The National Elevation Dataset (NED) is a primary elevation data product that has been produced and distributed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Since its inception, the USGS has compiled and published topographic information in many forms, and the NED is a significant development in this long line of products that describe the land surface. The NED provides seamless raster elevation data of the conterminous United States (CONUS), Alaska, Hawaii, U.S. island territories, Mexico, and Canada. The NED is derived from diverse source datasets that are processed to a specification with consistent resolutions, coordinate system, elevation units, and horizontal and vertical datums. The NED was developed as the logical result of the maturation of the long-standing USGS elevation program, which for many years concentrated on production of quadrangle-based digital elevation models (DEM). The NED contributes to the elevation layer of The National Map, and it provides basic elevation information for earth science studies and mapping applications in the U.S. and most of North America.
For over 15 years (1999–2014), the NED served as the flagship elevation product of the USGS. In 2015, the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) was initiated. When the 3DEP initiative became operational, the name “National Elevation Dataset” (and the abbreviation “NED”) were retired as the USGS elevation activities and data were rebranded under the 3DEP banner. However, elevation data produced and distributed as part of the NED are still widely used (and distributed by other entities), so there is a continuing need for detailed documentation, including how it was produced, its accuracy, and how it is used. This chapter directly addresses that need for detailed information about the NED. The most recent detailed description of the NED appeared in the 2nd edition of the DEM Users Manual (2007), and because NED production continued through 2014, the details reported herein provide valuable information for data accessed by the user community from 2007 through 2014. The NED has been widely used in operational applications and research studies and is extensively cited in reports on those activities, so it is important for the user community to have access to information about the NED to better judge how its qualities and characteristics might affect results derived from its use as the elevation data source. Additionally, the NED seamless layers serve as one of the input data sources for the current 3DEP elevation production system, so, as with any input data source, an understanding of the data characteristics is critical.