USGS Topo Data on the Go

By Brian R. Fox

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) The National Map Topographic Maps and Data are now available on mobile devices that use Android and iOS operating systems. Android and iPhone users can now use their mobile devices as digital topo maps, leveraging the power of the Global Positioning System (GPS) to zoom in on their precise location while hiking, biking, running, or engaging in any other activity that benefits from precision navigation. The type of data that are available includes USGS imagery and topographic maps from The National Map, as well as road and contour layers.

The National Geospatial Technical Operations Center (NGTOC) worked with a number of Android, iOS, and desktop developers to make USGS topo data available to mobile users. In the case of mobile land navigation, there are a number of terrific applications that are already in heavy use, so NGTOC didn’t have to recreate the mobile apps and compete with private industry. Rather, the focus was ensuring that mobile developers understood both the availability of USGS data and services and the value of providing these rich data sources to their users.

With many developers living abroad, language barriers quickly became apparent. Online translating services allowed NGTOC staff to effectively communicate with developers via email in French, Spanish, and German. In some cases, beta versions of applications were provided to NGTOC staff, allowing feedback and testing of these mobile services.

Working with the private developers rapidly paid off, with many mobile applications updating within a month, providing users with direct access to USGS topo data. And in a number of cases, these applications represent some of our biggest customers. The Mobile Atlas Creator (MOBAC) desktop application is already the second largest consumer of The National Map services (by browser).

Currently, two Android Apps are using USGS data—OruxMaps ( and AlpineQuest ( These apps include USGS services in the list of available online maps. The map data available for AlpineQuest and OruxMaps users includes map tiles of The National Map imagery and topographic maps, as well as road and contour vector layers that can be overlaid on the imagery tiles (AlpineQuest). For users who will most likely be navigating in an area outside cell phone coverage, Mobile Atlas Creator (MOBAC) is allowing users of this desktop application to build small “mobile atlases” with USGS data. These “mobile atlases” can be built over any area of interest at multiple scales and, when completed, the small file is moved to the phone. The “mobile atlases” enable over 30 GPS applications for Android, iPhone, handheld GPS, and Windows devices. By storing this small amount of data on the phone, these “mobile atlases” ensure that the topographic data are available even when cell coverage is not (

NGTOC is also continuing to work with a key iPhone application developer who is responsible for MotionX and Nike+ applications, two of the largest land navigation and fitness applications on iTunes. This effort will help ensure that our data are available to more of the key applications available to iPhone users.

Users of Android mobile devices can use USGS data on their GPS-enabled phones to track their adventure or workout. This new capability promises to increase awareness of USGS data and services, as well as increase demand for USGS traditional hardcopy topographic map products. To keep the momentum going, NGTOC will continue to work with mobile developers to ensure that our data are available to the public.

To use The National Map data on your Android device:

  1. Install either OruxMaps or AlpineQuest via Google Play App Store.
  2. USGS The National Map data are available through these two applications as a dynamic, online layer.
  3. Switch map sources to view either The National Map Topo or Satellite data through the application.
  4. OruxMaps manual available here in PDF.
  5. More information on Alpine Quest here.

To use The National Map data on your iOS device:

  1. Install Galileo Offline Maps iOS app from the App Store:
  2. Open one of these links on your iOS device:
    1. USGS National Map - Topo:
    2. USGS National Map - Satellite:
    3. USGS National Map - Vector:
  3. Select “Open in Galileo” option in Safari.

After that, the new map source will appear in the list of available online maps (Settings > Map Source).

To build map files that will allow an Android or iPhone to use USGS The National Map data when data connectivity is not available:

  1. Download the MOBAC desktop application (Mobile Atlas Builder).
  2. Unzip the downloaded file, and activate the “Mobile Atlas Creator.exe” file.
  3. Users can then indicate the mobile application they are using (Galileo, AlpineQuest, and so forth), and highlight an area of interest to build an offline map file.
  4. Select the appropriate scales.
  5. Select “Create Atlas,” and move resulting folder (and map data) to the appropriate folder on the mobile phone.
  6. More information on using MOBAC is available through the “Quick Start Manual” here.

The USGS NGTOC is continuing to work with mobile developers to ensure that our data are available to the public.

Disclaimer: Any use of trade, firm, or product names does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made by the USGS or the U.S. Government as to the accuracy and functioning of the commercial software programs cited in this article. The U.S. Government shall not be held liable for improper or incorrect use of the USGS The National Map Topographic Data employing these software programs.

Reprinted from USGS @ccess.

Published Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Written by Brian R. Fox

Published in


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