USGS EROS Archive - Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

Science Center Objects

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) collection provides high resolution remote sensing data for monitoring landscape and natural resource conditions over small project areas. Data types will vary by project. (2008-present)

Back to Product Overview

UAS Orthoimage of DeBeque Canyon, Colorado March 2014

UAS OrthoImage monitoring a rockslide in DeBeque Canyon, Colorado, in March 2014.
(Entity ID -  

(Public domain)

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Project Office utilizes UAS technology for collecting remote sensing data on a local scale. Typical UAS projects encompass areas that are difficult to reach or too expensive for traditional aircraft missions. The flexibility of operations and relative low cost of UAS allow scientists to support a range of activities including monitoring environmental conditions, analyzing the impacts of climate changes, responding to natural hazards, understanding landscape change rates and consequences, conducting fire assessments, tracking wildlife inventories, aiding search and rescue, and supporting related land management and emergency response missions. UAS raw data can be acquired in project areas that were previously too expensive or too dangerous to monitor. Geospatial products, such as orthophotography and Point Cloud data, can be generated from the raw data to meet the needs of the scientific research and public safety communities.

The USGS is part of a collaborative team working across the Department of the Interior (DOI), Federal Aviation Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Forest Service, academia, and private industry.

The National UAS Project Office website highlights the results of completed projects along with mission photos, posters, and publications. Examples of these projects include population surveys of nesting American White Pelicans at the Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge, NV; vegetation mapping in difficult terrain and tule elk population estimates at Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve, CA; documentation of exposed dinosaur tracks at the paleontological track site at White Sands National Monument, NM; and inspection of abandoned mine lands in Coal Basin, Pitkin County, CO.

Products Available for Download

The USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center manages and distributes data for the UAS Project Office, USGS Science Centers and other DOI bureaus. Type of data, format, file size, and resolution will vary by mission. Projects may include multiple missions over a range of dates.

The following UAS datasets are available through EarthExplorer:

The UAS Raw Photography collection includes high resolution photographic images acquired by cameras and sensors mounted on UAS. Imagery is captured from either vertical or oblique angles. The photos may have feature displacement and scale variation caused by differences in elevation, lens distortion, and camera tilt. The browse images in EarthExplorer are shown as they are captured along a flight line and may need to be rotated to adjust the orientation when verifying the area of interest.  Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number: doi:10.5066/P9XA9T50 

The UAS Orthoimagery is created from the raw image files by correcting feature displacement, scale variations, sensor geometry, and camera tilt. The orthorectified images are mosaicked to generate a product that combines the image characteristics of an aerial photograph with the geometric qualities of a map. These Orthoimagery products are in GeoTIFF format.  Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number: doi:10.5066/P97SVEMY

The UAS Point Cloud data are derived from raw image data along with vertical and horizontal ground measurements. The Orthoimagery has a significant amount of overlap which allows for digital photogrammetric processing of three-dimensional Point Clouds with a similar resolution. The files are in LAS or LAZ format, which stores data as a series of x (longitude), y (latitude), and z (elevation) points.  Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number: doi:10.5066/P9LPXP0U

The Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) are another high level derived product. This elevation dataset includes Digital Surface Model (DSM) and Digital Terrain Model (DTM) data in GeoTIFF format. The type of DEMs available for download will vary by project.  Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number: doi:10.5066/P9391206 

  • DSMs provide elevation values of landscape features on the earth's surface. This topographic product contains the height of the highest surface on the ground including vegetation, man-made structures, and bare earth.
  • DTMs provide elevation values of the underlying terrain of the earth’s surface. This topographic product reflects the height of bare earth where the elevations of vegetation and man-made features have been removed.

The UAS Data Sharing Portal Webform is available to upload UAS data to datasharingportal for inclusion to the USGS EarthExplorer UAS dataset. 

The USGS UAS Data Delivery Specification document defines the data delivery and ingest process, by outlining standard specifications for metadata and data formats that the USGS EROS Data Center will require for ingesting this data

Coverage Maps

Coverage Maps indicating the availability of UAS Raw Photography products are available for download.

Coverage Maps indicating the availability of UAS Orthoimagery products are available for download.

Coverage Maps indicating the availability of UAS Point Cloud products are available for download.

Coverage Maps indicating the availability of UAS DEMs products are available for download.

Additional Information

Access Data

EarthExplorer can be used to search, preview, and download UAS data.  Raw, Ortho, Point Cloud, and DEM datasets are located under the UAS category.