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Working with elevation data can be complex, often involving large volumes of data. As a result, most end users want to avoid downloading and working with elevation data files directly. Instead, it's simpler for an end user to connect to services that provide only the required data for visualization or analysis.

This workflow is intended to help manage and serve elevation datasets using mosaic datasets so that end users can easily access the desired data product.


This workflow will focus primarily on gridded elevation data sources, but the same concept can be applied to LAS files, LAS datasets, and terrains, which can be used as input to mosaic datasets.

Example use cases

There are three common uses of elevation-based information:

  1. Visualization. Many end users simply need to see visualizations of the topography to meet their needs. They often want to understand the topographic context of the area; the location of higher ground for example. They are interested in representations such as the following:

    • A hillshade image (grayscale or elevation tinted) for inclusion in a topographic map or basemap
    • An image representing slope for urban planners showing landslide susceptibility
    • An image representing aspect for agriculture, wildlife management (habitat delineation), or climate modeling

    In such cases, they do not need the actual elevation data. Their needs are met by a server transmitting only the required representations back to them.

  2. Analysis. Some users want the result of some kind of topographic analysis, not necessarily the original data. They are interested in the analyses such as the following:

    • The extent of flood plain for insurance underwriting
    • Viewshed calculations ("What can be seen from this point?") for siting cell phone towers
    • Calculating profiles along straight lines or line segments for engineering pipeline routes

    Services that perform the analysis on the server and return only the required geometries are the best option in these cases. No data is downloaded, but typically the server application that performs the analysis needs access to comprehensive elevation services.

  3. Data values. Some users may require access to actual elevation values, typically to do their own analysis. They may also prefer a derived data product rather than the actual elevation to minimize data consumption. Example applications include:

    • A slope analysis as a part of a larger terrain analysis
    • A mask for identifying areas with high avalanche potential

    Some users, though, do require the original data values. Transmitting the original data values is most expensive in terms of data bandwidth, so it should be applied only when necessary.

Check out the next section to learn more about preparing your data before using the Managing Elevation workflow.

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  1. Example use cases