Visualizing LIDAR with Google Earth

LIDAR derived contours in Google EarthLIDAR imagery of Toronto in Google Earth

[UPDATE 1430 ET: corrected attributions] A couple of researchers from UC Berkeley contacted me to share some visualizations they have developed for Google Earth using LIDAR data (a kind of optical radar system that allows you to collect 3D information in digital form of outdoor scenery). Martin Isenburg and Jonathan Shewchuk have published some of their results at this web page (which is at UNC where Martin got his PHD). They are using view-based network links to let you view image overlays of LIDAR data, and they have developed tools so they can generate isocontours from the LIDAR and generate contour tiles viewable in Google Earth as well.

Check out this example of LIDAR aerial imagery overlayed for Toronto, Canada . As you zoom in you will see the tiles of imagery they have available. The imagery has a shaded relief appearance which reflects the presence of 3D shapes. You can see trees, cars, and even people in the data.
Also, try the contour example they have for Mount Saint Helens in GE. You can see that the interior of the volcano in GE does not reflect the full extent of terrain in the interior (tilt your view in GE to see this).

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was released. He worked in 3D computer graphics for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition.


  1. Hmmm, Google updated Mt. Saint Helens a fews months back with 3m terrain that seems to have disappeared.
    The BBS post:
    The post w/ pic on OgleEarth:
    You can clearly see the difference in the interior detail. What happened?

  2. it’s interesting how many possibilities are coming out to obtain a more perfect 3D visualization. this is one we can use, that data just need to be interpreted as object dimension, add some color and you got it. 3D outdoors.
    (africa would look beautiful!)

  3. Re Mount Saint Helens: I’m guessing GE uses Shuttle Radar Topography Mission ( data from 2000, while the more recent LIDAR data shows the growth of the lava dome (

  4. or maybe let LIDAR understand the colors of google earth, just like it did, and instead of printing them on a gray picture, draw them as 3D object form.
    can do a lot of gray city buildings and outdoor trees, but it can get help from that technology that creates 3D buildings from pictures of the same building in different angles, mainly what that thing does is rip the textures, calculate the horizon, join together similarities. LIDAR can define where the things are, and based on LIDAR’s shape, since the engine for finding similarities is already built in the 3D-from-pictures program, it can find the similarity between his 3D shape and LIDAR’s one and fix it.

  5. I have read various articals on Lidar and google technology. I believe everybody is so stuck on Lidar and they have forgotten next best thing called texel technology, I am co-founder of intelisum, we have created a technology which is fusion of lidar and image data, not draping or colorizing point cloud. yes I can place the collected lidar”texel” data on google earth. which gives realism. and accuracy to lidar data. I will be posting my data for public soon, if you need to see it send me an email.

  6. That is one thing I like Lidar it really give more accurate information and a perfect 3d visualization. From angles to texture, Lidar can really give the best result. Applying Lidar for Google Earth is a good news I believe there will be so much more services a lidar can give.

  7. We do use Lidar data as an input source for floodplain models and sometimes for following earth embankments and extracting their crest heights as required.
    I found Lidar data pretty useful for this purpose; mind you we always needed to order low-level ones just to keep the distance between points under 25cm. Cost a fortune though…
    This posting looks very promising, shame I haven’t got anything on my computer to open the Toronto files with…It would be good to see how is this thing really works…nevermind, will do it on Monday at work:)
    This is a really good GIS/mapping site altogether, far better than many of your competitors, I will definitely subscribe for your rss feed…

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