Skip to Main Content
A suite of sensors has been assembled to map surface elevation and topography with fine resolution from small unmanned aircraft systems. The sensor package consists of a light detecting and ranging (LIDAR) instrument, an inertial measurement unit (IMU), a Global Positioning System (GPS) module, and digital still and video cameras. The system has been utilized to map ice sheet topography in Greenland and to measure sea ice freeboard and roughness in Fram Strait off the coast of Svalbard and in the Southern Ocean near McMurdo, Antarctica. The elevation measurement accuracy is found to be <; 10 cm (1σ) when short-baseline differential GPS processing is used to position the aircraft, and IMU data are used to correct for off-nadir pointing of the LIDAR. The system is optimized to provide coincident surface topography measurements and imagery of ice sheets, glaciers, and sea ice, and it has the potential to become a widely distributed observational resource to complement manned-aircraft and satellite missions.