ArcGIS for Geoscientists

Instructor: Anne Egger

This page supports an individual study class for graduate students in geological sciences that focuses on the things you need to know in order to use ArcGIS effectively.


The following labs have step-by-step instructions for working with your own data in ArcGIS.

  • Lab 1: Geodatabases Word doc
  • Lab 2: Getting and Using DEMs Word doc
  • Lab 3a: Adding XY data Word doc
  • Lab 3b: Displaying strike and dip symbols Word doc
  • Lab 4a: Creating and editing feature classes Word doc
  • Lab 4b: Georeferencing a scanned map Word doc
  • Lab 5: Pulling topographic profiles Word doc
  • Lab 6: Creating polygons from lines Word doc
  • Lab 7: Adding map elements Word doc
  • Lab 7a: Adding contour lines two ways Word doc
  • Lab 8: Exporting to other formats Word doc
  • Best practices for collecting point data with a handheld GPS Word doc

Resources for data

This is an evolving set of links. Please let me know if links don't work anymore, or if you find resources to add.

Topographic data (DEMs, lidar)

  • The National Map Viewer and Download Platform is a reasonable source for US digital elevation data, and has both 30-m and 10-m resolution datasets available for most of the country. There is some higher resolution data available here (~3 m), but it is not the only place to look for it.
  • Open Topography is a very good resource for airborne lidar data. It is quickly becoming the primary site cataloguing and hosting this data, although it is not the only one. Lidar data is collected by specific projects, which is why the coverage is limited.
  • The Puget Sound LIDAR Consortium has lidar data for specific areas in the Pacific Northwest. You have to register to access the data, but it is free.
  • The Global Land 1-km Base Elevation Project has global coverage, but at 1-km resolution. This is actually useful if you are making a really small-scale map (big area).
  • EarthData Search from NASA has global elevation datasets (along with many other types of data)

Other data

  • The National Map Viewer and Download Platform actually has all kinds of data, including roads, streams, satellite imagery, and scanned topo maps. This is a good place to acquire all of the most basic information for your region, if it is in the US.
  • The National Geologic Map Database's MapView is a good place to search for geologic GIS data, again for the US. Not all of the maps pictured have downloadable GIS data, but it's a place to start.
  • The National Atlas has several interesting datasets that cover the whole United States.
  • The Earth Explorer data portal at the USGS has lots of satellite imagery available for download.
  • State geologic surveys are excellent places to look for GIS data.

Washington and Oregon data

More resources

  • Barb and Dave Tewksbury at Hamilton College have developed a more extensive course, and here is a link to their course website on SERC

Open source alternatives to ArcGIS

While we have plenty of licenses for ArcGIS here on campus, someday you will leave. Here are a few options for free or low-cost alternatives.

  • Blue Marble's Global Mapper: Both free and low-cost options are available.
  • Quantum GIS: Quantum GIS (QGIS) is a powerful and user friendly Open Source Geographic Information System (GIS) that runs on Linux, Unix, Mac OSX, Windows and Android. QGIS supports vector, raster, and database formats.