DEM—Digital Elevation Models
, A digital representation of a continuous variable over a two- dimensional surface by a regular
array of z values referenced to a common datum (Where z equals elevation).
,Digital elevation models are typically used to represent terrain relief. Also referred to as 'digital
terrain model' (DTM). (Where z equals elevation).
,An elevation database for elevation data by map sheet from the National Mapping Division of the
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
,The format of the USGS digital elevation data sets.
A DEM (Digital Elevation Model) is simply a digital map of elevation data. These maps, a type of
DTM (Digital Terrain Model), are raster data meaning that they are made up of equally sized gridded
cells each with a unique elevation.
DEMs come in different scales and resolutions. For example, 1:24,000 scale DEM is simply a
USGS (United States Geological Survey) 7.5’ quadrangle that has been digitized and each cell in
the DEM represents a block of terrain 30 meters x 30 meters. The 1:250,000 scale DEM (also
known as a 1-degree or a 3 arc-second DEM) has a resolution of 90 meters x 90 meters. DEMs
with better resolution are available, but require large amounts of computer memory and disk space
and are often impractical to use for large areas of land. If an individual DEM does not cover the
entire area of interest, then multiple DEMs can be tiled together to make one large DEM.
The projection and datum for a DEM varies. A common projection for DEMs is UTM (Universal
Transverse Mercator) coordinates (meters) and have a specific datum associated with them.
Elevations are usually in meters, but sometimes are in feet for areas of low relief, and are
referenced to mean sea level.
Uses of Elevation Data
There are many uses and applications of DEMs. GIS (Geographic Information System) software
such as ArcView and ARC/INFO, as well as modeling software such as WMS (Watershed Modeling
System) can use DEMs for many engineering and scientific applications. WMS uses DEM data to
produce watersheds which are then used to model storm events, create hydrographs, route floods
down rivers and through reservoirs, etc.
This information can be used to design culverts, dams, detention basins and other hydraulic
From the Glossary of Mapping Terms *excerpt from The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, The University of Texas at Austin
DEM Page 2
structures. DEM data are commonly used to create another type of digital terrain model called a
TIN (Triangulated Irregular Network).
Public domain software is available for tasks such as simply viewing a DEM -- one example is at
Global Mapper: formerly know as DLGV32 supports viewing of most of the popular data formats,
including DLG-O, DRG, DOQ, DEM, DXF, SDTS, DLG, SDTS DEM, ECW, MrSID, ESRI
Shapefiles, E00, GTOPO30, TerrainBase, ETOPO2 etc. what makes it very popular is the fact that
it will support the latest DEM and SDTS DEM formats, including decimeter DEMs. Additional
functionality includes Crop, reproject, and merge any combination of raster data, including DRGs.
Free version has limited export capabilities.
Data Available in the Library
The use of the CDED is RESTRICTED to Carleton
Canadian Digital Elevation Data: CDED University faculty, students, and staff for academic
http://www.cits.rncan.gc CDED consist of an research and teaching purposes ONLY, and is
ordered array of ground elevations at regularly governed by a licensing agreement with Natural
spaced intervals. They are derived from the Resources Canada. Users are required to sign an end
National Topographic Data Base (NTDB) user license agreement BEFORE files are
digital files at the 1:50 000 and 1:250 000 administered.
scales, based on the divisions of the National CDED data files must be requested at the MADGIC
Topographic System (NTS). Carleton Information Desk—allow 10 days delivery time.
