3D Elevation Program (3DEP)

3DEP Call for Action

The 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) initiative has accelerated the rate of three-dimensional (3D) elevation data collection in response to a call for action to address a wide range of urgent needs nationwide. It began in 2012 with the recommendation to collect (1) high-quality light detection and ranging (lidar) data for the conterminous United States (CONUS), Hawaii, and the U.S. territories and (2) interferometric synthetic aperture radar (IfSAR) data for Alaska. Specifications were created for collecting 3D elevation data, and there are ongoing efforts to continue modernizing data management and delivery systems. The national DEM layers previously referred to as the ‘NED’ are now branded as 3DEP seamless DEMs. These seamless national DEM layers are just a few of the datasets offered in the broader suite of 3DEP elevation products. For a description of 3DEP products and services, visit https://www.usgs.gov/core-science-systems/ngp/3dep/data-tools.

Lidar point cloud over Washington, DC

Lidar point cloud over Washington, DC

(Credit: Jason Stoker. Public domain.)

The call for action requires broad support from a large partnership community committed to the achievement of national 3D elevation data coverage. The initiative is being led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and includes many partners—Federal agencies and State, Tribal, and local governments—who will work together to build on existing programs to complete the national collection of 3D elevation data in 8 years. Private sector firms, under contract to the Government, will continue to collect the data and provide essential technology solutions for the Government to manage and deliver these data and services. The 3DEP governance structure includes (1) an executive forum established in May 2013 to have oversight functions and (2) a multiagency coordinating committee based upon the committee structure already in place under the National Digital Elevation Program (NDEP).

The 3DEP initiative is based on the results of the National Enhanced Elevation Assessment (NEEA) that was funded by NDEP agencies and completed in 2011. The study, led by the USGS, identified more than 600 requirements for enhanced (3D) elevation data to address mission-critical information requirements of 34 Federal agencies, all 50 States, and a sample of private sector companies and Tribal and local governments. NOAA and USGS are sponsoring the 3D Nation Requirements and Benefits Study, which will update the NEEA study and collect requirements and benefits from users of inland, coastal, and offshore bathymetry data.

The 3DEP effort began providing products and services to partners and the public in 2015. Because 3DEP depends on private sector mapping firms to collect data, jobs will be created as the funding increases. Additional jobs will result when the 3DEP data drive the implementation and development of applications, as documented in the NEEA study. At the full funding level, 3DEP could return more than $690 million annually in new benefits directly to the private sector and indirectly to citizens through improved government program services. When 3DEP data are widely available, further private sector and government innovations will follow for years to come.