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NCALM Supports Diverse Lidar Research Projects

The National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping – NCALM is a joint effort of the University of Houston and UC Berkeley. It provides lidar data for research, advances lidar mapping and trains graduate students in the use of technologies.

NCALM logo


In 2016 NCALM was instrumental (pun intended) in supporting ground breaking archeology projects that located the ruins of a complex Maya settlement in Guatemala and an ancient civilization in Honduras in 2012. Those lidar-derived, digital terrain models don’t lie.

“The archeology work is significant, and it gets a lot of attention,” said Craig Glennie, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston, where the center is based, and principle investigator on a $3.26 million, five-year operational grant from the National Science Foundation. “But the center has produced important science from our work with earthquakes, landslides, wildfires and other efforts to map terrain and how it evolves over time.”

More than 530 scientific papers have been published in peer-reviewed journals using data gathered by the center, known as NCALM. The papers have been cited about 8,000 times, according to Web of Science.

Contour Models - NCALM

Contour Models – NCALM

Most of the data is made publicly available through OpenTopography; datasets involving the San Andreas and San Jacinto Faults have proved the most popular, downloaded almost 4,000 times.

The center also offers seed grants to fund projects submitted by graduate students from around the nation; 121 have been funded in the past 15 years, and Glennie said the latest NSF funding will allow NCALM to continue the grants.

Center director Ramesh Shrestha, professor of civil and environmental engineering, said the center has three mandates: provide high-quality research data to scientists, advance the technology for laser mapping and train graduate students to use the technologies. Master’s and Ph.D. programs in geosensing systems engineering and sciences were started in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

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