VFE Resources: Data & Map Sources


Earth scientists use published information about their fieldwork sites before, during, and after their site visits.  Here you will find links to climate, and weather data and to sources for topographic and geologic maps.  Some of the sources listed here provide information relevant to more than one category.

You will find four major headings on this page: MAPS, which offers links to a variety of map; CLIMATE DATA; which points to a variety of sources and kinds of representations of climate data,; MY NASA DATA, which provides a gateway to a wide array of NASA data sources; and the newest section; VFE DATABASE LINKS, which provides links to data sources for the VFE Database. We’re revising the database architecture and including new datasources. See the current draft of the VFE Database Entry Form here.

Some places to find maps & Data

USGS Topographic Maps (also listed in Outside resources)

The USGS Maps Store allows you to download any USGS topographic map.  A variety of types and sizes are available beyond USGS quadrangle maps.  Use the Map Locator to find and download maps.

USGS Geologic Maps Database

There are many places to find geologic maps, and likely the two best places to start are the USGS’s Geologic Maps Database and your state’s geologic survey.  An Internet search should take you fairly quickly to your state’s Geologic Survey, and, clicking on the map or the link below will take you to the USGS Database.


Many of the maps in the database are in .pdf format and many are MrSID files, which require a free plug-in for downloading the files available from LizardTech.  These images may be viewed online without the plug-in. 

Digital Geologic Maps of US States

Another USGS website provides interactive digital geologic maps.  These can either be viewed in your browser window or downloaded as kml or kmz files for viewing in virtual globe software like Google Earth or NASA’s Worldwind.   Shapefiles and metadata are also available for use in ArcView.

PRISM Climate Group

The PRISM Climate Group at Oregon State University offers a wide range of climate maps and data.  The PRISM Data Explorer allows the user to generate graphs and maps of weather and climate data from across the historical record.  Quoting from their ‘About’ page,  “PRISM Climate Group (formerly SCAS) was established at Oregon State University (OSU) to provide spatial climate research, education, analysis and mapping services for public, private, and educational institutions in the United States and abroad. Starting as a research program aligned with the Oregon Climate Service (OCS) in 1993, the Spatial Climate Analysis Service (SCAS) was formally established in 1999, and in 2006 it's name changed to PRISM Climate Group. PRISM Climate Group and OCS continue to operate as sister agencies. Dr. Christopher Daly, OSU Professor, is Director of PRISM Climate Group.”

FEMA Flood Maps

FEMA Issued Flood Maps cover the entire country and show flood risk.  Maps are available from the county level down to maps representing portions of townships.

SoilWeb: An Online Soil Survey Browser

The California Soil Resource Lab at UC Davis has a wide range of soil maps, including extensive resources in Google Earth available on their SoilWeb page.  This covers most of the 48 contiguous US states and there is considerably more detailed information available for California, Arizona and Nevada. You’ll also find resources for iPhones and Droids on the SoilWeb page.


Page Updated: May 18, 2011


Climate Data

Looking across Data Sources

Some of the sources listed on this page, like the PRISM Climate Group described immediately above, provide information that suit multiple purposes. 

Climate Graphs

A key factor in determining why a place looks the way it does is the climate.  With a little practice, you’ll be able to get a basic understanding of a region’s climate with a glimpse at its climate graphs.  Both of the graphs to the left represent the climate for Ithaca, NY. 

The top chart, from Climate-Charts.com, color-codes the seasons with winter in blue, spring in green and so on.  Precipitation is shown in the center graph.  Daylight hours are shown in the bottom graph.

To find climate graphs on Climate-Charts.com, follow the link from the homepage to USA Climate (assuming you’re in the USA).  Then, click on the appropriate state and find the location closest to your site from the list of weather stations. 

The bottom chart, from Weather Underground, shows record high and lows in addition to averages.  These records can be shown or omitted, as can the previous year’s data.  Precipitation is separated into two charts, one for rainfall and another for snowfall.  The turquoise line shows the date the image was downloaded. 

To find the charts on Weather Underground, locate your site by inputting either the zip code or the place name at the top of the page.  This will bring you to the current forecast for your site.  (To include current weather on a VFE web page, see Weather Stickers in the Outside Resources section of virtualfieldwork.org)  Find the “Seasonal Weather Averages” link in the “History & Almanac” section of the page.  Follow this link to the climate graph. 

There are other sites with climate graphs, including those from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA.gov) and the National Weather Service (weather.gov).  Some of these show very thoughtful design, however there is less consistency across the country for how the graphs are presented from these sites than from either Climate-Charts.com or Weather Underground

Climate & Weather Data

US Climate Normals are available from NOAA.   This will take you to state by state reports of all major weather stations.  It is as comprehensive a data set as you are likely to find.

Michael Hansen has created a KML file that allows Google Earth to display current weather station data from all airports, large and small.  Weather stations are identified by airport abbreviations and do not include city names.  I used Internet searches to identify city names and then looked up the climate data in the US Climate Normals reports.  KADM, for example, is the Ardmore, OK airport. 

The sites that provide climate graphs (above) all provide climate data, but some of it may take some time to sift through to find basic data.  For things specific to your state, you might find information from your state climatologist’s office useful.  You can get there through the American Association of State Climatologists.   The Northeast Regional Climate Center posts the US Comparative Climate Data compiled by the National Climatic Data Center in simple tables sorted by state.  This data covers the entire US, but not all stations.  The entire data set may be downloaded as a .pdf here

Climate Change: NASA’s Eyes on Earth also offers a great deal of climate data and interpretation of that data. 


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has a wealth of freely available resources for understanding the Earth.  A great deal of this data is packaged especially for teaching science at Mentoring and InquirY using NASA Data on Atmospheric and earth science for Teachers and Amateurs (MY NASA DATA (take note, if you thought ReaL Inquiry was a torturous title)). 



vfe database links

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has a wealth of freely available resources for understanding the Earth.  A great deal of this data is packaged especially for teaching science at Mentoring and InquirY using NASA Data on Atmospheric and earth science for Teachers and Amateurs (MY NASA DATA (take note, if you thought ReaL Inquiry was a torturous title)).