How to find land elevation

Written by kurt schanaman
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How to find land elevation
(Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

Land elevations are measured in "feet above sea level," and this information may be necessary for calculating a flight plan as an aeroplane pilot, for making adjustments to a computerised automobile when you plan to use it excessively at a different elevation than it was set to be used, and for a host of other applications. Historically, you could obtain such information only through local government agencies in the form of "topographical maps." But with modern no-cost computer software, you now can ascertain the elevation of any given spot down to within mere yards, right from home.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Handheld GPS unit
  • Notepad and pen

Show MoreHide


  1. 1

    Go online to The website utilises automated technology to determine your operating system and, by clicking on the blue "Download Google Earth" you will be taken to the user agreement. Be sure to read through the noncommercial agreement, as the software isn't commercial and, therefore, is not permitted for commercial use. If you agree with the terms of use, click "Agree To Download" and authorise the application to be installed.

  2. 2

    Launch Google Earth and rotate the "Earth" on your screen to the country in which the land for which you are seeking elevation data exists. Enter the city or town nearest to the land for which you are seeking data into the "Search" box in the top left-hand corner of the application and press "Enter" or "Return" on your computer keyboard. The application will then automatically zoom in to the area you entered.

  3. 3

    Use the "Zoom" slider control (+ at the top, - at the bottom) to zoom in and out in steps until you are able to see the plot of land for which you are seeking elevation data. Hover your mouse pointer over the centre of the land mass and hold it in this location.

  4. 4

    Look at the lower bar of the Google Earth application and you will see the longitude, latitude and elevation data for the precise location on which your mouse pointer is hovering. The elevation of that location is labelled "elev" on the bottom data display bar.

  1. 1

    Physically visit the precise location in which you desire to obtain elevation information and take along a hand-held GPS positioning receiver to the location.

  2. 2

    Write down the GPS information of the location in question on a note pad, and include the longitude and latitude information.

  3. 3

    Drive to your county's land management agency and provide the longitude and latitude information to the agency representative. Based upon your information, you will be provided with information about the necessary fees to obtain a copy of the topographical map for your chosen location.

Tips and warnings

  • Topographical map copies may sometimes be available immediately in some counties, but in other cases, your county administrative office may have to order specialised maps that include elevation data from a commercial mapping company. It may take five to 10 business days for your purchased maps to arrive by U.S. mail. Plan sufficiently for this possible timespan if your land development project depends upon it.
  • The Google Earth application is provided freely for public and educational use only, and Google requires purchase of a license if you are going to use the software in a commercial capacity. Avoid legal problems by honouring the user agreement for the software.

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