The southern edge of San Francisco Bay is surrounded by former salt evaporation ponds, where tidal flow has been restricted since the mid to late 1890s. These ponds are now the focus of a large wetland restoration project, and accurate measurement of current pond bathymetry and adjacent mud flats has been critical to restoration planning. Aerial light detection and ranging (lidar) has become a tool for mapping surface elevations, but its accuracy had rarely been assessed for wetland habitats. We used a singlebeam echosounder system we developed for surveying shallow wetlands to map submerged pond bathymetry in January of 2004 and compared those results with aerial lidar surveys in two ponds that were dry in May of 2004. From those data sets, we compared elevations for 5164 (Pond E9, 154 ha) and 2628 (Pond E14, 69 ha) echosounder and lidar points within a 0.375-m radius of each other (0.750-m diameter lidar spot size). We found that mean elevations of the lidar points were lower than the echosounder results by 5 ± 0.1 cm in Pond E9 and 2 ± 0.2 cm in Pond E14. Only a few points (5% in Pond E9, 2% in Pond E14) differed by more than 20 cm, and some of these values may be explained by residual water in the ponds during the lidar survey or elevation changes that occurred between surveys. Our results suggest that aerial lidar may be a very accurate and rapid way to assess terrain elevations for wetland restoration projects.
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Vol. 26 • No. 2