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Characterising errors in airborne laser altimetry data to extract soil roughness

IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society
Publication Date
  • 550 Earth Sciences


Airborne laser altimetry has the potential to make frequent detailed observations that are important for many aspects of studying land surface processes. However, the uncertainties inherent in airborne laser altimetry data have rarely been well measured. Uncertainty is often specified as generally as 20cm in elevation, and 40cm planimetric. To better constrain these uncertainties, we present an analysis of several datasets acquired specifically to study the temporal consistency of laser altimetry data, and thus assess its operational value. The error budget has three main components, each with a time regime. For measurements acquired less than 50ms apart, elevations have a local standard deviation in height of 3.5cm, enabling the local measurement of surface roughness of the order of 5cm. Points acquired seconds apart acquire an additional random error due to Differential Geographic Positioning System (DGPS) fluctuation. Measurements made up to an hour apart show an elevation drift of 7cm over a half hour. Over months, this drift gives rise to a random elevation offset between swathes, with an average of 6.4cm. The RMS planimetric error in point location was derived as 37.4cm. We conclude by considering the consequences of these uncertainties on the principle application of laser altimetry in the UK, intertidal zone monitoring.

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