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What are digital elevation models (DEMs)?

Digital elevation model (DEM) data are arrays 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.

Part of a 7.5-minute DEM plot of
Tumwater, Wash.

Part of a 7.5-minute DEM plot of Tumwater,Wash.

Similar digital elevation data, arranged not by quadrangles but as a huge, single, seamless file, are known as National Elevation Data, or NED. See the fact sheet available at

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