Pennsylvania Elevation Working Group

Working toward acquiring new LiDAR for the state, and planning for future data management and maintenance

An ad-hoc group of state, federal, and local government agencies and nongovernmental organizations came together in late 2017 as the PA LiDAR Working Group (LWG) to work toward acquiring a complete QL2 LiDAR coverage for the state, and to plan for data management and maintenance into the future. Pennsylvania was in immediate need of a new LiDAR coverage, given the landscape changes and technological advances in LiDAR since completion of the original statewide coverage in 2008. USGS has calculated an average return on investment for LiDAR at 5:1. Until recently, updated data has been collected piecemeal using federal and local funding. Now with state and geospatial community leadership, Pennsylvania’s LiDAR coverage can be focused and counseled to complete the data program in a cost effective and timely manner.

The original LWG supported the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PADCNR) Bureau of Geological Survey in an application to the USGS 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) in November 2018. 3DEP provides a portion of the cost of LiDAR acquisition to successful proposals. For the 2018 proposal, partners on the state side - PADCNR, PA Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), PA Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), PA Department of Transportation (PennDOT), PA Turnpike Commission, and Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) - contributed a total of $2.15 million. The state contribution leveraged an additional $1.27 million in federal funds. That project area, shown on the map below, included 22 counties covering about 17,000 square miles. Data was collected and processed throughout 2019, with final delivery delayed by the COVID19 pandemic until February 2021.

Our federal partners have stepped in to complete the remaining 20 counties with QL2 LiDAR. The PA Office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) funded data collection for 11 western Pennsylvania counties covering about 8,500 square miles, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) committed to complete the remaining nine counties in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, and the US Geological Survey (USGS) 3DEP Program managed the project and provided quality control. Data collection occurred from late 2019 through Spring 2020, with data delivery expected by late Spring 2021.

The LWG, as a proponent of refreshing the topographic data on a planned basis, hosted discussions in late 2020 on long-range planning that highlighted the multitude of sources of surface topography data, and led the group to expand its outlook from a LiDAR-centric approach to one that embraces other technologies as well. In December, 2020 the group changed its name to the Elevation Working Group (EWG), reflecting opportunities for data from space-based sensors, UAV-borne cameras and small-format lidar, mobile scanners, and image-processing techniques, and the likelihood that future data collection projects will be targeted to areas of change and not necessarily blanket statewide coverages on a fixed update cycle.

The EWG has also developed a number of technical fora, known as Application Networks, to promote the various uses and benefits of LiDAR data, and now of 3D-data generally. Please be sure to visit the Application Networks section of this website.