Published in


Free Geospatial Data Sources — An Attempt to Tame the Beast Part 1

This article will focus on where to access free basemaps for QGIS, satellite imagery, and DEM/DSM data sources.

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash


Let’s start with honestly one of the biggest lifesavers I ever found when working with QGIS. This beauty of a script runs from the Python console inside QGIS. By copy-pasting it and simply hitting that “Run command” button, you’ll have 34 (!) different basemaps available inside your XYZ Tiles section. This includes several basemaps by Esri, Google, Stamen, Strava, Carto, and OSM.

Selection of basemaps downloaded through the script

Satellite imagery

Of all the types of geospatial data, satellite imagery is probably the most accessible and well-organized category of all. Among the most useful data portals are the following:

  1. NASA Earthdata Search This portal provides access to an incredible selection of satellite data. After registration, you have access to both the original data at different processing levels as well as derived data like information on land cover, cryosphere, biosphere and atmosphere. Earthdata offers lots of different filters to narrow down your data hunt, such as filter by keywords, platforms, instruments, and data formats. Here you can access e.g. MODIS, VIIRS and Landsat data.
NASA EarthData Interface
Sentinel Open Access Hub Interface
EarthExplorer Interface

Digital Elevation Model (DEM) Data Sources

DEM and DSM data sets have become the foundation of so much work in the geospatial realm. Knowing the XYZ of a place is the key to make sense of your space and get the maximum out of your data. My personal favourites are:

  1. JAXA’s Global ALOS 3D World Provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), ALOS World 3D is a DSM available at approximately 30m (1 arcsecond) resolution and is known as the most precise global elevation data. You can download it per tile and in bulk.
Screenshot of ALOS World 3D
Screenshot of ASTER GDEM
Quick tile download of SRTM tiles
Mars topography (MOLA dataset) with poles HiRes. Source: wikimedia



Near-real-time snow monitoring from space

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Daria Ludtke

Remote Sensing Lead @ WeGaw ¦ Finding new ways to use and visualize GeoData ¦ Casual map addict