Until recently, the coarse resolution of topographic mapping has been a major impediment to understanding the forces and process that shape Earth's surface. Although airborne liar is useful for surveying small areas, a space-based sensor is essential for worldwide mapping. Global topographic data are now available at 30- to 90- meter horizontal resolution, with a vertical precision of about 10 meters. Much better data are needed in order to predict the location and timing of landslides, floods, tsunami run-ups, and lava and mud flows.
Using laser altimetry, LIST will carry out the most precise global topographic survey to date, with a resolution of 5 meters and a precision in the tenths of meters This will permit mapping of landslide, earthquake, and flood hazards at a small enough scale to be useful for site-specific land use decisions as well as research. Observations from LIST will help scientists find active faults, map the global loss of topsoil, and detect signs of potential volcanic activity. Global measurements of vegetation height will advance studies of forest and land-cover dynamics and allow quantitative assessment of wildfire risk.