Reflections on 15 years of OpenTopography: The Power of Topographic Data for Open Science (with examples from earthquake geology and volcanoes)
Open Science extends knowledge creation, evaluation, and communication beyond the traditional scientific community to benefit all.
On our dynamic and changing planet, topographic data serves as a three-dimensional reference for understanding the Earth’s surface, including its topography, vegetation cover, and built environment. The availability of high-resolution topography from lidar (light distance and ranging), radar, and photogrammetry has revolutionized earth, environmental, and ecological sciences. These data illuminate Earth surface processes at meter to tens-of-meters scales over large swaths of the globe, generating novel insights and have broad applications in engineering, planning, and the preservation of cultural heritage.
However, utilizing high resolution topographic data to its full potential is a significant challenge due to massive data volumes, compute-heavy processing requirements, and the high-level of domain-specific knowledge needed to interpret the data. To overcome these challenges and unlock the potential of these data in the Earth sciences, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) funds the OpenTopography Facility to democratize access to these powerful data to enable scientific discoveries and innovative applications.
OpenTopography centralizes access to data, browser-based processing services, application programming interfaces (APIs), and knowledge resources to increase the impact of topographic data investment by expanding access and usability across diverse communities. Over 215,000 users have accessed OT’s data and services, and over 850 peer-reviewed publications have been generated. OpenTopography is also widely used by students at educational institutions ranging from large research universities to baccalaureate and associate degree granting colleges.