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ICESat Elevations and Slope Grids

ICESat Elevations and Slope Grids

GLAS/ICESat Antarctic and Greenland DEMs and Derived Grids

GLAS/ICESat (Zwally et al., 2002) was the first laser altimeter to fly on a spacecraft in Earth orbit. The grids available here were generated from the first two years of data (2003 Feb to 2005 May).

The ICESat elevations grids for Greenland and Antarctica are available from NSIDC with elevations relative to WGS84 ellipsoid and the EGM96 geoid. The NSIDC ICESat page has a full description of these grids. All grids on this website have elevations relative to the EGM96 geoid. The elevations grids are identical to the ones at NSIDC.


The following should be used to cite these data:

Zwally, H. J., J. P. DiMarzio, and A. C. Brenner, 2012. GLAS/ICESat Antarctic and Greenland Grids, Digital media.

Grid Formats and Projection
EllipsoidTopex/Poseidon. For the grids with elevations relative to the WGS-84 ellipsoid and EGM96 geoid, the node locations are still based on the Topex/Poseidon polar-stereographic grid.
Ellipsoid SemiMajor axis6378.1363 km
Ellipsoid Eccentricity0.08181922146
File formatFiles are gzipped.
Storage orderColumn by column, starting at the upper left corner and ending in the lower right corner: (1,1),(1,2),...,(1,Ny),(2,1),(2,2),...,(Nx,Ny)
Data formatUnformatted: 4-byte (long) signed integer, big endian byte order.
ASCII: grids include latitude, longitude, and parameter value. Points without values are not included.
Undefined value in unformatted files 231-1 = 2147483647

Grid Specifications

  1. Note: UL=upper Left, LL=Lower Left, UR=Upper Right, LR=Lower Right
  2. x and y are the horizontal and vertical axes of the polar-stereographic coordinate systems.
Standard Latitude-70° 70°
OrientationLine from S pole along 0° longitude points vertically up on the mapLine from N pole along 315°E points vertically down on the map
Grid dimensions11352 columns x 9368 rows 1484 columns x 2760 rows
x/y of center of UL cellx=3398,  y=4423 x=3858,  y=5162
Geodetic lat/lon of center of UL cell Lat=-57.345281,   Lon=309.27442 Lat=81.503104,   Lon=269.912123
Geodetic lat/lon of UL corner of UL cell Lat=-57.342282,   Lon=309.27498 Lat=81.503091,   Lon=269.868185
x/y of center of LL cellx=14749,  y=13790 x=5341,  y=7921
Geodetic lat/lon of center of LL cell Lat=-56.884712,   Lon=229.70888 Lat=58.718847,   Lon=304.159350
Geodetic lat/lon of LL corner of LL cell Lat=-56.881714,   Lon=229.70843 Lat=58.713825,   Lon=304.152799
x/y of center of UR cellx=14749,   y=4423 x=5341,   y=5162
Geodetic lat/lon of center of UR cell Lat=-57.004368,   Lon=51.234204 Lat=80.284817,   Lon=6.891585
Geodetic lat/lon of UR corner of UR cell Lat=-57.001376,   Lon=51.233605 Lat=80.284037,   Lon=6.929712
x/y of center of LR cellx=14749,   y=13790 x=5341,   y=7921
Geodetic lat/lon of center of LR cell Lat=-56.549515,   Lon=129.77899 Lat=58.396343,   Lon=328.679882
Geodetic lat/lon of LR corner of LR cell Lat=-56.546525,   Lon=129.77949 Lat=58.391166,   Lon=328.685882
x/y of polex=9022,   y=9022 x=4511,   y=4511
Nominal cell size500 m 1 km
Grid dimensions11352 columns x 9368 rows1484 columns x 2760 rows
Links are provided to download the images in either JPEG or POSTSCRIPT format. POSTSCRIPT images are gzipped. Image ranges are limited to display the range of the majority of the data well. Actual limits of values in the grids may be outside the limits shown on the plots. A spike at either end of the histogram colorbar is an indication of this but in some cases the histogram bin size is small enough that the spike may not be visible. Also, the height of these endpoint peaks was limited to the maximum value in the histogram so they would not dominate the figure.

Image axes are labelled with the polar-stereographic x and y coordinates.