University Library has access to Canadian
Digital Elevation Data for all of Canada at scales of 1:50,000 and 1:250,000. These digital elevation
models are based on the National Topographic Databse (NTDB) and consist of a 1 metre
resolution grid of ground elevations recorded in metres relative to Mean Sea Level (vertical datum)
using the NAD83 horizontal reference datum. Each CDED file is a cell that covers half of a National
Topographic System (NTS) map sheet. As a result, each data set at the 1:50 000 and 1:250 000
scales has an "eastern" and "western" section. The grid spacing is based on geographic
coordinates at a minimum resolution of 3 arc-seconds and a maximum resolution of 12 arc-
seconds, depending on the latitude. CDED are used with geographic information systems (GIS) for
land management applications, terrain modeling, line-of-sight analysis, flood simulation, slope and
aspect calculations, etc. For detailed product standards and
specifications see National Resources Canada's product information
booklet (PDF) available on line at: http://www.cits.rncan.gc.ca/
fich_ext/1/text//products/dnec/cdedspec.pdf CDEDs are recorded
in USGS ASCII format and require a number of steps to import the
files into a GIS program such as ArcView. Citation Format: Centre for
Topographical Information and the Canadian Forest Service, Ontario
Region. Canadian Digital Elevation Data, 031g05_0100_deme
CDED displayed in 3d Viewer [machine readable data file] Ottawa: Natural Resources Canada,
Page 3 DEM
DMTI: Digital Elevation Model Data
A description of the DMTI DEM files appears on the DMTI web site at
Optimal array of ground elevations at regularly
spaced intervals. 30 and 90 metre resolutions The use of the DMTI DEMs are RESTRICTED to
captured from 1:50,000 NTDB. Nationwide Carleton University faculty, students, and staff for
academic research and teaching purposes ONLY, and
coverage based on availability of 1:50,000 NTDB
is governed by a licensing agreement with DMTI
File format: ASCII .txt files. This format can be
Spatial. Users are required to sign an end user license
viewed in ArcView using the Spatial Analyst or 3D agreement BEFORE files are administered.
Analyst extensions. Or it can be converted using
ArcGIS Arc Toolbox into grid format. This is raster DMTI dem data files must be requested at the
data, with a single elevation value, in metres, for MADGIC Information Desk—allow 10 days delivery
each cell. There are no other attributes.
Local Coverage, Large Scale:
National Capital Commission. DEM Files. Ottawa. 2 CD-ROMs. MDE
These CD-ROMs are DEM files for the NCC orthophotos. Each individual orthophoto is a DEM file
composed of x, y, and z co-ordinates spaced at 10 metre intervals. File specifications are: MTM Zone 9,
License Terms: Sign Carleton University license agreement. Data is for teaching and research purposes,
not for commercial use.
This is an excerpt from a file:
321950.000 5047990.000 109.807321950.000 5048000.000 109.905321950.000
5048010.000 110.000321950.000 5048020.000 110.256
Yukon. Dept. of Renewable Resources. Geographic Information System. RRGIS 90 Meter Digital
Elevation Model. MDE
The RRGIS 90 Meter DEM is a Digital Elevation Model spanning the entire Yukon and a bit beyond in
some places. It was interpolated from the digital 1:50,000 Canadian National Topographic Database
contour and watercourse layers using 30 meter cells (aka pixels) and then resampled to 90 meters. For
refinement and added quality we also incorporated ancillary data not part of the NTDB. Data from the
http://www.renres.gov.yk.ca/pubs/rrgis/data/data_desc/90m_dem.html has been copied onto a CD-
Rom. License Terms (from the website): The DEMs are free, in both the sense of cost and of liberty. From
the website: “You are free to use these DEMs in any way you see fit including commercial endeavours.”
World Coverage, Small Scale:
GeoData Software Systems. Digital terrain model (DTM): software and data sampler. Navarre, Fla.,
GeoData Software Systems. MDE GA139.G46 1 CD-Rom. http://www.geodatas.com/dem/dtm.htm
DEM Page 4
Licence Terms: No restraints on use of the data. This CD-ROM contains a variety of software and
digital data that is essential in the study of elevation information as it applies to geographic
information system technology. The CD-ROM is divided into two sections: a software directory
and a data directory. The software section of this CD-ROM contains numerous software titles to
manipulate digital elevation data. When available, source code has been included with the
•Elevation format converters allow the reformatting of data from/to standard DEM, SDTS
DEM, Raster-to Vector, xyz, vector contours and numerous other formats.
