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Elevation and Depth

This theme describes the surface of the Earth both on land and under a body of water, relative to a vertical datum.

Why is this theme fundamental?
This theme recognises the importance of integrated models describing a continuous surface for land and submerged areas (e.g. an integrated land-sea model). All human activities and natural processes are influenced by the elevation or the depth of the location where they happen. Elevation is essential to help determine appropriate places for human developments and activities, to map relief in 2D maps and to build 3D models, to delimitate drainage basins in hydrology, to map floodplain areas, to support national forest inventories, to forecast the propagation of physical phenomena (such as pollution, flooding, landslide risks, etc.) to understand ecosystems, and to understand climate change. Depth plays a key role in the effective governance, management, and safe and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources

Which sustainable development goals (SDGs) will it help to meet?
Elevation and Depth have a significant contributing role in SDGs 1,2,3,6,7,11,13, 14 and 15.

Geospatial data features in more detail
This theme contains vertical distances from a reference surface. It includes the shape of the surface of the Earth both on land and under a body of water such as oceans, seas, lakes and rivers. Elevations and Depth measure the distance and the shape of the Earth and its features in relation to a reference surface (datum).

This data is usually supplied in the form of Digital Elevation Models (DEMs), Digital Surface Models (DSM), contours, isolated points, break lines, point clouds etc.

Possible sources of data
National Mapping Agencies are tasked to collect, manage and disseminate the elevations of their territory. Comprehensive and authoritative national bathymetric datasets are maintained by national Hydrographic Offices or Authorities.

A global bathymetric dataset of the seas and oceans is maintained by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) in its Data Centre for Digital Bathymetry (IHO DCDB), which, in turn, supports the General Bathymetric Chart of the Ocean (GEBCO) project.

The commercial sector also collects and sells elevation and bathymetric data - usually to meet specific customer requirements.

Existing Data Standards
Note: This is indicative. Other lists of standards exist and UN-GGIM will seek to work with thematic experts to develop a list of relevant data standards.
  • INSPIRE Data Specification and Technical Guidelines on Elevation;
  • Guidelines DGIWG 116-1, Elevation Surface Model Standardised Profile, Edition 1.0.0;
  • USGS Digital Elevation Model Standards;
  • S-44 - IHO Standards for Hydrographic Surveys;
  • S-57 - Transfer Standard for Digital Hydrographic Data;
  • S-100 - IHO Universal Hydrographic Data Model; and,
  • S-102 - Bathymetric Surface Product Specification.