LASmoons: Jesús García Sánchez

Jesús García Sánchez (recipient of three LASmoons)
Landscapes of Early Roman Colonization (LERC) project
Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, The Netherlands

Our project Landscapes of Early Roman Colonization (LERC) has been studying the hinterland of the Latin colony of Aesernia (Molise region, Italy) using several non-destructive techniques, chiefly artefactual survey, geophysics, and interpretation of aerial photographs. Nevertheless large areas of the territory are covered by the dense forests of the Matese mountains, a ridge belonging the Apennine chain, or covered by bushes due to the abandonment of the countryside. The project won’t be complete without integrating the marginal, remote and forested areas into our study of the Roman hinterland. Besides, it’s also relevant to discuss the feasibility of LiDAR data sets in the study of Mediterranean landscapes and its role within contemporary Landscape Archaeology.

some clever caption

LiDAR coverage in Molise region, Italy.

+ to study in detail forested areas in the colonial hinterland of Aesernia.
+ to found the correct parameters of the classification algorithm to be able to locate possible archaeological structures or to document appropriately those we already known.
+ to document and create new visualization of hill-top fortified sites that belong to the indigenous population and are currently poorly studied due to inaccessibility and forest coverage (Monte San Paolo, Civitalla, Castelriporso, etc.)
+ to demonstrate the archaeological potential of LiDAR data in Italy and help other scholars to work with that kind of data, explaining basic information about data quality, where and how to acquire imagery and examples of application in archaeology. A paper entitled “Working with ALS – LiDAR data in Central South Italy. Tips and experiences”, will be presented in the International Mediterranean Survey Workshop by the end of February in Athens.

Civitella hillfort (Longano, IS) and its local context: ridges and forest belonging to the Materse mountains and the Appenines.

Recently the LERC project has acquired a large LiDAR dataset created by the Italian Geoportale Nazionale and the Minisstero dell’Ambiente e della Tutella del Territorio e del Mare. The data was produced originally to monitor land-slides and erosive risk.
The average point resolution is 1 meter.
+ The data sets were cropped originally in 1 sq km. tiles by the Geoportale Nazionale for distribution purposes.

LAStools processing:
1) data is provided in *.txt files thus the first step is to create appropriate LAS files to work with [txt2las]
2) combine areas of circa 16 sq km (still fewer than 20 million points to be processed in one piece with LAStools) in the surroundings of the colony of Aesernia and in the Matese mountains [lasmerge]
3) assign the correct projection to the data [lasmerge or las2las]
4) extract the care-earth with the best-fitting parameters [lasground or lasground_new]
5) create bare-earth terrain rasters as a first step to visualize and analyze the area [lasdem]

Pre-Processing Mobile Rail LiDAR with LAStools

The majority of LAStools users are processing airborne LiDAR. That should not surprise as airborne is by far the most common form of LiDAR in terms of square kilometers covered. The availability of LiDAR as “open data” is also pretty much restricted to airborne surveys, which are often tax-payer funded and then distributed freely to achieve maximum return of investment.

But folks are increasingly using our software to do some of the “heavy lifting” for mobile LiDAR, either mounted on a truck for scanning cities or on a train for capturing railroad infrastructure. The LiDAR collected for the cities of Budapest and Singapore, for example, was pre-processed by multi-core scripted LAStools when the scanning trucks returned with their daily trajectories worth of point clouds captured by a RIEGL VMX-450 mobile mapping system.

One customer who was recently scanning railroad infrastructure wanted to do automatic ground classification as a first step prior to further segmentation of the data. We were asked for advice because on such data the standard settings of lasground left too many patches of ground unclassified. Also the uniform tiling lastile generates by default is not a good way to break such data into manageable pieces given the drastically varying point densities in mobile scanning.

We obtained a 217 MB file in LAZ format with 40 million points corresponding to a 2.7 km stretch of railway track. We first run a quick lasindex (with the options for ‘mobile’) on the file that creates a spatial indexing LAX file with maximally 10 meter resolution. This not only allows faster area-of-interest queries but also gives us a more detailed preview than just the bounding box of where the LiDAR points actually are in the GUI of LAStools.


