How to access restricted data in OpenTopography

OpenTopography provides access to the NOAA Digital Coast and USGS 3DEP lidar collections for academic research and education. OpenTopography is supported primarily by the U.S. National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Sciences, and our limited resources do not permit us to provide open access with on-demand processing for all users. We're currently evaluating the broader demand for these lidar data collections, monitoring scalability and performance, and exploring sustainability models that would allow us to offer these data and value-added processing services to all OpenTopography users.  Details on each data collection and how to get access are below.

USGS 3DEP Lidar Collection

The U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) is an ambitious effort to complete the acquisition of nationwide lidar (IfSAR in AK) by 2023 to provide the first-ever national baseline of consistent high-resolution elevation data – both bare earth and 3D point clouds – collected in a timeframe of less than a decade. Between 2015 and 2020, USGS and federal, state, local and non-government partners have collected over 2 million square miles of high resolution topography data, covering nearly 67% of the United States. Thanks to USGS efforts in the last year to migrate these data into the cloud, led by Hobu, Inc. and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) in collaboration with AWS Public Dataset Program.

NOAA Digital Coast Lidar Collection

The NOAA Coastal Lidar Data is a collection of lidar projects from many different sources and agencies, geographically focused on the coastal areas of the United States of America. The data is stored in the entwine point tile format, and hosted on Amazon as part of the AWS Public Dataset Program.  Elevation data are collected using a green laser for bathymetry and a green or near-infrared laser for topography. Data derive from the Joint Airborne Lidar Bathymetry Technical Center of Expertise (JALBTCX) and are coordinated through the Interagency Working Group–Ocean and Coastal Mapping (IWG-OCM).

US Academic Community with a .edu email address:

The US academic community can access the USGS 3DEP and NOAA Digital Coast datasets by creating an OpenTopography account with their .edu email address and requesting access. Access is granted for a 1 year period and can be renewed annually.

K-12 teachers, international academics, and informal educators:

K-12 teachers, international academics, and informal educators interested in accessing restricted data via OpenTopography are invited to apply by submitting an application for access as described below. Our internal committee will review these applications periodically. Successful applicants will be informed following the review process below. Applications that do not conform to the review criteria will be rejected without review.

Please send completed applications to Provide a narrative explanation (<400 words) of your relevant qualifications. Indicate how you plan to use the data and describe the benefits to your students and/or community. OpenTopography uses these cases to demonstrate the impact of our services and to provide a measure of OpenTopography's success, helping to ensure continued funding.

Review criteria:

· Applicants must have a MyOpenTopo account at the time of application. An account is free and easy to make here.

· Applicants must be an educator (e.g., K-12 teachers, international academics, and informal educators).

· Applications are ideally received from an institutional email address. Applications from a personal (e.g., gmail) or other non-institutional email addresses are strongly discouraged. If your affiliation or status as an educator is not clear from your email, include other evidence of your affiliation. For example, a LinkedIn webpage or listing on a faculty or staff directory at an educational institution.

· Applications should be less than 400 words. Explain your role and how you plan to utilize access to OpenTopography’s services. Examples of appropriate uses include: Development of educational resources, teaching/classroom instruction, undergraduate and graduate thesis research.

· Successful applicants will be granted access to restricted data for 1 year. For access beyond the year, applicants must re-apply.

Commercial, hobby, and government users:

Due to funding limitations, at this time, we cannot grant access to users in these categories. It is our hope that we’ll be able to offer OpenTopography access to the USGS and NOAA data to all users in the future, however the exact mechanism by which this happens is still under discussion by the OpenTopography team, our advisory committee, and our funders. We invite you to indicate interest in future access to restricted data through a form that can be found when non-educators attempt to access a restricted dataset via OpenTopography. We will communicate with you when access to restricted datasets opens to additional users.