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USGS Digital Elevation Models (SDTS)


See the GISDataDepot DEM Home for more info


See Also Using USGS DEMs in ArcView GIS and Retrieving & Unpacking SDTS Data

Digital elevation model (DEM) data consist of a sampled array of regularly spaced elevation values referenced horizontally either to a Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) projection or to a geographic coordinate system. The grid cells are spaced at regular intervals along south to north profiles that are ordered from west to east. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) produces five primary types of elevation data: 7.5-minute DEM, 30-minute DEM, 1-degree DEM, 7.5-minute Alaska DEM, and 15-minute Alaska DEM.

Data Collection

The USGS has used four methods to collect DEM data. Of these methods, only one, interpolation from vectors or digital line graph (DLG) hypsographic and hydrographic data, is currently used for7.5-minute DEM's and other series DEM's. The following three methods (now discontinued or deactivated) were used primarily for the production of 7.5-minute DEM data: (1) the Gestalt Photo Mapper II;(2) manual profiling from photogrammetric stereomodels; (3) interpolation of the elevations from stereomodel digitized contours.

DEM data for 15-minute and 2-arc-second (30 minute) units are derived from DLG hypsographic and hydrographic data. DEM data for 1-degree units are collected from topographic map sources, ranging from the 7.5-minute map series to the 1- by 2-degree map series, or from photographic sources by using image correlation systems.

Unit Size and File Extent

DEM data for 7.5-minute units correspond to the USGS 7.5-minute topographic quadrangle map series for all of the United States.

Data for 2-arc-second (30 minute) DEM's provide coverage for the conterminous United States, except Alaska. This series is distributed as four units of 15-minute DEM data covering full 30- by 30-minuteareas that correspond to the east or west half of the USGS 30- by 60-minute topographic quadrangle map series (1:100,000 scale).

DEM data for 15-minute units correspond to the USGS 15-minute topographic quadrangle map series in Alaska. The unit sizes in Alaska vary depending on the latitude. Units south of 59๙ N. cover 15- by 20-minute areas, those between 59๙ and 62๙ N. cover 15- by 22.5-minute areas, those between 62๙and 68๙ N. cover 15- by 30-minute areas, and those north of 68๙ N. cover 15- by 36-minute areas. (All values are latitude-longitude, respectively.)

DEM data are produced by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) in l- by 1-degree units that correspond to the east or west half of USGS 1- by 2-degree topographic quadrangle map series(1:250,000 scale) for all of the United States and its territories. In Alaska these are west, central, and east files.

All nonstandard quadrangles with neat-lines that extend beyond the standard unit size to accommodate overedge boundaries are collected and sold as multiples of the standard unit sizes.



Data Characteristics

Vertical elevations are in decimal and whole units of meters and feet except for the 1-degree DEM, which is distributed in whole meters only. Elevation values for the continental United States and Alaska are in reference to the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29), with values for the islands of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam referenced to local mean sea level. Additional characteristics by data type are as follows: 7.5-minute DEM's cast on the UTM projection system are referenced to either the North American Datum of 1927 (NAD 27) or NAD 83. These data are stored as profiles with a 10- or 30-meter squaregrid spacing along and between each profile. Approximate file sizes are 9.9 megabytes for a 10-meter resolution and 1.1 megabytes for a 30-meter horizontal resolution. Data profiles for this product do not always have the same number of elevations because of the variable angle between true north and grid north in the UTM coordinate system. The 7.5-minute Alaska DEM data are referenced horizontally to the geographic (latitude/longitude) coordinate system of horizontal datums NAD 27 or NA D83. The spacing between elevations along profiles is 1 arc-second of latitude by 2 arc-seconds of longitude. The 30-minute DEM data consist of four 15-minute units of coverage that are referenced horizontally to either NAD 27 or NAD 83. The spacing of elevations along and between each profile is 2 arc-seconds.The 15-minute Alaska DEM data are referenced horizontally to NAD 27 or NAD 83. The spacing between elevations along profiles is 2 arc-seconds of latitude by 3 arc-seconds of longitude. Each profile has 451 elevations. The 1-degree DEM data are referenced geographically with the horizontal datum of the World Geodetic Survey (WGS) system of 1972. A few units are also available using the WGS 1984 Datum. Spacing of the elevations along and between each profile is 3 arc-seconds with 1,201 elevations per profile. The only exception is DEM data in Alaska, where the spacing and number of elevations per profile vary depending on the latitude. Latitudes between 50๙ and 70๙ N. have spacings at 6 arc-seconds with 601 elevations per profile, and latitudes greater than 70๙ N. have spacings at 9 arc-seconds with 401elevations per profile.

Data Records

A DEM file is organized into three logical record types: A, B, and C. The type A record contains information defining the general characteristics of the DEM, including its name, boundaries, units of measurement, minimum and maximum elevations, number of type B records, and projection parameters. There is only one type A record per DEM file. The type B record contains profiles of elevation dataand associated header information. There is a type B record for each profile. The type C record contains statistics on the accuracy of the data.

Data Accuracy

The accuracy of DEM data depends on the source and resolution of the data samples. DEM data accuracy is derived by comparing linear interpolation elevations in the DEM with corresponding map location elevations and computing the statistical standard deviation or root-mean-square error (RMSE). The RMSE is used to describe the DEM accuracy. For 7.5-minute DEM's derived from a photogrammetric source, 90 percent have a vertical accuracy of 7-meter RMSE or better and 10 percent are in the 8- to 15-meter range. For 7.5- and 15-minute DEM's derived from vector or DLG hypsographic and hydrographic source data, an RMSE of one-half contour interval or better is required. The 1-degree DEM data have an absolute accuracy of 130 meters horizontally and 30 meters vertically.

Source: United States Geological Survey (USGS) EROS Data Center


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