A benchmark for comparisons

The depiction of terrain on maps is undergoing a renaissance due to new digital techniques. As demonstrated by the images above, one can represent the same terrain many different ways. To give mapmakers and researchers "common ground" for comparative experimentation, we offer sample Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) available in two categories: multi-resolution and archetypal landforms.

Multi-resolution DEMs are available for mountainous areas in Alaska, Colorado, and Switzerland at a range of resolutions. For example, there are eleven DEMs in the Colorado series starting at 1-meter resolution and ending at 5-kilometer resolution, a scale that includes most of North America. Each of the Colorado DEMs has the same center point and same number of height samples, 1,500 x 1,500.

The idea for multi-resolution DEMs originated with this illustration centered on the Säntis Group, Switzerland, in Eduard Imhof's classic text, Cartographic Relief Presentation. Inspired by his example, we prepared a series of multi-resolution DEMs focused on Churfirsten, a nearby mountain that has a distinctive crescent-shape (see banner images above).

Archetypal landform DEMs are now being added to the site starting with Crater Lake, Oregon, and four others. As more elevation data derived from high-resolution LiDAR become available, we will be adding other places that have distinctive terrain.

We have permanently stored the elevation models on the Zenodo website. The download links below will take you there.

Learn more

04 Nov 2020 article in Cartography and Geographic Information Science

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1) Gore Range, Colorado, USA

Resolutions: 1, 5, 15, 30, 90, 250, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 2,500, and 5,000 meters, 1500 x 1,500 height samples each

More information about the Gore Range data

Sample Elevation Models

for Evaluating Terrain Representation


Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

All data used to prepare the DEMs found on this site are from free sources. The DEMs that derive from USGS 3DEP, Canadian government, and SRTM data are in the public domain. The DEMs deriving from ViewFinderPanoramas have been made available by Jonathan de Ferranti under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

Contact us

Please email us with any questions or if you have suggestions to improve the site

Sarah Bell

Daniel Huffman

Bernie Jenny

Patrick Kennelly

Brooke Marston

Tom Patterson

Alex Tait


1 meter

5,000 meters

Multi-resolution DEMs

2) Valdez, Alaska, USA

Resolutions: 3.3, 7.5, 15, 30, 90, 250, 500, 1,000, and 2,000 meters, 1500 x 1,500 height samples each

More information about the Valdez data

3.3 meter

2,000 meters

3) Churfirsten, Switzerland

Resolutions: 30, 60, 120, 250, 500, 1,000, and 2,000 meters, 2,500 x 1,500 height samples each

More information about the Churfirsten data

30 meter

2,000 meters

Churfirsten, Switzerland

Video: 2019 NACIS conference presentation. 22:46

Wanted: more landform DEMs

We are currently searching the world for elevation data of iconic landforms to include here. Canyons, drumlins, hills, karst, tablelands, and volcanoes are on our short list. If you can suggest a good place, please contact us. The elevation data must be free of artifacts, high-resolution, and in the public domain. Thanks!


Archetypal landform DEMs


3) Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA

Landform features: braided river, fluvial terrace

Resolution: 2 meter, 4,200 x 4,200 height samples

More information about the Jackson Hole data

Full extent



5) Sandhills, Nebraska, USA

Landform features: stabilized dune field

Resolution: 10 meter, 4,500 x 4,500 height samples

More information about the Sandhills data

Full extent



2) Great Sand Dunes, Colorado, USA

Landform features: active dune field, sand sheet, sabkha

Resolution: 3.3 meter, 5,300 x 5,300 height samples

More information about the Great Sand Dunes data

Full extent


1) Crater Lake, Oregon, USA

Landform features: caldera, cinder cone, lava flow

Resolution: 3.33 meter, 5,200 x 5,200 height samples

More information about the Crater Lake data

Full extent


4) Massanutten Mountain, Virginia, USA

Landform features: folded ridges, hogback, water gap, meander

Resolution: 10 meter, 3,900 x 3,900 height samples

More information about the Massanutten data

Full extent