Presence of LAX files results in actual extend of LiDAR being shown in GUI.

lasindex -i segment.laz -tile_size 10 -maximum -100

We then run lastile four times to create an adaptive tiling in which no tile has more than 6 million points. The first call creates the initial 1000 by 1000 meter tiles. The following three calls refine all those tiles that still have more than 6 million points first into 500 by 500 meter, then 250 by 250 meter, and finally 125 by 125 meter tiles in parallel on 4 cores. Note the ‘-refine_tiling’ option is used in the first call to lastile and the ‘-refine_tiles’ option in all subsequent calls.

lastile -i segment.laz ^
        -tile_size 1000 ^
        -buffer 10 -flag_as_withheld ^
        -refine_tiling 6000000 ^
        -odir tiles_raw -o rail.laz
lastile -i tiles_raw\*_1000.laz ^
        -flag_as_withheld ^
        -refine_tiles 6000000 ^
        -olaz ^
        -cores 4
lastile -i tiles_raw\*_500.laz ^
        -flag_as_withheld ^
        -refine_tiles 6000000 ^
        -olaz ^
        -cores 4
lastile -i tiles_raw\*_250.laz ^
        -flag_as_withheld ^
        -refine_tiles 6000000 ^
        -olaz ^
        -cores 4

The resulting tiles all have fewer than 6 million points but still have the initial 10 meter buffer that was specified by the first call to lastile. Two tiles were sufficiently small after the 1st call, three tiles after the 2nd call, eleven tiles after 3rd call, and three tiles after the 4th.

contents of tile shown in blue in adaptive tiling below

points of adaptive tile (high-lighted in blue below) colored by intensity

Adaptive tiling created with four calls to lastile.

Adaptive tiling created with four calls to lastile. Scale factors of 0.00025 (see mouse cursor) implies that point coordinates are stored with quarter millimeter resolution. Lowering them to 0.001 would result in better compression and lower I/O.

Noise in the data – especially low noise – can lead lasground into choosing the wrong points during ground classification by latching on to those low noise points. We first classify the noise points into a different class (7) using lasnoise so we can later ignore them. These particular settings were found by experimenting on a few tiles with different values (see the README file) until visual inspection showed that most low points had been classified as noise.

lasnoise -i tiles_raw\*.laz ^
         -step_xy 0.5 -step_z 0.1 ^
         -odir tiles_denoised -olaz ^
         -cores 4
noise points shown in violett

noise points shown in violett

The points classified as noise will not be considered as ground points during the next step. For this it matters little that lamp posts, wires, or vegetation are wrongly marked as noise now. We can always undo their noise classification once the ground points were classified. Important is that those pointed to by the mouse cursor, which are below the desired ground, are excluded from consideration during the ground classification step. Here those low points are not actually noise but returns generated wherever the laser was able to “peek” through an opening to a lower surface.

lasground -i tiles_denoised\*.laz ^
          -ignore_class 7 ^
          -step 1 -sub 3 -bulge 0.1 -spike 0.1 -offset 0.02 ^
          -odir tiles_ground -olaz ^
          -cores 4

For classification with lasground there are a number of options to play with  (see the README file) but the most important is the correct step size. It is terrain along the railway track bed that is supposed to get represented well. The usual step of 5 to 40 meter for lasground aim at the removal of vegetation and man-made structures from airborne LiDAR. They are not the right choice here. A step of 1 and the parameters shown above gives us the ground shown below.

Classification of terrain along railway track using lasground with '-step 1'

Classification of terrain along railway track bed using lasground with ‘-step 1’

The new ‘-flag_as_withheld’ option in lastile that flags each point in the buffer with the withheld flag is useful in case we want to remove all buffer points on-the-fly, for example, in order to create a DTM hillshade of 25 cm resolution for a visual quality check of the entire 2.7 km track using blast2dem from the BLAST extension of LAStools.

blast2dem -i tiles_ground\*.laz -merged ^
          -drop_withheld -keep_class 2 ^
          -hillshade -step 0.25 ^
          -o dtm_hillshaded.png
Small 600 x 600 pixel detail of hill-shaded 5663 x 9619 pixel DTM raster generated by blast2dem

Small 600 x 600 pixel detail of hill-shaded 5663 x 9619 pixel DTM raster generated by blast2dem.

Second German State Goes Open LiDAR

The floodgates of open geospatial data have opened in Germany. Days after reporting about the first state-wide release of open LiDAR, we are happy to follow up with a second wonderful open data story. The state of Thuringia (Thüringen) – also called the “green heart of Germany” – has also implemented an open geospatial data policy. This had already been announced in March 2016 but must have gone online just now. A reader of our last blog article pointed this out in the comments. And it’s not just LiDAR. You can download:

It all comes with the same permissible license as OpenNRW’s data. This is open data madness! Everything you could possibly hope for presented via a very functional download portal. Kudos to TLVermGeo (“Thüringisches Landesamt für Vermessung und Geoinformation”) for creating an open treasure cove of free-for-all geospatial data.

