Use of a three-dimensional laser scanner to digitally capture the topography of sand dunes in high spatial resolution

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We herein report the results of a field study that was designed to test the feasibility of using ground-based LIDAR to map the topography of a sand dune in high spatial resolution. A portable Cyrax 2500 three-dimensional (3D) laser scanner was used to digitally capture the topography of a barchan, roughly 4 m tall and 50 m long, located in the White Sands National Monument, New Mexico. We performed eleven scans around the barchan and obtained the elevation relative to the interdune flat at roughly 1/4 million points on the dune surface. The elevation point data were then interpolated to yield a continuous surface model of the dune topography with c. 10 cm spatial resolution and c. 6 mm position accuracy. The results from this field study clearly demonstrate the potential of ground-based LIDAR as a mapping tool for use in aeolian research and other earth science applications. The 3D surface model of the dune can describe the morphology with hitherto unprecedented detail. Moreover, the surface of the dune is mapped with a minimum of foot traffic on the dune itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-398
Number of pages8
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2004



  • Digital elevation model
  • Sand dune
  • White sands

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