•Elevation data viewing software allows the viewing of elevation data alone or in combination
with other types of data (i.e. imagery, Digital Line Graph [DLG]). Some of the viewing software
also includes a full range of format conversion functionality.
Geodetic utilities are included that allow a full range of coordinate conversions, datum
transformations, and reprojection of geographic data.
•Numerous demonstration, shareware and freeware viewers for elevation data are included on
The digital data section of this CD-ROM contains over 3 gigabytes of compressed digital data.
User's manuals and other documentation are included for each type of standard data format.
The following data is included on this CD-ROM:
•GTOPO30 elevation data provides worldwide coverage at a 30 arc second post spacing
(approximately 1/2 nautical mile). Worldwide coverage is included on the CD-ROM.
•ETOPO5 elevation data provides worldwide coverage at a 5 arc minutes post spacing
(approximately 5 nautical miles). Worldwide coverage is included on the CD-ROM.
•NAVY10 elevation data provides worldwide coverage at a 10 arc minutes post spacing
(approximately 10 nautical miles). Worldwide coverage is included on the CD-ROM.
•Numerous examples of Digital Elevation Model (DEM) data at 100 meter, 30 meter, and 10
meter post spacing are included. Data is included in standard DEM, DEM SDTS, and DTED
formats. Data sets over a variety of terrain classes are included.
•Numerous examples of elevation data in the form of vector contour lines, are also included.
Contour line data, in a variety of formats, is included (i.e. .DXF, DLG, XYZ).
To allow true digital terrain modeling, many example data sets of digital line graph data,
digital map data, and imagery are also included. In the viewing software, these can be
draped over their corresponding elevation data to create dramatic 3-D views.
Where can I find more information on DEMs?
Search Subject Heading Digital Mapping in the Library Catalogue: http://
And Keywords: DEM, digital terrain, digital elevation, etc.
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A selected bibliography from Library Catalogue:
Digital elevation model technologies and applications :the DEM users manual. Bethesda,
Maryland, ASPRS, 2001. MDR GA139 .D523 2001
Selected Internet Links:
Digital Terrain Data: Scientific Discussion from National Geophysical Data Centre. http://
DIGITAL TERRAIN MODELS: DEFINITIONS, EXAMPLES, PRACTICAL USES http://
Digital Terrain Models (DTM) may be confused with Digital Elevation Model (DEM). http://
Glossary of GIS Terms http://www.esri.com/library/glossary/glossary.html
Idaho Geospatial Data Center http://geolibrary.uidaho.edu/GeoLib/tutorial/
Lexicon of Terms for Digital Mapping Products http://cgdi.gc.ca/english/supportive/
Representing Reality in a GIS: The Raster and Vector Data Models http://
Internet Guide to Downloading Data
GIS Data Depot: http://www.gisdatadepot.com/
Gittings, Bruce M. Catalogue of digital elevation data. Last Updated: 23-Jan-1997. http://
United States Data: US Earth Resources Observation Systems (EROS):http://www.epa.gov/
1-Degree DEM File Finder: USGS has made available this is interactive program 1-degree
Digital Elevation Model (DEM) data for the entire United States. Simply fill out the Latitude and
Longitude of the site for which you need 1-degree DEM data. http://www.pes.com/pes/
USGS Geographic Data Download: http://edc.usgs.gov/doc/edchome/ndcdb/ndcdb.html
National Geophysical Data Center is currently involved in several projects to collect public
domain digital elevation models. http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/seg/topo/
Yukon Territory: http://www.renres.gov.yk.ca/pubs/rrgis/data/data_desc/90m_dem.html
DEM Page 6
World Data: Gtopo is a global digital elevation model (DEM) with a horizontal grid spacing of 30
arc seconds (approximately 1 kilometer) http://edcdaac.usgs.gov/gtopo30/gtopo30.html
THE PORTAL: to Global Environmental Datasets: http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/seg/tools/gis/
dem.pub HM 2003-10-28rev