Let us have a look at the LiDAR. We use the interactive portal to zoom to an area of interest. With the recent rise of demagogues it cannot hurt to look at a stark reminder of where such demagoguery can lead. In his 1941 play “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” – a satirical allegory on the rise of Adolf Hitler – Bertolt Brecht writes “… don’t rejoice too soon at your escape. The womb he crawled from is still going strong.”

We are downloading LiDAR data around the Buchenwald concentration camp. According to Wikipedia, it was established in July 1937 and was one of the largest on German soil. Today the remains of Buchenwald serve as a memorial and as a permanent exhibition and museum.

We download the 15 tiles surrounding the blue one: two on its left, two on its right and one corresponding row of five tiles above and below. Each of the 15 zipped archives contains a *.laz file and *.meta file. The *.laz file contains the LiDAR points and *.meta file contains the textual information below where “Lage” and “Höhe” refer to “horizontal” and “vertical”:

Datei: las_655_5653_1_th_2010-2013.laz
Erfassungsdatum: 2011-03
Erfassungsmethode: Airborne Laserscanning
Lasergebiet: Laser_04_2010
EPSG-Code Lage: 25832
EPSG-Code Höhe: 5783
Quasigeoid: GCG2005
Genauigkeit Lage: 0.12m
Genauigkeit Höhe: 0.04m
Urheber: (c) GDI-Th, Freistaat Thueringen, TLVermGeo

Next we will run a few quality checks on the 15 tiles by processing them with lasinfolasoverlap, lasgrid, and las2dem. We output all results into a folder named ‘quality’.

With lasinfo we create one text file per tile that summarizes its contents. The ‘-cd’ option computes the all return and last return density. The ‘-histo point_source 1’ option produces a histogram of point source IDs that are supposed to store which flight line each return came from. The ‘-odir’ and ‘-odix’ options specify the directory for the output and an appendix to the output file name. The ‘-cores 4’ option starts 4 processes in parallel, each working on a different tile.

lasinfo  -i las_*2010-2013.laz ^
         -cd ^
         -histo point_source 1 ^
         -odir quality -odix _info -otxt ^
         -cores 4

If you scrutinize the resulting text files you will find that the average last return density ranges from 6.29 to 8.13 and that the point source IDs 1 and 9999 seem to encode some special points. Likely those are synthetic points added to improve the derived rasters similar to the “ab”, “ag”, and “aw” files in the OpenNRW LiDAR. Odd is the lack of intermediate returns despite return numbers ranging all the way up to 7. Looks like only the first returns and the last returns are made available (like for the OpenNRW LiDAR). That will make those a bit sad who were planning to use this LiDAR for forest or vegetation mapping. The header of the *.laz files does not store geo-referencing information, so we will have to enter that manually. And the classification codes do not follow the standard ASPRS assignment. In red is our (currently) best guess what these classification codes mean:

histogram of classification of points:
 887223 ground (2) ground
 305319 wire guard (13) building
 172 tower (15) bridges
 41 wire connector (16) synthetic ground under bridges
 12286 bridge deck (17) synthetic ground under building
 166 Reserved for ... (18) synthetic ground building edge
 5642801 Reserved for ... (20) non-ground

With lasoverlap we can visualize how much overlap the flight lines have and the (potential miss-)alignment between them. We drop the synthetic points with point source IDs 1 and 9999 and add geo-referencing information with ‘-epsg 25832’ so that the resulting images can be displayed as Google Earth overlays. The options ‘-min_diff 0.1’ and ‘-max_diff 0.4’ map elevation differences of up +/- 10 cm to white. Above +/- 10 cm the color becomes increasingly red/blue with full saturation at +/- 40 cm or higher. This difference can only be computed for pixels with two or more overlapping flight lines.

lasoverlap  -i las_*2010-2013.laz ^
            -drop_point_source 1 ^
            -drop_point_source 9999 ^
            -min_diff 0.1 -max_diff 0.4 ^
            -odir quality -opng ^
            -epsg 25832 ^
            -cores 4

With lasgrid we check the density distribution of the laser pulses by computing the point density of the last returns for each 2 by 2 meter pixel and then mapping the computed density value to a false color that is blue for a density of 0 and red for a density of 10 or higher.

lasgrid  -i las_*2010-2013.laz ^
         -drop_point_source 1 ^
         -drop_point_source 9999 ^
         -keep_last ^
         -step 2 -point_density ^
         -false -set_min_max 0 10 ^
         -odir quality -odix _d_0_10 -opng ^
         -epsg 25832 ^
         -cores 4
Pulse density variation due to flight line overlap and flight turbulence.

