Many millions of acres of current and former Department of Defense (DoD) lands are potentially contaminated with military munitions or their components. On the majority of these sites, munitions are concentrated in specific ranges and training areas, while the remainder of the site is ordnance-free. Locating the site of contamination can be difficult, in part because historical records are often incomplete or inaccurate. The cost of traditional surveys using magnetometry and electromagnetic induction (EMI) can be very high, and this has driven the search for innovative methods to reduce costs.

Previous work by ESTCP demonstrated that Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) could be an effective addition to this combination, helping to detect and delineate munitions response sites, correcting the initial conceptual site model, and providing data in support of subsequent investigation. Results from LiDAR and orthophotography provided cross-validation of magnetometry and EMI data, leading to higher confidence levels, and the combination of technologies employed in the pilot program was found to be cost-effective. This project extends ESTCP’s earlier work with LiDAR that was carried out in ESTCP Project MR-200534.


This demonstration is an extension of the Wide Area Assessment (WAA) Pilot Program, investigating and providing additional guidance to government land managers on the appropriate use of LiDAR and orthophotography at munitions sites. Specific objectives were to systematically investigate vegetation effects on airborne LiDAR in munitions management, evaluate current software packages for their ability to automatically identify ground features typical of munitions sites, and summarize lessons learned from the ESTCP WAA Pilot Program.

Demonstration Results

The demonstrators determined that LiDAR can perform well at vegetated sites, though vegetation will cause some decrease of LiDAR density and thus lower confidence in feature detection; LiDAR measures of vegetation height and density correlate reasonably well with standard measures; and lowering the LiDAR data density affected the feature detection under vegetation.

The demonstrators determined that current software products offer useful tools for manipulating LiDAR data, but of those reviewed, only software developed by Sandia National Laboratories was able to delineate craters from LiDAR-based surfaces.

Finally, the demonstrators and the US Army Corps of Engineers developed a draft guidance document summarizing lessons learned which is provided as an appendix to the project Final Report.

Implementation Issues

LiDAR is a tool in the assessment of munitions sites and as the technology becomes more widespread, a wider variety of site conditions will be encountered. Results from this project provide munitions response project teams further information on the capabilities and limitations of LiDAR and the supporting software products.