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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GIS data layers visualization
Download Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) data using the U.S. Board on Geographic Names website. Query the database for official geographic feature names, their location attributes, variant names, and other data. Display, print, and download up to 2,000 records from a query. GNIS data can also be downloaded via the National Map Viewer....
Map showing CASC regions
No level of government has official designations for regions. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which is responsible by law for standardizing geographic name usage throughout the Federal government, is often asked for official names and boundaries of regions, but does not and cannot provide them. Regions are application-driven and highly...
Photograph of the city of Fort Collins, CO with mountain in the background
There are no official definitions of city, town, village, hamlet, neighborhood, etc. All named entities with human habitation are classified as Populated Place, including incorporated places (20 percent of the Nation's communities), unincorporated places (the majority), housing developments not yet incorporated, and neighborhoods within...
outline of NY state and counties with dot where study is located
There are 3,141 counties and county equivalents in the 50 States and the District of Columbia: 3,007 entities named "County" 16 Boroughs in Alaska 11 Census Areas in Alaska (for areas not organized into Boroughs by the State) 64 Parishes in Louisiana 42 Independent Cities (1 in Maryland, 1 in Missouri, 1 in Nevada, and the remainder in Virginia) 1...
Trunk Bay, US Virgin Islands
Several categories with different meanings and requirements fall under the jurisdiction of the United States and are contained in the Geographic Names Information Sytem (GNIS) data. States and DC 50 States plus the Federal District known as District of Columbia Commonwealths Puerto Rico (Caribbean) Northern Marianas Islands (Pacific) (former...
usgs_national_center_building
Since the USGS obtains most boundaries, structures, and transportation data from external sources, the frequency of updates depends on the release schedule of the source products. Boundaries updates are variable. Data content for the Structures map service is targeted for quarterly refresh cycles, while updated products are immediately available...
Image of Menol Park building
National Map data products can be downloaded through The National Map Download Client. To download data from The National Map Download Client: 1) Select the data you wish to download on the left side of the page.2) Select the resolution and format you are interested in. 3) There are several ways to define your area of interest:     Option 1: To...
Image: New Accessions Arriving at Field Records
The USGS Field Records Collection is an archive of unpublished field notes, maps, correspondence, manuscripts, analysis reports, and other data created or collected by USGS Geology Discipline scientists during field studies and other project work. The collection is located in the USGS Library in Denver, Colorado, and is available for on-premises...
Image: Aerial View of Roadbed Collapse
Map service metadata is available in The National Map Viewer by clicking on the pull-down arrow in front of each base data layer in the table of contents under ‘Overlays’. Service metadata can also be viewed through the data layer endpoints. In addition, product-level metadata is included with data downloaded in The National Map Download Client...
Image: Railroad Tracks
Boundaries: Some of the primary sources for these data include the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), International Boundary Commission (IBC) for the Canadian boundary, and the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) for the Mexican boundary. Boundaries include city, county, State, Federal lands, provinces, and...
AVHRR color mosaic of U.S., circa 1986
Geographically (and as a general reference), the United States of America includes all areas considered to be under the sovereignty of the United States, but does not include leased areas. On May 14, 1959, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names issued the following definitions based partially on the Alaska Omnibus Bill, which defined the Continental...
U. S. Board On Geographic Names
Federal, state, local, and non-governmental data partners continuously submit new features and edit existing features in the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) database. Changes--potentially consisting of hundreds to thousands of records per month--are validated by the staff and made available on the GNIS website and in the Web services....