Pulse density variation due to flight line overlap is expected. But also the contribution of flight turbulence is quite significant.

With las2dem we can check the quality of the already existing ground classification in the LiDAR by producing a hillshaded image of a DTM for visual inspection. Based on our initial guess on the classification codes (see above) we keep those synthetic points that improve the DTM (classification codes 16, 17, and 18) in addition to the ground points (classification code 2).

las2dem  -i las_*2010-2013.laz ^
         -keep_class 2 16 17 18 ^
         -step 1 ^
         -hillshade ^
         -odir quality -odix _shaded_dtm -opng ^
         -epsg 25832 ^
         -cores 4
Problems in the ground classification of LiDAR points are often visible in a hillshaded DTM raster.

Problems in the ground classification of LiDAR points are often visible in a hillshaded DTM.

Wow. We see a number of ground disturbances in the resulting hillshaded DTM. Some of them are expected because if you read up on the history of the Buchenwald concentration camp you will learn that in 1950 large parts of the camp were demolished. However, the laser finds the remnants of those barracks and buildings as clearly visible ground disturbances under the canopy of the dense forest that has grown there since. And then there are also these bumps that look like bomb craters. Are those from the American bombing raid on August 24, 1944?

We are still not entirely sure what those “bumps” arem but our initially assumption that all of those would have to be bomb craters from that fatal American bombing raid on August 24, 1944 seems to be wrong. Below is a close-up with lasview of the triangulated and shaded ground points from the lower right corner of tile ‘las_656_5654_1_th_2010-2013.laz’.

Close-up in lasview on the bumbs in the ground.

Close-up in lasview on the bumbs in the ground.

We are not sure if all the bumps we can see here are there for the same reason. But we found an old map and managed to overlay it on Google Earth. It suggest that at least the bigger bumps are not bomb craters. On the map they are labelled as “Erdfälle” which is German for “sink hole”.

We got a reminder on the danger of demagogues as well as a glimpse into conflict archaeology and geomorphology with this open LiDAR download and processing exercise. If you want to explore this area any further you can either download the LiDAR and download LAStools and process the data yourself or simply get our KML files here.

Acknowledgement: The LiDAR data of TLVermGeo comes with a very permissible license. It is called “Datenlizenz Deutschland – Namensnennung – Version 2.0” or “dl-de/by-2-0” and allows data and derivative sharing as well as commercial use. It only requires us to name the source. We need to cite the “ (2017)” with the year of the download in brackets and should specify the Universal Resource Identification (URI). We have not found this yet and use this URL as a placeholder until we know the correct one. Done. So easy. Thank you, geoportal Thüringen … (-:

LASmoons: Rachel Opitz

Rachel Opitz (recipient of three LASmoons)
Center for Virtualization and Applied Spatial Technologies
Department of Anthropology, University of South Florida, USA

In Spring 2017 Rachel Opitz will be teaching a course on Remote Sensing for Human Ecology and Archaeology at the University of South Florida. The aim of the course is to provide students with the practical skills and knowledge needed to work with contemporary remote sensing data. The course focuses on airborne laser scanning and hyper-spectral data and their application in Human Ecology and Archaeology. Through the course students will be introduced to a number of software packages commonly used to process and interpret these data, with an emphasis on free and/or open source tools.

Classification parameters and the resolution at which the DTM is interpolated both have a significant impact on our ability to recognize anthropogenic features in the landscape. Here we see a small quarry. More aggressive filtering and a coarser DTM resolution (left) makes it difficult to recognize that this is a quarry. Less aggressive filtering and a higher resolution (right) leaves some vegetation behind, but makes the edges of the quarry and some in-situ blocks clearly visible.

The students will develop practical skills in applied remote sensing through hands-on exercises. Learning to assess, manage and process large data sets is essential. In particular, the students in the course will learn to:
+ Identify the set of techniques needed to solve a problem in applied remote sensing
+ Find public imagery and specify acquisitions
+ Assess data quality
+ Process airborne LiDAR data
+ Combine complementary remote sensing data sources
+ Create effective data visualizations
+ Analyze digital topographic and spectral data to answer questions in human ecology and archaeology

The course will include case studies that draw on a variety of publicly available data sets that will all be used in the exercises:
+ the PNOA data from Spain
+ data held by NOAA
+ data collected using NASA’s GLiHT platform

LAStools processing:
LAStools will be used throughout the course, as students learn to assess the quality of LiDAR data, classify raw LiDAR point clouds, create raster terrain and canopy models, and produce visualizations. The online tutorials and videos available via the company website and the over 50 hours of video on YouTube as well as the LAStools user forum will be used as resources during the course.

