Zero to a trillion: Advancing Earth surface process studies with open access to high-resolution topography

Christopher J. Crosby, J. Ramón Arrowsmith, Viswanath Nandigam

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

12 Scopus citations


High-resolution topography (HRT) is a powerful observational tool for studying the Earth's surface, vegetation, and urban landscapes, with broad scientific, engineering, and education-based applications. Submeter resolution imaging is possible when collected with laser and photogrammetric techniques using the ground, air, and space-based platforms. Open access to these data and a cyberinfrastructure platform that enables users to discover, manage, share, and process then increases the impact of investments in data collection and catalyzes scientific discovery. Furthermore, open and online access to data enables broad interdisciplinary use of HRT across academia and in communities such as education, public agencies, and the commercial sector. OpenTopography, supported by the US National Science Foundation, aims to democratize access to Earth science-oriented, HRT data and processing tools. We utilize cyberinfrastructure, including large-scale data management, high-performance computing, and service-oriented architectures to provide efficient web-based visualization and access to large, HRT datasets. OT colocates data with processing tools to enable users to quickly access custom data and derived products for their application, with the ultimate goal of making these powerful data easier to use. OT's rapidly growing data holdings currently include 283 lidar and photogrammetric, point cloud datasets (> 1.2 trillion points) covering 236,364 km2. As a testament to OT's success, more than 86,000 users have processed over 5 trillion lidar points. This use has resulted in more than 290 peer-reviewed publications across numerous academic domains including Earth science, geography, computer science, and ecology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDevelopments in Earth Surface Processes
PublisherElsevier B.V.
Number of pages22
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NameDevelopments in Earth Surface Processes
ISSN (Print)0928-2025


  • Cyberinfrastructure
  • Geoinformatics
  • Geomorphology
  • Surface processes
  • Topography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Zero to a trillion: Advancing Earth surface process studies with open access to high-resolution topography'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this