The National Enhanced Elevation Assessment (NEEA) has just been completed. This project was sponsored by the National Digital Elevation Program (NDEP), composed of 12 member agencies and the National States Geographic information Council (NSGIC). The US Geological Survey (USGS) acted as the managing partner on the project. Participants in the study included 34 federal agencies, all 50 states and US territories, tribal governments, private companies and non-profits, and a sample of local governments.
In Wisconsin, information for the survey was collected in the summer of 2011 under the guidance of Ron Wencl, Wisconsin’s USGS liaison. Other information on this project can be found here.
The USGS gave a summary of the NEEA project at the last NSGIC conference in February, 2012. In addition, an exhaustive 800+ page report has been completed. A white paper is also being developed by the USGS to summarize this report, and will be published shortly.
The goal of NEEA is to document business uses and benefits of enhanced elevation data with the ultimate goal of expanding elevation data availability and quality nation-wide. The NEEA survey identified over 600 functional activities that make use of high-resolution elevation data, which were then grouped into 27 business uses. The monetary benefits of enhanced elevation data were then assessed for each of these business uses.
According to the survey, the business uses with the greatest potential benefits nationally include flood risk management (benefits of $295 to $502 million per year), infrastructure and construction management ($206 to $942 million per year), natural resources conservation ($159 to $335 million per year), agriculture and precision farming ($122 to $2,011 million per year), and land navigation and safety ($0.2 to $7,125 million per year). Other business uses – including water quality, geologic resource assessment, and aviation safety – have benefits that are somewhat smaller but still on the order of tens of millions of dollars per year.
In Wisconsin, the primary business uses identified were water resource management, agriculture and precision farming, geologic resource assessment and hazard mitigation, flood risk management, infrastructure and construction management, aviation navigation and safety, natural resources conservation, and education and research.
The NEEA also provides a snapshot of elevation data status across the US. About 28 percent of the country (excluding Alaska) is covered by publically available LiDAR data. Most of this data is at “Quality Level 3” which implies a density of 0.25 to 1 points per square meter, a vertical Root Mean Squared Error (RMSE) less than or equal to 18.5 cm, and an equivalent contour accuracy of 2 feet.
One of the goals of NEEA was to quantify the benefit-cost ratio for a nation-wide LiDAR program. Various acquisition scenarios were examined. For example, assuming uniform nation-wide coverage at Quality Level 3 over 25 years, the average annual costs would be $35 million, compared to average annual benefits of $148 million, for a benefit-cost ratio of 4.3 to 1.
Other scenarios perform better in terms of net benefits or benefit-cost ratios. For example, a 15-year acquisition cycle for Quality Level 3 would yield $261 million in benefits and produce a benefit-cost ratio of 4.5 to 1. However, acquisition costs would be much higher.
While these are impressive ratios, the cost of data acquisition is still high and there is as yet no agreed-upon cost-sharing model.
There is much more in the survey that is of relevance to the state of Wisconsin. Look for additional Mapping Bulletin articles in the near future as more information is released.