Due to a large number of available Airborne Lidar Bathymetry (ALB) survey datasets and scheduled future surveys, there is a growing need from coastal mapping communities to estimate the accuracy of ALB as a function of the survey system and environmental conditions. Knowledge of ALB accuracy can also be used to evaluate the quality of products derived from ALB surveying. This paper presents theoretical and experimental results focused on the relationship between sea surface conditions and the accuracy of ALB measurements. The simulated environmental conditions were defined according to the typical conditions under which successful ALB surveys can be conducted. The theoretical part of the research included simulations, where the ray-path geometry of the laser beam was monitored below the water surface. Wave-tank experiments were conducted to support the simulations. A cross section of the laser beam was monitored underwater using a green laser with and without wind-driven waves. The results of the study show that capillary waves and small gravity waves distort the laser footprint. Because sea-state condition is related to wind at a first-order approximation, it is possible to suggest wind speed thresholds for different ALB survey projects that vary in accuracy requirements. If wind or wave information were collected during an ALB survey, then it is possible to evaluate the change in accuracy of ALB survey due to different sea surface conditions.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

Publication Date




Journal Title

SPIE Proceedings: Laser Radar Technology and Applications

Conference Date

Apr 23 - Apr 26

Publisher Place

Baltimore, MD


© (2012) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE).



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type

Conference Proceeding