NRW Open LiDAR: Download, Compression, Viewing

This is the first part of a series on how to process the newly released open LiDAR data for the entire state of North Rhine-Westphalia that was announced a few days ago. Again, kudos to OpenNRW for being the most progressive open data state in Germany. You can follow this tutorial after downloading the latest version of LAStools as well as a pair of DGM and DOM files for your area of interest from these two download pages.

We have downloaded the pair of DGM and DOM files for the Federal City of Bonn. Bonn is the former capital of Germany and was host to the FOSS4G 2016 conference. As both files are larger than 10 GB, we use the wget command line tool with option ‘-c’ that will restart where it left off in case the transmission gets interrupted.

The DGM file and the DOM file are zipped archives that contain the points in 1km by 1km tiles stored as x, y, z coordinates in ETRS89 / UTM 32 projection as simple ASCII text with centimeter resolution (i.e. two decimal digits).

>> more
360000.00 5613026.69 164.35
360000.00 5613057.67 164.20
360000.00 5613097.19 164.22
360000.00 5613117.89 164.08
360000.00 5613145.35 164.03

There is more than one tile for each square kilometer as the LiDAR points have been split into different files based on their classification and their return type. Furthermore there are also synthetic points that were used by the land survey department to replace certain LiDAR points in order to generate higher quality DTM and DSM raster products.

The zipped DGM archive is 10.5 GB in size and contains 956 *.xyz files totaling 43.5 GB after decompression. The zipped DOM archive is 11.5 GB in size and contains 244 *.xyz files totaling 47.8 GB. Repeatedly loading these 90 GB of text data and parsing these human-readable x, y, and z coordinates is inefficient with common LiDAR software. In the first step we convert the textual *.xyz files into binary *.laz files that can be stored, read and copied more efficiently. We do this with the open source LASzip compressor that is distributed with LAStools using these two command line calls:

laszip -i dgm1l_05314000_Bonn_EPSG5555_XYZ\*.xyz ^
       -epsg 25832 -vertical_dhhn92 ^
       -olaz ^
       -cores 2
laszip -i dom1l_05314000_Bonn_EPSG5555_XYZ\*.xyz ^
       -epsg 25832 -vertical_dhhn92 ^
       -olaz ^
       -cores 2

The point coordinates are is in EPSG 5555, which is a compound datum of horizontal EPSG 25832 aka ETRS89 / UTM zone 32N and vertical EPSG 5783 aka the “Deutsches Haupthoehennetz 1992” or DHHN92. We add this information to each *.laz file during the LASzip compression process with the command line options ‘-epsg 25832’ and ‘-vertical_dhhn92’.

LASzip reduces the file size by a factor of 10. The 956 *.laz DGM files compress down to 4.3 GB from 43.5 GB for the original *.xyz files and the 244 *.laz DOM files compress down to 4.8 GB from 47.8 GB. From here on out we continue to work with the 9 GB of slim *.laz files. But before we delete the 90 GB of bulky *.xyz files we make sure that there are no file corruptions (e.g. disk full, truncated files, interrupted processes, bit flips, …) in the *.laz files.

laszip -i dgm1l_05314000_Bonn_EPSG5555_XYZ\*.laz -check
laszip -i dom1l_05314000_Bonn_EPSG5555_XYZ\*.laz -check

One advantage of having the LiDAR in an industry standard such as the LAS format (or its lossless compressed twin, the LAZ format) is that the header of the file stores the number of points per file, the bounding box, as well as the projection information that we have added. This allows us to very quickly load an overview for example, into lasview.

lasview -i dgm1l_05314000_Bonn_EPSG5555_XYZ\*.laz -GUI
The bounding boxes of the DGM files quickly display a preview of the data in the GUI when the files are in LAS or LAZ format.

The bounding boxes of the DGM files quickly give us an overview in the GUI when the files are in LAS or LAZ format.

