Journal cover image created by MIT Lincoln Laboratory technology

In the September/October 2010 issue of Pathfinder: The Geospatial intelligence Magazine published by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), a feature article discussed the use of LIDAR (light detection and ranging) systems to create high-resolution, three-dimensional (3D) terrain maps. These maps provide information not only for topographical models of terrain but also for analytical tasks such as detection of changes in a region, foliage penetration, and determination of road trafficability. Lincoln Laboratory's Airborne Ladar Imaging Research Testbed (ALIRT), an imaging laser radar that rapidly collects highly accurate 3D wide-area terrain maps from altitudes up to 9000 meters, was employed to help the U.S. military with relief operations in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. The cover image (below) of Pathfinder is a color-enhanced ALIRT image of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

Cover of Pathfinder magazineCover of Pathfinder shows a LIDAR image of Port-au-Prince captured by the ALIRT system. Images created by LIDAR systems color-code the relative heights of objects and terrain; imagery within a height range is assigned a specific color. This image's hues were then scaled with reflectance data to enhance details. The National Palace of Haiti is the structure in the lower right-hand corner.






















The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is the nation's premier source of geospatial intelligence. As a Department of Defense combat support agency and a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community, NGA provides imagery, geospatial and targeting analysis, along with image sciences and modeling for U.S. national defense, disaster relief, and safety of navigation. NGA seeks to know the Earth, show the way, and understand the world. For more information, visit

Posted September 2011

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