There are typically three places where Digital Elevation Models can be downloaded: Government portals, University portals, or through pay-to-use sources.
Most governments provide freely available geospatial data, like DEMs, because it’s a part of maintaining an accessible, standardized, and organized geospatial infrastructure. Once the data is collected by an organization, it can be uploaded and can easily be shared and accessed by any number of users for their own purposes, which is also cost-effective. In Canada, you can use the Open Canada website, which is a searchable geospatial database with material made available by all provinces and territories. Although not a government website, the Canadian GIS site lists all open geospatial databases maintained by Canadian provinces and territories, and these lists also provide links to open geospatial data sites maintained by individual Canadian cities.
In the United States of America, there are three open geospatial portals that you can search for DEMs. There’s AppEEARS and EarthExplorer, where you can download the Aster Global Digital Elevation Model at 30 meters resolution and Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data at 30 meters resolution, respectively. Both portals require the use of an Earthdata login account, which can be made at no cost. Finally, LiDAR, as well as DEM data, can be accessed through 3DEP’s LidarExplorer, which provide LiDAR data at 1 meter resolution, and DEM data at either 10 meter or 30 meter resolution.
In Europe, you can obtain free DEM data at 25 meter resolution through the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service. However, you need to create an account, free of charge, in order to complete the download.
In Australia, you can access DEMs through Geoscience Australia, where DEMs of 5 meters and 30 meters can be downloaded. If New Zealand is your study area, then DEMs can be freely acquired through Land Information New Zealand.
Universities are also a great place to look for digital elevation models because they might provide links to open data portals available within the country that the university is in, portals created by other countries, or global geospatial portals. For example, the University of British Columbia (here or here), Simon Fraser University, Queen’s University, Ryerson University, and the University of Toronto are all great places to begin your search. However, geospatial data are obtained through academic licensing so any geospatial data that the university has can often only be accessed by affiliated students, faculty members, or staff, and sometimes a request form needs to be filled out in order to request licensed data that is not directly available through institutional websites.
Although ArcGIS Hub is a part of Esri, a pay-to-use GIS software company, you can search for digital elevation models on Hub and your search will return with entries from government organizations in GeoTIFF format, or sometimes ASCII format, that can, in some cases, be freely downloaded.
Paid sources can also be an option if you’re looking for higher quality data or for data that has yet to be made publicly available. L3Harris Geospatial offers many digital elevation datasets and has partnered with companies like Airbus and PlanetObserver to provide multi-resolution Digital Elevation Model coverage of the earth’s surface. They have offices worldwide.
Apollo Mapping also provides a platform to purchase DEMs in various resolutions. Earth Observing System sells high resolution images from a number of satellites (PLÉIADES 1 (1A, 1B), SPOT-5, SPOT 6, 7, KOMPSAT-3, KOMPSAT-3A, KOMPSAT-2, and SUPERVIEW-1). On board SPOT-5 are stereo instruments which allow for the collection of stereo images that can then be used for 3D terrain modeling. Although DEMs are not directly available, there are plenty of satellite sources available with a variety of sensors onboard from which you can generate your own geospatial data from!
Alternatively, there is Maxar Technologies, which provides access to Earth Observation and SAR data from the DigitalGlobe and MDA satellite constellations. If you’re in Canada and looking to hire a LiDAR survey company, LiDAR Services International, LSI is a Canadian based company that has been in the field since 2002 and has completed projects throughout Canada, the USA, and in Africa, Asia, Central, and South America.
Download 30 meter (1 arc second) digital elevation models
Download 10 meter (⅓ arc second) digital elevation models
Download 1 meter digital elevation models
- 3DEP LidarExplorer, only for the USA.
- LiDAR and DEMs available at 1 meter and 3 meters (1/9 arc-second)
- Ontario GeoHub