What's the Deal with 3DEP?

Replacing outdated and inconsistent elevation data will save lives and improve prosperity across our Nation

The USGS, along with other federal, state, local and private agencies is establishing a new 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) designed to respond to the growing needs for three-dimensional mapping data of the United States. This coordinated partnership can help meet the country’s needs for high-quality, 3D elevation data.

Current and accurate 3D elevation data are essential to help communities cope with natural hazards and disasters such as floods and landslides, support infrastructure, ensure agricultural success, strengthen environmental decision-making and bolster national security.

The primary goal of the 3DEP partnership is to systematically collect 3D elevation data across the Nation, using lidar, a remote sensing detection system that works on the principle of radar, but uses light from a laser.

“We are excited about working with partners to apply the game-changing technology of lidar to benefit many critical needs of national importance,” said Kevin Gallagher, USGS Associate Director of Core Science Systems. “For example, FEMA and NOAA are some of our strongest partners because they rely on this type of data to significantly improve floodplain mapping and to better communicate flood risks to communities and citizens.”

The 3DEP initiative is based on the results of the National Enhanced Elevation Assessment that documented more than 600 business and science uses across 34 Federal agencies, all 50 States, selected local government and Tribal offices, and private and nonprofit organizations.  The assessment also shows that 3DEP would provide more than $690 million annually in new benefits to government entities, the private sector, and citizens.

A recent White House fact sheet described how accessibility of accurate, high-quality 3D elevation data provides the foundation to the Administration’s overall plan to assist populations in the areas of flood risk management, water resource planning, mitigation of coastal erosion and storm surge impacts, and identification of landslide hazards.

The USGS will host a briefing on Capitol Hill on July 25 to further describe the importance, benefits and growing needs for 3D elevation data.

More information about 3DEP and state specific fact sheets is available online.

A comparison of an air photo and a lidar image of an area along Secondary Road and Camp Creek, 12 miles north of John Day, OR. The lidar image allows identification of landslide activity that is otherwise masked by trees. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries).