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Irish landscape revealed by 3D laser mapping technology

Launch of Open Topographical Data Viewer: Geological Survey Ireland, National Monument Service, National Parks and Wildlife Service and Discovery Programme

24th April 2018


Geological Survey Ireland, a division of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, has built Ireland's first Open Topographic Data Viewer. The viewer will be launched by Seán Kyne, Minister for Natural Resources, on the 24th April at the annual meeting of the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) being held in Tullamore, Co. Offaly.


The Open Topographic Data Viewer project is a collaboration between Geological Survey Ireland (GSI), the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht's National Monuments Service (NMS) and  National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and The Discovery Programme: Centre for Archaeology and Innovation Ireland  within the remit of the Heritage Council. These organisations  are keen to make all of their high resolution topographic data freely available. 


The datasets are in the form of Digital Terrain Models and Digital Surface Models, which have been processed from LiDAR (light detecting and ranging) data. The benefit of LiDAR data and its derived high resolution topographic data are already nationally and internationally recognised with uses including highly detailed mapping of natural and man-made surface features; field-scale changes in slopes, which support agricultural practice, infrastructure planning and development, and flood assessments; habitat mapping and forestry resource assessments.


Michael MacDonagh, Chief Archaeologist in the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht weclomed the collaboration and the access to this new mapping data-  "The benefits of LiDAR imagery to survey, management and protection of archaeological sites is already well established. This new access to such high resolution imagery at a country-wide scale is a very exciting development. The mapping resource will be of significant benefit to archaeological research across the 3rd level sector and other organisations and heralds a new period of exciting archaeological exploration and mapping. It will assist greatly in the protection of our archaeological resource and provide accurate survey information for infrastructural providers to allow them to plan projects sustainably, complementing the various open-access archaeological survey platforms already managed by the Department." 


"Mapping our diverse and precious habitats and ecoystems, especially where they are at risk, has become more and more important," noted Dr. Ciaran O'Keeffe from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. "This will help to ensure that we can look after the environment that supports many vital species, such as pollinators, and that enriches our own lives on a daily basis.  For example, the National Parks and Wildlife Service use LiDAR data to design the restoration works to repair the hydrological balance on raised bogs, and this makes efficient project budgeting, scheduling and implementation possible.  It also helps us to explain to our stakeholders what we are doing, and allay any fears in relation to potential changes in the water table in adjacent lands."


Shane Carey, GSI's LiDAR data manager, highlighted that "Geological Survey Ireland use LiDAR data specifically to map geological features, which are not only interesting and feed into our publically available maps, but also provide important planning information to reduce the risk of certain hazards occurring – building houses over areas of possible geological collapse for example." The maps are also used to identify possible flood extents around turloughs, which are a karst feature almost unique to Ireland.


However, LiDAR data are expensive and sometime difficult to acquire as it is remotely sensed from an aircraft, which can be affected by poor weather conditions. "Organisations will generally commission data collection campaigns over very focused areas for a specific project" stated the Geological Survey's Director, Koen Verbruggen. "The aim of this viewer is to host LiDAR from all interested government and non-government organisations and to build up a mosaic of available data across the country".  He further noted that, "These high quality topographic maps are not only fascinating to look at, but making them freely available will definitely stimulate new research and improve existing products and techniques. Another important point is that having all of the data displayed at one location will prevent costly duplication of LiDAR data collection, which has already occurred in some locations."


The topographic data from The Discovery Programme, which includes data donated by the Heritage Council and Meath County Council, Geological Survey Ireland, National Monuments Service and National Parks and Wildlife Service are now freely available to download from this online portal, which is hosted on Geological Survey Ireland's website (  A number of other organisations have expressed their interest in making their data available through the webviewer and the next update is already being planned.


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Notes to Editors

The GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF IRELAND (GSI), founded in 1845, is the National Earth Science Centre. It is responsible for providing geological advice and information, and for the acquisition of data for this purpose.

GSI produces a range of products including maps, reports and databases and acts as a knowledge centre and project partner in all aspects of Irish geology. It is a division of the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment (DCCAE) and has about 70 multi-disciplinary staff.

The DISCOVERY PROGRAMME: Centre for Archaeology and Innovation Ireland is a national archaeological research body supported by the Heritage Council. The Discovery Programme pursues its goals by identifying 'gaps' in our knowledge or areas where intense research is required or would be valuable. It promotes interdisciplinary research, engages with constantly evolving new technologies in digital imaging and surveying techniques, and develops outreach activities to communicate the results of its projects to the general public as well the academic community. The Discovery Programme is funded through the Heritage Council and EU research grants.

The NATIONAL MONUMENTS SERVICE (NMS) is part of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and plays a key role in the protection of our archaeological heritage. It has responsibility for:

  • Archaeological issues arising at National Monuments in State care.
  • The conservation and management (including visitor services) of these monuments is the responsibility of the Office of Public Works.
  • Carrying out surveys of known sites and where sites are thought to be located and to compile inventories of sites and monuments.
  • Implementing the legislation in relation to the protection of monuments and sites, including historic wrecks and underwater archaeological sites.
  • Regulating archaeological excavations, use of detection devices for archaeological purposes and diving on historic wrecks and underwater archaeological sites.
  • Providing advice to planning authorities on development proposals (development plans, heritage plans and individual planning applications) that may have implications for the archaeological heritage.

The NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDLIFE SERVICE (NPWS) is fully integrated in the Heritage Division of the is part of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and has responsibility for the protection and conservation of Ireland's natural heritage and biodiversity at national government level. The responsibilities of the NPWS include:

  • Protection of habitats and species through the promotion of activities considered beneficial to their conservation and restoration.
  • Administering a licensing system to regulate and control activities that impact on habitats or species in Ireland.
  • Managing, maintaining and developing Ireland's National Parks and Nature Reserves.
  • Raising awareness about our natural heritage through education and information dissemination. Examples include the Notice Nature Campaign and the NPWS Education and Visitor Centres located at several protected sites around the country.
  • Creating and maintaining a comprehensive inventory of species and habitats in Ireland.
  • Undertaking scientific surveys and research, and compiling monitoring data, to assist in the provision of specialist advice in relation to public policy, designations, and the protection and management of wildlife habitats and species.
  • The implementation of Ireland's National Biodiversity Plan.
  • The implementation of EU legislation and policies and the ratification and implementation of international conventions and agreements relating to the natural heritage.
  • Considering and advising on development proposals that may impact on nature conservation.
  • Supporting the independently chaired Peatlands Council.


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