the products of the 3DEP protocols, farmers across America have access to vital information that informs their choices in how to best manage their land, their soils, and thus their production. As the ‘Breadbasket of the World’, our farms and agricultural must be managed and preserved, and the USGS 3D Elevation Program helps us do just that. 


High-resolution lidar data are used in energy infrastructure siting, design, permitting, construction, and monitoring to promote public safety through reduction of risks. For example, lidar data are used to identify safe locations for energy infrastructure by analyzing terrain parameters and identifying and analyzing geological hazards (e.g., landslide and fault locations) and their potential public safety impact on the location or design of infrastructure. Increasingly, engineering companies and regulatory agencies are using lidar and other remote sensing techniques as an efficient method to collect accurate, comprehensive data while reducing risks to field personnel.

Pipeline Safety

Lidar uses to support pipeline safety include:

  • Pipeline route siting and permitting – high resolution lidar-derived digital elevation models (DEMs) of proposed pipeline corridors are used in hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, floodplain mapping, identifying hazards to pipeline integrity such as erosion, landslide and fault locations, and permafrost thaw settlement impacts.
  • Spill impact analysis – Lidar-based DEMs are used to model the extent of the damage caused by a pipeline leak, which is largely influenced by the surrounding terrain. Spill impact analyses can be completed for pipeline leak scenarios to predict the risks to sensitive ecosystems or populated areas.
  • Pipeline monitoring – Lidar provides baseline terrain data for long-term monitoring after pipeline construction takes place.

Award Winning LiDAR PROJECTS

LiDAR Finds Mayan Structures in Georgia

  • Flood Mapping

  • Infrastructure

  • Water Resource

  • Aviation

  • Homeland Security

  • Emergency Response

  • Agriculture