Lidar is an amazing technology. By pulsing a laser dozens to hundreds of thousands of times per second and recording the reflected light, Lidar sensors can construct striking 3D models of everything from buildings to river valleys to forest canopies. It also what makes self-driving cars possible.
The map above was created using Lidar from NASA’s ICESAT satellite and the Shuttle Radar Topography mission. It’s the second of it’s kind, the first of which was made by Michael Lefsky at Colorado State. I remember hearing Lefsky talk at a small Lidar conference in 2005 about the challenges of using space-based Lidar to map forest canopies worldwide. Despite the problems, he was sold on the technology. I can see why.