Now we want to find a particular site in Bonn such as the World Conference Center Bonn where FOSS4G 2016 was held. Which tile is it in? We need some geospatial context to find it, for example, by creating an overview in form of KML files that we can load into Google Earth. We use the files from the DOM folder with “fp” in the name as points on buildings are mostly “first returns”. See what our previous blog post writes about the different file names if you can not wait for the second part of this series. We can create the KML files with lasboundary either via the GUI or in the command line.

lasboundary -i dom1l_05314000_Bonn_EPSG5555_XYZ\dom1l-fp*.laz ^
Only the "fp" tiles from the DOM folder loaded the GUI into lasboundary.

Only the “fp” tiles from the DOM folder loaded the GUI into lasboundary.

lasboundary -i dom1l_05314000_Bonn_EPSG5555_XYZ\dom1l-fp*.laz ^
            -use_bb -labels -okml

We zoom in and find the World Conference Center Bonn and load the identified tile into lasview. Well, we did not expect this to happen, but what we see below will make this series of tutorials even more worthwhile. There is a lot of “high noise” in the particular tile we picked. We should have noticed the unusually high z range of 406.42 meters in the Google Earth pop-up. Is this high electromagnetic radiation interfering with the sensors? There are a number of high-tech government buildings with all kind of antennas nearby (such as the United Nations Bonn Campus the mouse cursor points at).

Significant amounts of high noise are in the first returns of the DOM tile we picked.

Significant amounts of high noise are in the first returns of the DOM tile we picked.

But the intended area of interest was found. You can see the iconic “triangulated” roof of the building that is across from the World Conference Center Bonn.

The World Conference Center Bonn is across from the building with the "triangulated" roof.

The World Conference Center Bonn is across from the building with the “triangulated” roof.

Please don’t think it is the responsibility of OpenNRW to remove the noise and provide cleaner data. The land survey has already processed this data into whatever products they needed and that is where their job ended. Any additional services – other than sharing the raw data – are not in their job description. We’ll take care of that … (-:

Acknowledgement: The LiDAR data of OpenNRW comes with a very permissible license. It is called “Datenlizenz Deutschland – Namensnennung – Version 2.0” or “dl-de/by-2-0” and allows data and derivative sharing as well as commercial use. It only requires us to name the source. We need to cite the “Land NRW (2017)” with the year of the download in brackets and specify the Universal Resource Identification (URI) for both the DOM and the DGM. Done. So easy. Thank you, OpenNRW … (-:

First Open LiDAR in Germany

UPDATE: (January 6th): Our new tutorial “downloading Bonn in LiDAR“.
UPDATE: (January 9th): Now a second state went open LiDAR as well

Kudos to OpenNRW for offering online download links for hundreds of Gigabytes of open LiDAR for the entire state of North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen) as announced a few months ago:

More and more countries, states, and municipalities are deciding to make their LiDAR archives accessible to the general public. Some are doing entirely for free with instant online download and a generous open license that allows data sharing and commercial use. Others still charge a “small administrative fee” and require filling our actual paperwork with real signatures in ink and postal mailing of hard drives that can easily take half a year to complete. Some licences are also stricter in terms of data sharing and commercial use.

And then there was Germany where all the LiDAR data has traditionally been locked up in some cave by the 16 state survey departments and was sold for more than just a fee. Financial reasons would usually prohibit residents in Germany from making, for example, an elevation profile for their favorite mountain bike trail for hobby purposes. Or starting a small side business that (for 5 Euro a sheet) sells “Gassi Maps” with elevation-optimized dog walking paths of low incline that go past suitable potty spots and dog-friendly coffee shops.

The reason that many national and state mapping agencies have opened their LiDAR holdings for free and unencumbered access are manifold. A previous blog post had looked at the situation in England whose Environment Agency also used to sell LiDAR data and derivatives. The common argument that government agencies have been using to justify selling data (paid for with taxes) to those very same tax payers was that this would be used to finance future surveys.

It was the “freedom of information” request by Louise Huby on November 21st, 2014 that exposed this as a flawed argument. The total amount of revenue generated for all LiDAR and derivatives sales by the Environment Agency was just around £323,000 per year between 2007 and 2014. This figure was dwarfed by its annual operational budget of £1,025,000,000 in 2007/08. The revenue from LiDAR sales was merely 0.03 percent of the agencies’s budget. That can maybe pay for free coffee and tea in the office, but not for future airborne LiDAR flights. The reaction was swift. In September 2015 the Environment Agency made all their DTM and DSM rasters down to 0.25 meter resolution available online for open access and in March 2016 added the raw point clouds for download in LAZ format with a very permissible license. It has since been an incredible success story and the Environment Agency has been propelled into the role of a “champion for open data” as sketched in my ACRS 2016 keynote talk that is available on video here.

