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Minnesota Elevation Mapping Project

The goal of this project was to develop and deliver a seamless high-accuracy digital elevation map of the State of Minnesota, based on data collected using LiDAR technology. Accurate topographic information will greatly enhance the ability of decision makers and resource managers to understand how water interacts with the landscape and will provide the foundation for developing innovative, effective, and defendable resource management strategies. The project will facilitate the flow of data between all levels of government:  local, state, and federal.

In July 2009, the Minnesota Legislature appropriated $8.3 million ($2.8 million each in fiscal years 2010 and 2011; $1.35 million each in fiscal years 2012 and 2013) from the Clean Water Fund of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to help realize the goal of creating a seamless elevation model for Minnesota by filling in the areas where data either did not exist or was deemed to be old enough to be replaced. The project was coordinated by MnGeo's Digital Elevation Committee.

On October 2, 2014, the project received a Governor's Geospatial Commendation Award.

Data Availability  |  Project Schedule  |  Product Deliverables  |  Vertical Accuracy  |  Master Contract  |  Partnerships  |  Articles/Meeting Materials  |  Steering Team  |  Questions/Feedback

Data Availability

Project Schedule

Project Area Map  The total project area, encompassing 45,349 square miles across 47 counties, was split into five phases as shown on this map.

Flight lines and dates of acquisition for the project:  KMZ file for Google Earth  and  shapefile

Phase 1 - Minnesota River Basin, Minnesota Portion, Spring and Fall 2010
The area included 17,260 square miles in 25 counties in southwestern Minnesota including Brown, Chippewa, Cottonwood, Douglas, Faribault, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Le Sueur, Lincoln, Lyon, Martin, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Pipestone, Pope, Redwood, Renville, Rock, Sibley, Swift, Waseca, Watonwan and Yellow Medicine.

80% of the project area was flown April 8th – May 5th, 2010; the remainder of the project area was completed in November 2010.

Phase 2 - Minnesota River Basin, South Dakota Portion, Fall 2010
The U.S. Geological Survey contributed funding for this phase - see graphic.

Phase 3 - Arrowhead Region, Spring 2011
Covers 4 counties:  Carlton, Cook, Lake and St. Louis, part of Itasca County and Voyageurs National Park in Koochiching County. Two pilot project areas – one encompassing Vermillion State Park and one capturing the west portion of Duluth – were also collected.

Phase 4 - Twin Cities Metro Area in Central Minnesota, Spring and Fall 2011
Covered 15 counties:  Anoka, Benton, Carver, Dakota, Goodhue, Hennepin, Isanti, Kanabec, Meeker, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Ramsey, Scott, Sherburne and Washington.

Phase 5 - Central Lakes Region, Spring 2012
Covered 6 complete counties in north-central Minnesota:  Aitkin, Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Todd and Wadena, along with a portion of Koochiching County.

Product Deliverables

The Digital Elevation Committee defined the products to be delivered and the data collection, processing and accuracy standards to be followed.

The standards were based on the USGS Base LiDAR Specification and included:

Products to be delivered included:

Coordinate system:

Vertical Accuracy of Delivered Data

Consolidated Vertical Accuracy (CVA) Map, December 2012
This map shows the Root Mean Square Error (RMSE) by county or acquisition data block, as well as the acquisition year for each project area.

Consolidated Vertical Accuracy is the RMSE of all the test data -- more than 100 validation points per county -- in all five major cover types:  Urban, Open, Brush, Forested and Tall Grass. (In contrast, Fundamental Vertical Accuracy is just the test data in the Open Terrain category.)

The State of Minnesota LiDAR dataset was not all collected at one time or under one project. Although LiDAR data had been collected prior to 2007, it was felt that those datasets that were acquired following the USGS LiDAR Guidelines and Base Specifications would determine if an existing dataset would be part of the statewide dataset.

The Minnesota DNR was the lead agency for this project but we must acknowledge the contributions of the International Water Institute, Fargo, ND and the various Minnesota counties who negotiated the release of their data for this public purpose. See Partnerships section below for more info.

Project Master Contract

The State of Minnesota created a Master Contract for LiDAR Services that was in effect for three years, expiring July 1, 2012 (except for the work in progress). The contract provided a way to pre-qualify LiDAR vendors and then have them on a retainer for future work orders. The Master Contract was also available for other units of government to utilize for special projects. The Master Contract vendors were:


The project team received valuable in-kind assistance from local units of government, primarily county surveyor staff, to collect high accuracy survey points that were used by the project team to validate the data. These points were crucial to ensure that the data delivered by the vendor met the accuracy requirements agreed upon in the work order contracts. A structured process for collecting validation points ensured that they were comparable across the region.

Articles and Meeting Materials


Meeting Materials

Steering Team

Questions and Feedback

For more information on the project, please contact MnGeo at:

Return to Digital Elevation Committee page


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