US Geological Survey visual mark

U.S. Geological Survey
Geologic Investigations Series I-2585

Digital Shaded-Relief Image of Alaska

By J.R. Riehle, M.D. Fleming, B.F. Molnia, J.H. Dover, J.S. Kelley, M.L. Miller, W.J. Nokleberg, George Plafker, and A.B. Till


thumbnail version of the map

One of the most spectacular physiographic images of the conterminous United States, and the first to have been produced digitally, is that by Thelin and Pike (USGS I-2206, 1991). The image is remarkable for its crispness of detail and for the natural appearance of the artificial land surface. Our goal has been to produce a shaded-relief image of Alaska that has the same look and feel as the Thelin and Pike image. The Alaskan image could have been produced at the same scale as its lower 48 counterpart (1:3,500,000). But by insetting the Aleutian Islands into the Gulf of Alaska, we were able to print the Alaska map at a larger scale (1:2,500,000) and about the same physical size as the Thelin and Pike image. Benefits of the 1:2,500,000 scale are (1) greater resolution of topographic features and (2) ease of reference to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) (1987) Alaska Map E and the statewide geologic map (Beikman, 1980), which are both 1:2,500,000 scale.

Manually drawn, shaded-relief images of Alaska's land surface have long been available (for example, Department of the Interior, 1909; Raisz, 1948). The topography depicted on these early maps is mainly schematic. Maps showing topographic contours were first available for the entire State in 1953 (USGS, 1:250,000) (J.H. Wittmann, USGS, written commun., 1996). The Alaska Map E was initially released in 1954 in both planimetric (revised in 1973 and 1987) and shaded-relief versions (revised in 1973, 1987, and 1996); topography depicted on the shaded-relief version is based on the 1:250,000-scale USGS topographic maps. Alaska Map E was later modified to include hypsometric tinting by Raven Maps and Images (1989, revised 1993) as copyrighted versions. Other shaded-relief images were produced for The National Geographic Magazine (LaGorce, 1956; 1:3,000,000) or drawn by Harrison (1970; 1:7,500,000) for The National Atlas of the United States. Recently, the State of Alaska digitally produced a shaded-relief image of Alaska at 1:2,500,000 scale (Alaska Department of Natural Resources, 1994), using the 1,000-m digital elevation data set referred to below.

An important difference between our image and these previous ones is the method of reproduction: like the Thelin and Pike (1991) image, our image is a composite of halftone images that yields sharp resolution and preserves contrast. Indeed, the first impression of many viewers is that the Alaskan image and the Thelin and Pike image are composites of satellite-generated photographs rather than an artificial rendering of a digital elevation model.

A shaded-relief image represents landforms in a natural fashion; that is, a viewer perceives the image as a rendering of reality. Thus a shaded-relief image is intrinsically appealing, especially in areas of spectacular relief. In addition, even subtle physiographic features that reflect geologic structures or the type of bedrock are visible. To our knowledge, some of these Alaskan features have not been depicted before and so the image should provide earth scientists with a new "look" at fundamental geologic features of Alaska.

Download the explanatory pamphlet as an 11-page PDF (i2585_pamphlet.pdf; 288 kB). (This pamphlet includes a two-page spread for figure 2 that is linked as a separate file from within the PDF; you can also download it by itself i2585_fig2.pdf).

Download the map as a ~37" x 28" PDF (i2585_map.pdf; 13.8 MB).

Download the map as a ~36" x 27" TIF image (i2585_map.tif; 59.6 MB).

For questions regarding this report, contact Marti Miller.

Download a free copy of Adobe Reader

This map and the accompanying pamphlet are also available from:

USGS Information Services, Box 25286,
Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225
telephone: 888-ASK-USGS; e-mail:

URL of this page:
Maintained by: Michael Diggles
Created: May 11, 2007
Last modified: May 14, 2007 (mfd)