USGS LIDAR Base Specification


In late 2009, a $14.3 million allocation from the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” for new light detection and ranging (LIDAR) elevation data prompted the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Geospatial Program (NGP) to develop a common base specification for all LIDAR data acquired for The National Map. Released as a draft in 2010 and formally published in 2012, the USGS–NGP “LIDAR Base Specification Version 1.0” (now LIDAR Base Specification) was quickly embraced as the foundation for numerous state, county, and foreign country LIDAR specifications.

Prompted by a growing appreciation for the wide applicability and inherent value of LIDAR, a USGS-led consortium of Federal agencies commissioned a National Enhanced Elevation Assessment (NEEA) study in 2010 to quantify the costs and benefits of a national lidar program. A 2012 NEEA report documented a substantial return on such an investment, defined five Quality Levels (QL) for elevation data, and recommended an 8-year collection cycle of Quality Level 2 (QL2) LIDAR data as the optimum balance of benefit and affordability. In response to the study, the USGS–NGP established the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) in 2013 as the interagency vehicle through which the NEEA recommendations could be realized.

LIDAR is a fast evolving technology, and much has changed in the industry since the final draft of the “LIDAR Base Specification Version 1.0” was written. LIDAR data have improved in accuracy and spatial resolution, geospatial accuracy standards have been revised by the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS), industry standard file formats have been expanded, additional applications for LIDAR have become accepted, and the need for interoperable data across collections has been realized. This revision to the “LIDAR Base Specification Version 1.0” publication addresses those changes and provides continued guidance towards a nationally consistent LIDAR dataset.

Historically, the Lidar Base Specification (LBS) was published as U. S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods, book 11, chapter B4 (TM-11B4) with Hans Karl Heidemann as the primary author. In 2018, the USGS changed the review and approval method for updating the LBS and, concurrently, changed the publication method to make the updates more timely (see the Elevation Specifications Review Board page for more information). Along with these changes, the version of the specification was updated to 2.0. Version 2.1 of the specification was approved in September, 2019, by the USGS Elevation Specifications Review Board and the 3DEP Working Group.

The latest version of the Lidar Base Specification, 2023 rev. A, was released in September 2023. This release follows a change in the version numbering convention to aid in tracking revisions and to clarify the year of release. Versions are now labeled with “YYYY rev. L” where YYYY is the year of the release and L is a letter corresponding to the order of the release. LBS 2022 rev. A is the first release of the LBS in 2022. If there were to be a second release with new revisions, it would be named “LBS 2022 rev. B”.  

Links to the LBS

For information on revisions being considered for the next LBS release, please see the LBS Revisions Status page. 

The revision history of the LBS can be found on the Lidar Base Specification Revision History page. Dates of publication are given in parentheses after the title. During the transition from print publication to online publication, versions 1.3 and 2.0 were in effect concurrently. This ended with the publication of version 2.1. 

Lidar Base Specification 2024 rev. A (JAN 2024) 

Lidar Base Specification 2023 rev. A (SEP 2023)

Lidar Base Specification 2022 rev. A (APR 2022) 

Lidar Base Specification 2021 rev. A (JUN 2021) (pdf)

Lidar Base Specification 2020 rev. A (AUG 2020) (pdf)

Lidar Base Specification Version 2.1 (OCT 2019) (pdf)

Lidar Base Specification Version 2.0 (JUL 2018 in Spec-X, available online JUL 2019) (pdf

The following links are to pdf versions of previous versions of the LBS

Lidar Base Specification Version 1.3 (Feb2018)

Lidar Base Specification Version 1.2 (Oct2014)

Lidar Base Specification Version 1.0 (Aug2012)


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