Section Five: Data Acquisition

Okay, so now you know what makes quality data, where potential error lies, and how to check the metadata to find out the who, what, where, why, and how of a data set, but where do you find this quality data? In some cases, you will need to digitize some original data of your own, but in so many cases, you can download data for use in your project. The following sections show some examples of places to find and download geospatial and non-spatial data.  This is far from an exhastive list of data, but it provides several of the major sites data can be found.

Types of Raster Data

Raster data can be separated into two main groups: rasters to use as base data and rasters to use for analysis. Often, you can use analysis rasters for both analysis and as a base data layer, however, it’s not likely and sometimes not a good idea to do the opposite - use a base data layer as an analysis. Base data rasters are more like images than data sources, serving as a great background, but lacking the necessary data to digitize or perform raster analysis with. One example we’ve looked at thus far is a hillshade layer. While the hillshade is made from an analysis raster - a DEM - the actual hillshade is best used as a base layer.

ArcGIS Streaming Basemap

ESRI  Add Basemap provides a series of streaming basemaps from the Representational State Transfer Server or a ReST server. Basically, a ReST server is a hard drive owned by someone else, in this case ESRI, where large amounts of data are stored and access is provided via the internet to those with authorization. This data is often too large to download or may take up an unnecessarily large amount of your personal hard drive.

While  Add Basemap File Menu ESRI has quite a lot of data on their ReST server that can be accessed through the Catalog window in ArcMap (not by default, by the way, so don’t go looking for it), the most used basemaps are available for use through the File menu in ArcMap.

Other ArcGIS Online Data

ArcGIS Online data (also found in the File menu) is a good source for both raster and vector data. Layers of all kinds can be found by searching the database using key terms like “rivers Colorado” or “population Arizona”. The search may no produce perfect results, but since you know how to extract data from larger datasets, it might be just what you need.


National - Analysis Rasters

USGS Earth Explorer

“The EarthExplorer ( user interface is an online search, discovery, and ordering tool developed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). EarthExplorer supports the searching of satellite, aircraft, and other remote sensing inventories through interactive and textual-based query capabilities. Through the interface, users can identify search areas, datasets, and display metadata, browse and integrated visual services within the interface.”

USGS Global Visualization (GloVis) Viewer

“The USGS Global Visualization Viewer (GloVis is a quick and easy online search and order tool for selected satellite and aerial data. The viewer allows user-friendly access to browse images from the multiple EROS data holdings. Through a graphic map display, the user can select any area of interest and immediately view all available browse images within the USGS inventory for the specified location. From the browse image viewer page, the user may either navigate to view adjacent scene locations or select a new area of interest. GloVis also offers additional features such as cloud cover limits, date limits, user-specified map layer displays, scene list maintenance, and access to metadata. An ordering interface is provided for data that have processing options available. A downloading interface is provided for datasets that are available at no charge.” 

National - Raster/Vector

The National Map

“As one of the cornerstones of the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Geospatial Program, The National Map ( is a collaborative effort among the USGS and other Federal, State, and local partners to improve and deliver topographic information for the Nation. It has many uses ranging from recreation to scientific analysis to emergency response. The National Map is easily accessible for display on the Web, as products and services, and as downloadable data. The geographic information available from The National Map includes orthoimagery (aerial photographs), elevation, geographic names, hydrography, boundaries, transportation, structures, and land cover.”

NRCS Geospatial Data Gateway

“The Geospatial Data Gateway ( provides access to a map library of over 100 high resolution vector and raster layers in the Geospatial Data Warehouse. It is the One Stop Source for environmental and natural resources data, at anytime, from anywhere, to anyone. It allows you to choose your area of interest, browse and select data, customize the format, then download or have it shipped on media.”

USGS Geological Data

“The National Geologic Map Database ( a Congressionally mandated project led by the U.S. Geological Survey and Association of American State Geologists. The purpose is to build a national archive of standardized geologic map information. This national archive is “virtual” – you can access it through a searchable catalog that contains information on over 88,000 geoscience maps and reports dating back to the 1800’s, with links to hundreds of publishers.”

University of Minnesota - National Historic Geographic Information System

“The National Historical Geographic Information System ( provides, free of charge, aggregate census data and GIS-compatible boundary files for the United States between 1790 and 2014. A good place to get US Census and American Community Survey data. It has the virtue of putting gisjoin fields into their data files and shapefiles, which makes joining the data easier.”

Public Land Survey System (PLSS) CadNSDI Data

“The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) is a way of subdividing and describing land in the United States. All lands in the public domain are subject to subdivision by this rectangular system of surveys, which is regulated by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

BLM Cadastral Survey, the FGDC Cadastral Subcommittee, Premier Data Services, and Fairview Industries, have teamed over the past four years to complete the standardized PLSS data for nearly all of the 30 Public Domain states.” 

Available Data (

Bureau of Land Management Landscape Approach Data Portal

The BLM’s Landscape Approach Data Portal ( is a one-stop source for geospatial data, maps, models and reports produced by BLM’s landscape initiatives including the: Rapid Ecoregional Assessments (REAs), Assessment Inventory & Monitoring (AIM) program Fire & Invasives Assessment (FIAT) program, and Sage-Grouse Initiative 


State of Colorado: GIS Directory

The GIS Directory operated by the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) ( is a geospatial search engine for locating Colorado specific data. Using a search term, the database will return a series of resources that meet the criteria.

Colorado State Geospatial Centroid

The Colorado State Geospatial Centroid geospatial data list ( provides links to commonly used data sets for Colorado. While this list references other sources, it’s a simple interface with clear and concise labels for finding generalized data sets from which you can extract smaller data sets.

Colorado Department of Natural Resources Division of Water Resources

“The Colorado Division of Water Resources (DWR), also known as the Office of the State Engineer, administers water rights, issues water well permits, represents Colorado in interstate water compact proceedings, monitors streamflow and water use, approves construction and repair of dams and performs dam safety inspections, issues licenses for well drillers and assures the safe and proper construction of water wells, and maintains numerous databases of Colorado water information. ” 


City of Aurora Open Data

A collection of municipal layers specific to the City of Aurora, Colorado. (

“Some very interesting layers such as business licensing (lots of breakouts by NAICS codes), planimetrics, utilities, code enforcement actions, building permits, animal control incidents, etc.” 

Other States

North Dakota GIS Hub

“Through a general-fund appropriation, the North Dakota GIS Technical Committee and the Information Technology Department operate the GIS Hub (, an infrastructure comprised of geospatial data storage, data services, and application interfaces. The GIS Hub supports state agencies in the development of their GIS and the dissemination of common interest data to other levels of government and the public.

North Dakota’s GIS program includes a rich history of state agencies working together. Through a collaborative effort, ownership and stewardship of data has been defined, and a conduit for communication and data to other agencies and organizations has been created.”

City of Los Angeles GeoHub

“The GeoHub ( is the City’s new public platform for exploring, visualizing, and downloading location-based Open Data. You can also analyze and combine Open Data layers using maps, as well as develop new web and mobile applications. Let’s make our great City even better, together!” 


Data Dot Gov

Data dot gov ( is an excellent resource for both spatial and non-spatial of all types. As a collection of openly available national, state, and local data, data dot gov has data from almost every federal “bureau of” or “department of”, allowing you to find spatial and non-spatial data for your project from every sector, not just GIS offices.

American Fact Finder

“American FactFinder provides access to data about the United States, Puerto Rico and the Island Areas. The data in American FactFinder come from several censuses and surveys.”(

CitSci Dot Org

CitSci dot org ( collected datasets based on projected started by and completed by the commuity. Some datasets set up by large agencies, some set up by grade school science classes.

The Humanitarian Data Exchange

"The Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX - is an open platform for sharing data across crises and organisations. Launched in July 2014, the goal of HDX is to make humanitarian data easy to find and use for analysis. Our growing collection of datasets has been accessed by users in over 200 countries and territories. Watch this video to learn more. 

HDX is managed by OCHA's Centre for Humanitarian Data, which is located in The Hague. OCHA is part of the United Nations Secretariat and is responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies. The HDX team includes OCHA staff and a number of consultants who are based in North America, Europe and Africa."

Oil and Gas

North Dakota Industrial Commission - Department of Mineral Resources

Oil and Gas data for the State of North Dakota (

Energy Wells

A paid resource ($50/mo) for the oil and gas industry including data for Surface Locations of Wells & Permits Across the US, Well Operator Details and Information, Historical Well Production Data, State Scout Cards. (

Dr. Karen Payne - University of Georgia

This list of data repositories was compiled by Karen Payne of the University of Georgia’s Information Technologies Outreach services, with funding provided by USAID, to point to free downloadable primary geographic datasets that may be useful in international humanitarian response. The repositories are grouped according to the tabs at the bottom of the sheet. 

Link to Google Doc: