Frequently Asked Questions

Mapping, Remote Sensing, and Geospatial Data

The USGS provides the mapping and digital geospatial foundation for the Nation.

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Scanned USGS historical map of the Yorktown, Virginia area, circa 1907
The primary purpose of the Historical Topographic Map Collection (HTMC) project is to keep older USGS topographic quadrangle maps -- those published between 1884 and 2006 -- available to the public. This is fundamentally a document preservation project. These maps are part of the U.S. public record, and have many uses for historic analysis, but...
Historical USGS topographic map of the Prescott, Arizona area
This question has many variations. The following comments, from actual customer mail, are all about the same issue: Older topo maps seem to have a neatline that doesn’t quite align geographically with the quad boundaries of topos post-2000. Our [independent] coordinates, plotted on the USGS Topographic Map using the geospatial tool, have a...
Screen shot of National Map Advanced Viewer
USGS online maps (for example, The National Map Viewer) present several background map views. Unlike similar commercial applications, these USGS maps use public domain data. Connecting to services is the preferred method of using these base map displays, but some users want to host their own copies of the underlying data. Following is an...
Image of North Shore of Lake Tahoe from point could LiDAR data showing elevation intensity
USGS lidar data in LAZ 1.4 format has been compressed using a recently updated tool from LAStools.  Until the commercial software industry implements direct support for this new compressed format, the user will need to decompress the LAZ 1.4 data to LAS 1.4 format before importing into common GIS software.  USGS recommends using the following...
LiDAR image of a river
Amazon Web Services (AWS) provide an import/export capability that allows data residing in Amazon to be transferred to physical storage devices for a fee. If you want to send your own hard drive to Amazon and you need 16 TB or less transferred, the Import/Export Disk option is recommended by Amazon. Pricing can be viewed at https://aws.amazon.com/...
Lidar image of Pittsburgh
The USGS lidar data is available from an Amazon S3 Requester Pays bucket named usgs-lidar.  The data is arranged by projects and is only available in LAZ format: Bucket Name: usgs-lidarBucket Region: US West (Oregon) To access the usgs-lidar bucket a user must create an Amazon AWS account at https://aws.amazon.com/free/ so that any charges...
A comparison of an air photo and a lidar image of an area along Secondary Road and Camp Creek
All of the USGS lidar data holdings are freely available through the FTP service located at: ftp://rockyftp.cr.usgs.gov/vdelivery/Datasets/Staged/Elevation/LPC/Projects/. However, download speeds are limited by the infrastructure and can become bottlenecked with heavy usage. The lidar Requester Pays option is ideal for quickly accessing very large...
HI Honolulu US Topo (Browse Image for Story Map)
The field entitled "Topo Map Name"; indicates the name of a USGS standard topographic map. If the map name is known and entered in this field (data may be entered in other fields also), the query will return the features that are wholly or partially located on the map (and that meet the other query parameters). Note that map names frequently are...
Satellite image showing mining in North Dakota.
Pixelation is an artifact of the browse generation process and is common for scenes that are located over flat, low-contrast areas, such as water, sand and snow. The actual data will not appear this way.
Image shows a satellite view of Guadalupe Mountains National Park after a wildfire
LandsatLook images are full-resolution .jpeg files that are included as options when downloading Landsat data from EarthExplorer, GloVis, or via the LandsatLook Viewer. These are useful for simple visual interpretation without the need for specialized software. LandsatLook products include: LandsatLook "Natural Color" Image (3-band composite)...
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Drone)
Yes, flight approval is required. The USGS receives flight approval from the Federal Aviation Administration prior to every unmanned aircrat systems (UAS) mission. The official document is referred to as a Certificate of Authorization and Waiver. It is the approval process by which the Federal Aviation Administration allows for public agencies to...
Image: Raven Unmanned Aircraft.
Training for USGS UAS operators is provided by the Department of the Interior Office of Aviation Services. It has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and is specific to the types of UAS that the department operates. The training provides operators with the skills and knowledge necessary to operate a small UAS in the National...