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Analyze elevation

You can use elevation data for analysis in many workflows in the ArcGIS system. Use elevation in geoprocessing tools, editing operations, and exploratory analysis workflows.

To work with elevation data, you must first understand which types of elevation layers are supported. Once you have added a supported elevation layer, you can begin to use the surface in various analysis workflows.


ArcGIS provides many geoprocessing tools for analysis purposes. For raster-based elevation sources, you can use 3D Analyst toolbox surface toolset to quantify and visualize terrain landforms. You can gain information by producing a new dataset that identifies a specific pattern within an original dataset. You can derive patterns that were not readily apparent in the original surface, such as contours, angle of slope, steepest downslope direction (aspect), and shaded relief (hillshade). For TIN datasets, you can use Surface Aspect, Surface Slope, Surface Contour tools to generate similar outputs. Use the 3D Analyst toolbox Area and Volume toolset to provide solutions for analyzing change between surfaces and generating volumetric representations of 3D data.

Surface slope tool output

You can use an elevation layer in any geoprocessing tool that supports its underlying type. For example, if you have a raster dataset as your source, any geoprocessing tool that supports the raster dataset type can be used in that tool. You will see the name of the elevation surface along with the name of the elevation source when you click the drop-down parameter for the desired geoprocessing tool.

In addition to geoprocessing tools, you can perform real-time exploratory analysis of your elevation surfaces using the exploratory analysis tools. Tools such as elevation profile, viewshed, and line of sight allow you to leverage the elevation surface along with other 3D features to answer questions and solve problems—for example, how your line of sight is impacted when looking from ridge to another.

An interactive elevation profile graph

You can use Esri-provided ready-to-use tools if you do not have your own elevation data. Profile, summarize elevation, and viewshed tools work against authoritative elevation content to solve specific problems. In addition to ready-to-use tools, ArcGIS provides a comprehensive set of layers to use in your analysis workflows. Overall, there are many workflows for analyzing your own elevation data or using authoritative content to generate analysis results.

Explore the following resources to learn more about how to analyze elevation surfaces in ArcGIS.

ArcGIS help documentation

Reference material for ArcGIS products:

ArcGIS blogs, stories, and technical papers

Supplemental guidance about concepts, software functionality, and workflows:


Guided, hands-on lessons based on real-world problems:

Esri community

Online places for the Esri community to connect, collaborate, and share experiences: