digital elevation map on a computer cartoon

Free Worldwide LiDAR and DEM Data Sources

Unlock the power of precise geospatial analysis with our guide to free Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and Digital Elevation Models (DEMs). LiDAR technology captures detailed 3D information about the earth's surface, ideal for mapping, forestry, and urban planning, while DEMs provide essential elevation data crucial for environmental studies, hydrology, and geographic planning. Whether you’re a professional in environmental management, an urban planner, or a geospatial scientist, this guide offers key resources to access high-quality LiDAR and DEM datasets that can transform your projects.


Global Sources

OpenTopography

OpenTopography, supported by NSF-EAR, offers free public access to research-grade topography and bathymetry data, ranging from high-resolution to global datasets. Located at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego, OpenTopography is a leading platform for accessing high-resolution LiDAR and DEM datasets globally. It democratizes access to topography data through advanced technologies like LiDAR, radar, and photogrammetry, enhancing data usability with powerful cloud-hosted tools for discovery, processing, and visualization. Supported by partnerships with Arizona State University and the EarthScope Consortium and funded by the National Science Foundation, OpenTopography facilitates robust data analysis and offers extensive training and support to ensure users can effectively utilize the data.

https://opentopography.org/start

NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM)

Conducted in February 2000 on the Space Shuttle Endeavour, SRTM successfully mapped approximately 80% of the Earth’s terrain. The mission utilized a dual radar system with antennas positioned in the shuttle's payload and on an extended 200-foot mast to capture detailed topographic data. This setup enabled the generation of Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) using C-band radar for comprehensive coverage, while X-band radar provided higher resolution mappings of more limited areas. Together, these radars created precise interferometric maps, offering unprecedented insights into the Earth's landforms.

https://search.earthdata.nasa.gov/search?q=SRTM

Galileo

The Galileo search engine is a robust platform that aggregates a vast array of Digital Elevation Model (DEM) raster layers from thousands of local, state, and federal sources worldwide. This extensive collection makes Galileo an invaluable resource for researchers, environmental scientists, and urban planners seeking comprehensive geospatial data for a variety of applications. By centralizing access to these diverse datasets, Galileo facilitates enhanced discovery and utilization of high-quality elevation data, supporting projects in climate research, disaster management, urban development, and environmental conservation.

https://galileo.gisdata.io


North America

USGS 3D Elevation Program (3DEP)

Spearheaded by the U.S. Geological Survey's National Geospatial Program, 3DEP provides high-quality topographic data and 3D representations of the U.S., supporting a range of critical applications from emergency response to infrastructure planning. Born from the findings of the National Enhanced Elevation Assessment in 2012, 3DEP leverages LiDAR and IfSAR technologies to produce Digital Elevation Models (DEMs), Digital Surface Models (DSMs), and LiDAR point clouds. These technologies have been pivotal in projects such as flood management and urban planning. Since its full-scale production in 2016, 3DEP has mapped nearly 95% of the nation with high-precision elevation data, continuously advancing to meet the needs for more detailed and frequent data updates.

https://www.usgs.gov/3d-elevation-program/about-3dep-products-services

NOAA Digital Coast

Developed to support the coastal management community, NOAA's Digital Coast provides not just coastal data but also tools, training, and tailored information to enhance utility and applicability. The platform features a wide range of data including economic metrics and satellite imagery, complemented by visualization and predictive tools to facilitate data usage. Organized by focus areas and vetted by NOAA, Digital Coast offers online and on-site training, ensuring relevance and practicality for coastal managers. The initiative is guided by the Digital Coast Partnership, which incorporates user feedback to continually refine and target its offerings.

https://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/data/

The National Map

A key component of the U.S. Geological Survey's geospatial offerings, The National Map provides essential topographic data, including DEMs and LiDAR data, that are crucial for environmental management and urban planning. This platform integrates various data layers such as hydrography, geographic names, and boundary markers, all updated continuously to ensure accuracy and usability. The National Map is particularly valuable for applications like flood risk assessment and infrastructure development, enabling professionals to access seamless and comprehensive data for strategic planning and effective resource management.

