Northeastern Caribbean topography gets a digital upgrade from laser altimetry



An airborne laser altimeter especially designed for profiling topography beneath dense vegetation has collected high-resolution digital topographic data in the northeastern Caribbean and the Lesser Antilles island arc (Figure 1a) that will be used to assess the tectonic geomorphology of this slowly uplifting, rapidly weathering area. A key aspect of the instrument for tropical regions is its ability to differentiate between canopy and ground returns by recording the full laser backscatter signal, such that true ground elevation and vegetation height are sampled [Harding et al., 1994].

Deployed in 1997, the altimeter, known as the Scanning Lidar Imager of Canopies by Echo Recovery (SLICER),was developed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.The information from SLICER is expected to give insight into the distribution of Neogene displacement zones and to furnish constraints for three-dimensional elastic models of an obliquely convergent plate boundary It also will permit analysis of the interplay between tectonism and volcanism on the evolution of a tropical oceanic island arc and provide ground verification for digital topography acquired by synoptic methods.