Frustrated with the situation in Germany and inspired by the change in geospatial data policy in England, we have been putting in similar “Frag den Staat” freedom of information requests with 11 of the 16 German state mapping agencies, asking about how much sales revenue was generated annually from their LiDAR and derivative sales. These four states denied the request:

We never heard back from Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) and Thuringia (Thüringen) wanted more fees than we were willing to spend on this, but our information requests were answered by five states that are here listed with the average amount of reported revenue per year in EUR:

LiDAR acquisitions are expensive and while it would be interesting to also find out how much each state has actually spent on airborne surveys over the past years (another “Frag den Staat” request anyone?), it is obvious that the reported revenues are just a tiny fraction of those costs. Exact details of the reported revenue per year can be accessed via the links to the information requests above. The cost table of each answer letter is copied below.

However, it’s not all bad news in Germany. Some of you may have seen my happy announcement of the OpenNRW initiative that come January 2017 this would also include the raw LiDAR points. And did it happen? Yes it did! Although the raw LiDAR points are maybe a little tricky to find, they are available for free download and they come with a very permissible license.

The license is called “Datenlizenz Deutschland – Namensnennung – Version 2.0” or “dl-de/by-2-0” and allows data and derivative sharing as well as commercial use. It merely requires you to properly name the source. For the LiDAR you need to list the “Land NRW (2017)” with the year of the download in brackets as the source and specify the data set that was used via the respective Universal Resource Identification (URI) for the DOM and/or the DGM.

The OpenNRW portal now also offers the download of the LiDAR "punktwolke" (German for point cloud).

The OpenNRW portal now also offers the download of the LiDAR “punktwolke” (German for point cloud).

Follow this link to get to the open data download portal. Now type in “punktwolke” (German for “point cloud”) into the search field and on this January 3rd 2017 that gives me 2 “Ergebnisse” (German for “results”). The LiDAR point cloud representation is a bit unusual by international standards. One link is for the DGM (German for DTM) and the other for the DOM (German for DSM). Both links are eventually leading you to unstructured LiDAR point clouds that are describing these surfaces. But it’s still a little tricky to find them. First click on the “ATOM” links that get you to XML description with meta information and a lot of links for the DTM and the DSM. Somewhere hidden in there you find the actual download links for hundreds of Gigabytes of LiDAR for the entire state of North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen):

We download the two smallest zipped files DGM and DOM for the municipality of Wickede (Ruhr) to have a look at the data. The point cloud is in EPSG 5555 which is a compound datum of horizontal EPSG 25832 aka ETRS89 / UTM zone 32N and vertical EPSG 5783 aka the “Deutches Haupthohennetz 1992”.

The contents of the DGM zip file contains multiple files per tile.

The contents of the DGM zip file contains multiple files per tile.

The DGM zip file has a total of 212 *.xyz files that list the x, y, and z coordinate for each point in ASCII format. We first compress them and add the EPSG 25832 code with laszip. The compressed LAZ files are less than half the size of the zipped XYZ files. Each file corresponds to a particular square kilometer. The name of each tile contains the lower left coordinate of this square kilometer but there can be multiple files for each square kilometer:

  • 14 files with “ab” in the name contain very few points. They look like additional points for under bridges. The “b” is likely for “Brücke” (German for “bridge”).
  • 38 files with “ag” in the name contain seem to contain only points in areas where buildings used to cover the terrain but with ground elevation. The “g” is likely for “Gebäude” (German for “building”).
  • 30 files with “aw” in the name contain seem to contain only points in areas where there are water bodies but with ground elevation. The “w” is likely for “Wasser” (German for “water”).
  • 14 files with “brk” in the name also contain few points. They look like the original bridge point that are replaced by the points in the files with “ab” in the name to flatten the bridges. The “brk” is also likely for “Brücke” (German for “bridge”).
  • 42 files with “lpb” in the name. They look like the last return LiDAR points that were classified as ground. The “lpb” is likely for “Letzter Pulse Boden” (German for “last return ground”).
  • 42 files with “lpnb” in the name. They look like those last return LiDAR points that were classified as non-ground. The “lpnb” is likely for “Letzter Pulse Nicht Boden” (German for “last return not ground”).
  • 32 files with “lpub” in the name contain very few points. They look like the last return points that are too low and were therefore excluded. The “lpub” is likely for “Letzter Pulse Unter Boden” (German for “last return under ground”).