https://apps.nationalmap.gov/downloader/

EarthExplorer

Also managed by the USGS, EarthExplorer offers a user-friendly interface for exploring, downloading, and ordering a wide range of geospatial data. This platform excels in providing historical satellite imagery, climate data, and aerial data collections, making it indispensable for researchers and professionals who require detailed environmental and historical geospatial analysis. EarthExplorer's tools simplify the process of finding and manipulating specific datasets to meet the precise needs of various projects.

https://earthexplorer.usgs.gov/


Europe

European Data Portal

A key resource for accessing a wide range of geospatial data, the European Data Portal aggregates LiDAR and high-resolution DEM datasets from across Europe. This platform facilitates easy access to a vast array of data sourced from multiple European countries, making it a vital tool for researchers, policymakers, and professionals involved in environmental monitoring and urban planning. 

https://data.europa.eu/data/datasets?query=lidar

Copernicus DEM

The Copernicus Digital Elevation Model (DEM) is an advanced Digital Surface Model (DSM) that incorporates the Earth's surface and aboveground features. Based on the high-precision WorldDEM™ derived from the TanDEM-X mission, it is enhanced with other DEMs like ASTER and SRTM for comprehensive coverage. Available in three resolutions—COP-DEM EEA-10, COP-DEM GLO-30, and COP-DEM GLO-90—this model provides detailed elevation data useful for environmental modeling, urban planning, and the orthorectification of satellite imagery. Most GLO-30 and GLO-90 tiles are freely accessible worldwide, making them invaluable for a variety of applications.

https://collections.eurodatacube.com/copernicus-dem/


Asia

JAXA's ALOS PRISM

Part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) earth observation initiatives, Advanced Land Observing Satellite - Panchromatic Remote-sensing Instrument for Stereo Mapping (ALOS PRISM) provides high-resolution Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) that enhance land observation across Asia. This technology is pivotal for disaster management and environmental studies, enabling accurate 3D mapping for risk assessment and resource management. ALOS PRISM's detailed data supports sustainable development efforts and is invaluable in planning and executing environmental and disaster preparedness projects.

https://www.eorc.jaxa.jp/ALOS/en/dataset/aw3d30/aw3d30_e.htm


Australia

Geoscience Australia

Geoscience Australia, the nation's preeminent Earth science agency, has shaped Australia's understanding and management of its unique landscape for over a century. Originally established as the Australian Survey Office in 1910, this institution supports crucial decision-making in government, industries, and communities by providing high-quality topographic data and insights. Their work spans from historical topographic mapping to modern initiatives in mineral and energy resource management, significantly contributing to Australia's economic and environmental strategies.

https://ecat.ga.gov.au/geonetwork/srv/eng/catalog.search#/search?title_OR_altTitle_OR_any=dem


Conclusion

This comprehensive guide has explored an array of free LiDAR and DEM data sources available worldwide, detailing each tool’s unique contributions to various fields like urban planning, environmental research, and disaster management. From the globally accessible data offered by OpenTopography to the precision mapping capabilities of NASA’s SRTM and the detailed elevation models provided by Geoscience Australia, these platforms equip professionals with the essential data necessary for informed decision-making and effective project implementation.

Furthermore, resources like the USGS’s 3DEP and NOAA’s Digital Coast not only supply critical data but also enhance its usability through robust tools and training. The Galileo search engine exemplifies how aggregating diverse datasets can significantly streamline research and planning processes. As we look to the future, the continued development and accessibility of such resources will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in advancing geospatial sciences and contributing to a more informed and resilient society. Whether for academic research, government planning, or private sector projects, the wealth of information provided by these data sources is invaluable in navigating and understanding the complex dynamics of our planet.

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