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Circular 1399

The 3D Elevation Program Initiative—A Call for Action

By Larry J. Sugarbaker, Eric W. Constance, Hans Karl Heidemann, Allyson L. Jason, Vicki Lukas, David L. Saghy, and Jason M. Stoker

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (13.9 MB)Abstract

The 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) initiative is accelerating 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 the data management and delivery systems are being modernized. The National Elevation Dataset (NED) will be completely refreshed with new elevation data products and services. 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.

As proposed, the 3DEP effort would begin providing products and services to partners and the public in 2015. The strategy is to leverage funding from partners and to increase contributions from all sources so that the investment rises from the current level of approximately $50 million to $146 million annually. 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.

First posted September 15, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Director, National Geospatial Program
U.S. Geological Survey
511 National Center
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive
Reston, VA 20192

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Suggested citation:

Sugarbaker, L.J., Constance, E.W., Heidemann, H.K., Jason, A.L., Lukas, Vicki, Saghy, D.L., and Stoker, J.M., 2014, The 3D Elevation Program initiative—A call for action: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1399, 35 p.,

ISSN 1067–084X (print)

ISSN 2330–5703 (online)







USGS Commitment to Manage National Elevation Data Assets

Assessment of Requirements

Benefit and Cost Analysis and Recommended Data-Acquisition Scenario

3D Elevation Program (3DEP) Initiative

Research Requirements


References Cited

Appendix 1. Definitions of Source Data, Elevation Models, and Other Derivative Products

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