Antarctic grids
Elevation [PS] [JPEG] Slope [PS] [JPEG] Azimuth [PS] [JPEG]
dz/dx [PS] [JPEG] dz/dy [PS] [JPEG]
Greenland grids
Elevation [PS] [JPEG] Slope [PS] [JPEG] Azimuth [PS] [JPEG]
dz/dx [PS] [JPEG] dz/dy [PS] [JPEG]
Antarctica Greenland
ParameterDescription Data units in unformatted files Links to dataFile size (MB)* Links to dataFile size (MB)*
Elevation relative to EGM96 ellipsoid Elevations computed using biquadratic fits. mmUnformatted ASCII 425.3 1,916Unformatted ASCII 16.3 79.8
LatitudeLatitude of the center of each cell microdegreesUnformatted425.3 Unformatted16.3
LongitudeLongitude of the center of each cell microdegreesUnformatted 425.3 Unformatted 16.3
SlopeAbsolute value of slope millidegreesUnformatted ASCII 425.3 916Unformatted ASCII 16.3 62
AzimuthUpslope direction measured clockwise with 0°=-y direction (upward in the map). Can also be described as the downslope direction measured clockwise with 0°=+y direction (upward in the map)millidegrees Unformatted ASCII425.3 1,916 Unformatted ASCII16.3 62
dz/dxTangent of slope in the x direction on the map mm/kmUnformatted ASCII425.3 1,917 Unformatted ASCII16.3 64
dz/dyTangent of slope in the y direction on the map. mm/kmUnformatted ASCII425.3 1,917 Unformatted ASCII16.3 64
All dataASCII4,044 ASCII171

* Sizes are for the uncompressed files. All files are distributed in gzipped format.


For the derivation of the DEMs see section 4 (Data Acquisition and Processing) of the NSIDC ICESat page.

The slope, azimuth, and directional slope (dz/dx and dz/dy) grids were generated from grids of elevation relative to EGM96, but given the scale of the grids (500m or 1km), these data can be considered independent of EGM96. Elevations relative to WGS84 or Topex/Poseidon would have given the same results with data to within the uncertainties in the data.

Latitudes and longitudes were computed using standard equations for the polar-stereographic projection (Snyder, 1982).

The directional slopes dz/dx and dz/dy were computed as central differences where possible:

	       dz(xi,yj)/dx = (z(xi+1,yj)-z(xi-1,yj))/(xi+1-xi-1)
	       dz(xi,yj)/dy = (z(xi,yj+1)-z(xi,yj-1))/(yj+1-yj-1)

and by forward differences

	       dz(xi,yj)/dx = (z(xi+1,yj)-z(xi,yj))/(xi+1-xi)
	       dz(xi,yj)/dy = (z(xi,yj+1)-z(xi,yj))/(yj+1-yj)

or backward differences

	       dz(xi,yj)/dx = (z(xi,yj)-z(xi-1,yj))/(xi-xi-1)
	       dz(xi,yj)/dy = (z(xi,yj)-z(xi,yj-1))/(yj-yj-1)

along the edges or where data were missing.

The magnitude of the slope, θ, was then computed from

	       tan2θ = (dz/dx)2 + (dz/dy)2

and the aziumth (Φ') relative to the polar-stereographic coordinate system was computed from

	       tan Φ' = (dz/dy)/(dz/dx) 

This was stored as an angle measured clockwise from the -y (upward pointing) axis. To convert the azimuth Φ1 = Φ (x1,y1) to an angle relative to north, start with the latitude (L) and longitude (b) of the points at (x1,y1) and (x1,y2), where y2=y1-1. Using the spherical trigonometric sine and cosine laws,

       cos c = cos(90-L1)cos(90-L2) + sin(90-L1)sin(90-L2)cos(b2-b1)
       sin B = sin(90-L2)sin(b2-b1)/sin c 

and the azimuth measured clockwise relative to north is

	       Φ = Φ1 - B 

For further information contact Jack Saba


Snyder, John P., 1982, Map Projections Used by the U.S. Geological Survey, Geological Survey Bulletin 1532 (U.S. Government printing Office, Washington D.C.: 1982).

Zwally, H.J., B. Schutz, W. Abdalati, J. Abshire, C. Bentley, A. Brenner, J. Bufton, J. Dezio, D. Hancock, D. Harding, T. Herring, B. Minster, K. Quinn, S. Palm, J. Spinhirne, and R. Thomas, 2002, ICESat’s laser measurements of polar ice, atmosphere, ocean, and land [PDF], Journal of Geodynamics, 34(3-4), 405-445, doi:10.1016/S0264-3707(02)00042-X.