Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Forestry Sciences


Natural Resources Management


College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences


Brian Dietterick

Advisor College

College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences


Detecting change in stream channel features over time is important in understanding channel morphology and the effects of both natural and anthropogenic influences. Channel features historically, and now currently, are being measured using a variety of ground survey techniques. These surveys require substantial time commitments and funding to complete. Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) is an airborne laser mapping technology that holds promise to provide an alternative to ground-based survey methods. For this study, ground surveys were used to verify the accuracy of data collected using airborne LiDAR. Fifty nine cross-sectional profiles were surveyed in the Little Creek watershed at Cal Poly’s Swanton Pacific Ranch and compared to LiDAR-generated profiles of the same location. LiDAR data were collected in two flights during April and May of 2002. The vertical accuracy of LiDAR elevations was determined to be 0.610 m RSME based on a point-to-point comparison of the elevation of ground survey points in each cross-sectional profile to the corresponding LiDAR elevation. The average ground spacing of the LiDAR survey within the study area was one point every 5.2 square meters. In comparison to ground surveys it was found that with this level of vertical precision and horizontal resolution it would be difficult to detect change in bankfull channel characteristics of a relatively small channel, such as Little Creek. These difficulties are largely attributed to poor point coverage in forested, steep, and mountainous terrain, along with technological limitations of LiDAR that have since improved.