10 Free GIS Data Sources: Best Global Raster and Vector Datasets (2017)

10 Free GIS Datasets
10 Free GIS Data Sources

Last Updated: Aug 24, 2017

Where can I find free GIS data?

In a perfect world, you’d be able to find all the free GIS data you need in a single website. Of course, it would have to be free, downloadable from an authoritative source.

But well, you know the drill. The world’s not perfect, life’s not fair.

So that’s why we’ve put together this list to turbo-charge your search for reputable and free GIS data.

Here is a list of 10 global GIS data sets that you can download for free.

1 Natural Earth Data

Natural Earth Data is number 1 on the list because it does an amazing job to suit the needs of cartographers. By and large, all the key cultural and physical vector GIS datasets are at a global scale conveniently for you to use. The raster datasets also provide beautiful hillshade relief for your map.

The best part is Natural Earth Data is in public domain. So this means that you have the right to disseminate and modify the data in any manner.

Here’s more details for Natural Earth data. From a cartography standpoint, it’s a no-brainer. Download Natural Earth Data now.

Advantages Data Types
  • Download global free GIS data in public domain
  • Supported by the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS).
  • Cultural, physical and raster (basemap) data.
Natural Earth Data
Natural Earth Data

2 Esri Open Data

In 2017, Esri Open Data is the hidden gold mine of free GIS data. For example, it now lets you explore over 67,310 open data sets from 4,092 organizations worldwide. For this reason, we have it at the top of our list of free GIS data.

In some cases, you’ll have to sift through piles of data and merge your downloads into one. Despite the effort, this is arguably your best chance to find exactly what you’re looking for.

In any case, the search is convenient with a map preview of the extent and table. Alternatively, you can search by topic or location and download data in multiple GIS formats. Ultimately, there is nothing more thorough for GIS data than Esri Open Data.

Advantages Data Types
  • As of 2017, it has 67,310 open data sets from 4,092 organizations worldwide
  • Managed by the largest commercial GIS organization in the world.
  • Download formats are in spreadsheet, KML, shapefile and API’s are OGC WMS, GeoJSON and GeoService.

esri arcgis open data

3 USGS Earth Explorer

GIS Data Layers
For Earth observers seeking remote sensing data, the USGS Earth Explorer is your sole destination.

We all know that the USGS’s Earth Explorer gives you access to one of the largest databases of satellite and aerial imagery. But I bet you didn’t know you can download data outside of the United States.

A friendly user-interface makes accessing remote sensing data simple. Actually, it even has a bulk download application if you need to download a several data sets. Register for a free account because this is the ultimate database for free remote sensing data.

Also, if you’re looking for satellite data from other providers, here is the ultimate list of 15 free satellite imagery sources.

Advantages Data Types
  • Search for remote sensing data with a user-friendly state-of-the-art interface
  • Filter searches by time and sensors and set region of interests in map
  • Remote sensing data (Landsat, global land cover…)
USGS Earth Explorer
USGS Earth Explorer

4 OpenStreetMap




GIS users are harnessing the power of OpenStreetMap (OSM) as a means to crowdsource data from multiple users.

The result of crowd-sourcing is highly detailed data. But I say detailed with cautious optimism. While OSM is open to the public, it’s also created by the public. So his means that accuracy varies based on the creator. From my experience, the accuracy looked very good. And people like you and me are working on completeness every day.

For GIS analysts seeking high spatial resolution detail, OpenStreetMap data is exactly what you are looking for. How much data is being created every second into OpenStreetMap? There’s a map for that – OSM Show Me The Way.

Advantages Data Types
  • Obtain highly detailed free GIS data with different levels of accuracy and completeness
  • High spatial resolution cultural vector data. (buildings, land use, railroads, roads, waterways)

OpenStreetMap GIS Data

5 NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC)

NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) is all about human interactions with the environment.

SEDAC had a wide variety of coarse global free GIS data. For example, it has fertilizer applications in agriculture to global infant mortality rate by state.

I like the SEDAC map viewer because you can select GIS thematic maps of the socioeconomic data. If you want to assemble the data yourself, there’s that option too.

Advantages Data Types
  • Retrieve global socioeconomic data from 15 different themes.
  • Socioeconomic data (agriculture, climate, conservation, governance, hazards, health, infrastructure, land use, marine and coastal, population, poverty, remote sensing, sustainability, urban and water)
NASA SEDAC GIS Data
NASA SEDAC GIS Data

6 Open Topography

Open Topography provides a portal to high spatial resolution topographic data and tools.

If you gave me a 5 second countdown to choose one GIS data type to work with for the rest of my life…. I’d probably start screaming LIDAAARRRRR! Yes, I’d be all dramatic because you gave me a 5 second countdown to respond.

