Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) technology has become an important tool for quantification of how tectonic and earth surface processes contribute to the development of landscapes. High-resolution lidar topography collected from airborne or terrestrial platforms allows landscapes to be represented at sub-meter resolution and in three dimensions. Lidar-based research results are numerous, but these data also may be applied to earth science education. The study and analysis of tectonic landscapes and their characteristic landforms is an essential piece of earth science education that helps students grasp fundamental earth system processes. Typically, students are introduced to tectonic landforms through diagrams and images in earth science textbooks. Lidar data, coupled with free tools like Google Earth, provide a means to invite students and the interested public to visualize, explore, and interrogate these same landforms in an interactive manner not possible with two dimensional remotely sensed imagery. OpenTopography has made EarthScope lidar data collected over tectonically-active regions of the western US available online. These data, covering a diverse range of landscapes and landforms, provide an abundance of data that could be incorporated into teaching.
OpenTopography, in collaboration with UNAVCO, are developing a catalog of classic geologic landforms represented in lidar. The catalog’s content will initially be based on EarthScope datasets hosted by OpenTopography, and will be populated with features such as faults, offset geomorphic markers, and tectonic landforms. The catalog webpage will display a list of landforms and representative images with the option to download the data in Google Earth KMZ format, as a digital elevation model, or the original lidar point cloud file. By providing the landform in a range of data types, users can choose to load the image into a presentation, work with the data in a GIS, or perform advanced data analysis on the original point cloud data. In addition, for each landform, links to additional online resources and a bibliography of select publications will be provided. We envision the catalog development as the first phase and hope that later activities will focus on building curriculum that utilizes the catalog and lidar data to teach earth system processes.