The GISuser’s Guide to locating and downloading Free USGS data (Part 2)

This feature complements the original article "The GISuser‘s Guide to locating and downloading Free USGS data". It provides the reader with additional information about SDTS, DRG, and DEM developer support, translators, viewers, and tools. Data Resolution – before you plan your project, keep in mind that USGS DEM data are available in several scales. Nationwide coverage may not be available at all resolutions.

  • 7.5-Minute DEMs correspond to the USGS 1:24,000- and 1:25,000-scale topographic quadrangle maps, and are available for all of the U.S. and its territories. They are cast to the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) projection system and are referenced to either the North American Datum (NAD) of 1927 (NAD27) or the NAD of 1983 (NAD83). Most files will have a grid spacing of 30 meters, but 10-meter grids are also available for some locations. The average file size of a 30-meter DEM is 1.1 megabytes and 9.9 megabytes for a 10-meter DEM. They are available in Native and Spatial Data Transfer Standard (SDTS) format.
  • 30-Minute DEMs correspond to the east half or west half of the USGS 30-minute by 60-minute topographic quadrangle map, and are available for the conterminous U.S. and Hawaii. They are expressed in geographic coordinates (latitude/longitude) and are referenced to either NAD27 or NAD83. Grid spacing is 2 arc-seconds.
  • 1-Degree DEMs correspond to the 3 arc-second (or 1:250,000-scale) USGS topographic map series, and are available for all of the contiguous U.S. and most of Alaska. They are expressed in geographic coordinates (latitude/longitude). Most are referenced to the World Geodetic Survey (WGS) system of 1972 (WGS72), but some are referenced to the WGS system of 1984 (WGS84). Grid spacing is 3 arc-seconds.


National Mapping Standards – Standards set the criteria and specifications to ensure that all products prepared by the USGS Geography Discipline (formerly National Mapping) under the National Mapping Program (NMP) reflect current mapping and data policies and are accurate and consistent in style and content.

DEM Standards – The USGS has provided the National Mapping Program Standards for digital elevation data in these publications.

SDTS Support Software for Programmers – The USGS and some individuals have developed several software tools to assist programmers with implementing SDTS.

The Spatial Data Transfer Standard – Guide for Technical Managers : a concise, comprehensive guide to the SDTS for technical managers in spatial data user organizations and software development groups involved in SDTS use or implementation

Sample data from USGS – If you’re unsure about a data format we suggest you grab a sample dataset before you purchase or download gigabytes of data.


dlgv32 Pro is a limited-feature version of commercial software called Global Mapper which was created from the original dlgv32 source code. Enables Auto-clip collar for DRG’s and Opens SDTS DLG and SDTS DEM files directly from .tar.gz archives

SDTS DEM to ArcView Grid Conversion Utility – This ArcView extension, which predates the ArcView 3.2 utility, enables the user to import SDTS format grid digital elevation data directly into ArcView with Spatial Analyst.

sdts2dem: a Translator for SDTS DEM Files – sdts2dem translates USGS DEM files from SDTS format to "native" [.DEM] format. It is in the public domain and may be freely redistributed. So what do SDTS format DEM data look like? Well, if you’ve downloaded data and you now have a bunch of files with the .DDF extension these are SDTS data.

BLM SDTS Utilities – thsi ftp site hosted by the BLM provides access to a number of utilities and scripts to help you work with SDTS format data.

SDTS++ – SDTS++ is a C++ toolkit that programmers can use to write applications that can read or write SDTS datasets. Application developers can use SDTS++ library classes to work with the logical structure of these datasets without having to worry about the physical details of each dataset.

Tutorial, How to Create a Virtual Image Using USGS DEMs – introduces users to VistaPro and its ability to work with USGS DEMs. VistaPro is a software produced by RomTech. It costs about $60.00.

3DEM – 3DEM will produce three dimensional terrain scenes and flyby animations from a wide variety of freely available data sources including USGS Digital Elevation Models (DEMs), Digital Raster Graphic topographic maps (DRGs) and Digital Orthophoto Quad aerial photographs (DOQs). 3DEM can merge multiple DEMs to provide high-resolution maps and 3D projections of large surfaces, limited only by computer memory.

Merging and Clipping Digital Elevation Models (DEM’s) in ArcView using the Grid Utilities Script – This method describes procedures to merge or mosaic USGS formated Digital Elevation Models (DEM’s) into a single seamless DEM.

DEM Tutorial – A basic guide for using Digital Elevation Models with Terragen

Aster DEM Import tutorial for ER Mapper users – This document concerns how to import ASTER DEM .hdf files into ArcView 3.x or ER Mapper successfully

Tips on using DRG and DOQQs – brief answers to a number of commonly asked questions

DEM based Terrain Modeling with ArcView GIS [PDF]

Downloading and using GTOPO30 DEM data [PDF]

By Glenn Letham (January, 2004)

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