We all know that LiDAR Data is a rare, precious GIS resource. This is why Open Topography is so useful. It answers the question: “Where can we find LiDAR data?”. But if you’re looking for satellite-derived elevation data a bit more coarse, these free global Digital Elevation Models data sources will certainly help.

Advantages Data Types
  • Select regions in the world and search available LiDAR data.
  • LiDAR (90% United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and Puerto Rico)
Open Topography LiDAR GIS Data
Open Topography LiDAR GIS Data

7 UNEP Environmental Data Explorer

The United Nations Environmental Data Explorer’s online database holds more than 500 different variables.

I must admit. I found it a bit difficult to explore the GIS data because the interfaces takes awhile to get used to. If you click advanced, you can filter “Geospatial Data Sets”. From here, you can download free GIS data like climate, disasters and ecosystems.

Advantages Data Types
  • Contains a lot of spatial and non-spatial data on a variety of themes.
  • Freshwater, population, forests, emissions, climate, disasters, health and GDP spatial and non-spatial data.
UNEP Explorer Free GIS Data
UNEP Explorer Free GIS Data

9 NASA Earth Observations (NEO)

NASA’s Earth Observations (NEO) focuses on global satellite imagery. All things consideree, it makes the satellite data as accessible as possible.

Imagine seeing daily snapshots of climate and environmental conditions of Earth. NEO has 50 different global datasets. They are accessible in JPEG, PNG, Google Earth and GeoTIFF formats.

You can’t live without NASA’s GIS data when it comes understanding our global environment from space.

Advantages Data Types
  • Updated constantly ensuring timely information of our globe.
  • Accessible in different formats.
  • All raster grids: atmosphere, energy, land, life and ocean GIS data.
NASA Earth Observations NEO Free GIS Data
NASA Earth Observations NEO Free GIS Data

9 Sentinel Satellite Data

The European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellite is now the highest spatial resolution available to the public for free. One scene after the other, data has been rolling out on a user interface called the Sentinels Scientific Data Hub.

You’ll have to register. But it’s worth the time. For ortho basemaps, it doesn’t get any better than the global coverage that the Sentinel 2 satellites provide…

…And you can even obtain synthetic aperture radar data at no cost from Sentinel-1.

READ MORE: How to Download Sentinel Satellite Data for Free

Advantages Data Types
  • 10-meter resolution satellite data readily available at your fingertips.
  • Sentinel 2 data has 11 spectral bands including red, green, blue, near-infrared
  • Raster data – 11 channels from Sentinel-2. Synthetic aperture radar from Sentinel-1.

Free GIS Data - Sentinel Satellite Data

10 Terra Populus

Terra Populus (TerraPop for short) is the only system that incorporates and integrates both census data from over 160 countries around the world, as well as environmental data describing land cover, land use, and climate. The census data in TerraPop include individual- and household-level records from more than 80 countries around the world and aggregate data from another 80 countries and spans up to six decades, from the 1960s to the present.

The unique thing about it is how it can be used to explore temporal and spatial changes. Not only researchers, but everyone now has a tool to obtain and investigate transformative changes in the human-environment system in geographic space.

Advantages Data Types
  • User-friendly interface with customized, relevant, multi-temporal data delivery.
  • Area-level, micro-data & environmental data describing land cover, land use, and climate.

TerraPop

11 FAO GeoNetwork

We’re going over 10 free data source here so a bit of a bonus. Well, it’s another United Nations global GIS dataset. If you’re craving for agriculture and fisheries related GIS data, keep the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in mind.

FAO GeoNetwork provides satellite imagery and spatial data to support sustainable development in agriculture, fisheries and food security. The GIS Gateway is where you can find data organized categorically.

Advantages Data Types
  • Search wide range of categories and filter by country.
  • Agriculture, fisheries, land resource GIS data.
FAO GeoNetwork Free GIS Data
FAO GeoNetwork Free GIS Data

12 ISCGM Global Map

It’s time to look at what the International Steering Committee for Global Mapping website has to offer.

Admittedly, not the prettiest website of the bunch, Global Map still packs some serious punch with their free GIS data. Global land cover and percent tree cover are the two pivotal datasets here. But that’s not all. Cultural and natural vector datasets are here too.

Registration is required. But not that painful for getting ISCGM free GIS data.

Advantages Data Types
  • Download global land cover and tree prevent by selecting map tiles.
  • Boundaries, drainage, transportation, population centers, elevation, land cover, land use and vegetation.
ISCGM Data
ISCGM Data

Download Free GIS Data

We live in the information age. We get blasted by truckloads of information each day. In terms of GIS data sources, it seems never-ending.

While some other lists have everything including the kitchen sink, we’ve thoroughly researched what is the best.

In GIS, high quality, free GIS data always seems to be a challenge that many people in the industry have troubles wrestling with.

Using this list, you have instantly become more knowledgeable with these 10 free GIS data sources.

Haven’t found what you’re looking for? Here are more free GIS data sources to superpower your mapping needs:

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