It is left to an exercise to the user for figure out which of those above sets of files should be used for generating a raster DTM. (-: Give us your ideas in the comments. The DOM zip file has a total of 72 *.xyz files. We also compress them and add the EPSG 25832 code with laszip. The compressed LAZ files are less than half the size of the zipped XYZ files. Again there are multiple files for each square kilometer:

  • 30 files with “aw” in the name contain seem to contain only points in areas where there are water bodies but with ground elevation. The “w” is likely for “Wasser” (German for “water”).
  • 42 files with “fp” in the name. They look like the first return LiDAR points. The “fp” is likely for “Frühester Pulse” (German for “first return”).

If you use all these points from the DOM folder your get the nice DSM shown below … albeit not a spike-free one.

A triangulated first return DSM generated mainly from the file "dom1l-fp_32421_5705_1_nw.laz" with the points from "dom1l-aw_32421_5705_1_nw.laz" for areas with water bodies shown in yellow.

A triangulated first return DSM generated mainly from the file “dom1l-fp_32421_5705_1_nw.laz” with the points from “dom1l-aw_32421_5705_1_nw.laz” for areas with water bodies shown in yellow.

Kudos to OpenNRW for being the first German state to open their LiDAR holdings. Which one of the other 15 German state survey departments will be next to promote their LiDAR as open data. If you are not the last one to do so you can expect to get featured here too … (-;

UPDATE (January 5th): The folks at OpenNRW just tweeted us information about the organization of the zipped archives in the DTM (DGM) and DSM (DOM) folders. We guessed pretty okay which points are in which file but the graphic below (also available here) summarizes it much more nicely and also tells us that “a” was for “ausgefüllt” (German for “filled up”). Maximally two returns per pulse are available: either a single return or a first return plus a last return. There are no intermediate returns, which may be an issue for those interested in vegetation mapping.

Illustration of which LiDAR point is in which file.

Nice illustration of which LiDAR point is in which file. All files with ‘ab’, ‘ag’, or ‘aw’ in the name contain synthetic points that fill up ground areas not properly reached by the laser.

LASmoons: Alen Berta

Alen Berta (recipient of three LASmoons)
Department of Terrestrial Ecosystems and Landscape, Faculty of Forestry
University of Zagreb and Oikon Ltd Institute for Applied Ecology, CROATIA

After becoming the EU member state, Croatia is obliged to fulfill the obligation risen from the Kyoto protocol: National Inventory Report (NIR) of the Green House Gasses according to UNFCCC. One of the most important things during the creation of the NIR is to know how many forested areas there are and their wood stock and increment. This is needed to calculate the size of the existing carbon pool and its potential for sequestration. Since in Croatia, according to legislative, it is not mandatory to calculate the wood stock and yield of the degraded forest areas (shrubbery and thickets) during the creation of the usual forest management plans, this data is missing. So far, only a rough approximation of the wood stock and increment is used during the creation of NIR. However, these areas are expanding every year due to depopulation of the rural areas and the cessation of traditional farming.

very diverse stand structure of degraded forest areas (shrubbery and thickets)

This study will focus on two things: (1) Developing regression models for biomass volume estimation in continental shrubberies and thickets based on airborne LiDAR data. To correlate LiDAR data with biomass volume, over 70 field plots with a radius of 12 meters have been established in more than 550 ha of the hilly and lowland shrubberies in Central Croatia and all trees and shrubberies above 1 cm Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) were recorded with information about tree species, DBH and height. Precise locations of the field plots are measured with survey GNNS and biomass is calculated with parameters from literature. For regression modeling, various statistics from the point clouds matching the field plots will be used (i.e. height percentiles, standard deviation, skewness, kurtosis, …). 2) Testing the developed models for different laser pulse densities to find out if there is a significant deviation from results if the LiDAR point cloud is thinner. This will be helpful for planning of the later scanning for the change detection (increment or degradation).

641 square km of discrete returns LiDAR data around the City of Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia (but since it is highly populated area, only the outskirts of the area will be used)
+ raw geo-referenced LAS files with up to 3 returns and an average last return point density of 1 pts/m².

LAStools processing:
extract area of interest [lasclip or las2las]
2) create differently dense versions (for goal no. 2) [lasthin]
3) remove isolated noise points [lasnoise]
4) classify point clouds into ground and non-ground [lasground]
5) create a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) [las2dem]
6) compute height of points above the ground [lasheight]
7) classify point clouds into vegetation and other [lasclassify]
8) normalize height of the vegetation points [lasheight]
9) extract the areas of the field plots [lasclip]
10) compute various metrics for each plot [lascanopy]
11) convert LAZ to TXT for regression modeling in R [las2txt]