A Global Self-consistent, Hierarchical, High-resolution Geography Database
Version 2.2.4 Released Nov 1, 2013
GSHHG is developed and maintained by
Paul Wessel, SOEST, University of Hawai'i, Honolulu, HI.
Walter H. F. Smith, NOAA Geosciences Lab, National Ocean Service, Silver Spring, MD.
We present a high-resolution geography data set amalgamated from two data
bases in the public domain:
World Vector Shorelines (WVS)
CIA World Data Bank II (WDBII).
The former is our basis for shorelines while the latter is the basis for lakes, although there are
instances where differences in coastline representations necessitated adding WDBII islands to GSHHG.
The WDBII source also provides all political borders and rivers. GSHHG data have undergone extensive processing and should be free of
internal inconsistencies such as erratic points and crossing segments. The shorelines are
constructed entirely from hierarchically arranged closed polygons. A modified version of
GSHHG is used by GMT, the Generic Mapping Tools.
As of version 2.2.2, GSHHG is released under the
GNU Lesser General Public License.
The shoreline polygon data can be used to
simplify data searches and data selections, to study the statistical characteristics of
shorelines and land-masses, or for custom applications requiring basic geography data.
For convenience, the shoreline polygons and rivers/borders line data sets are distributed in two file formats:
- ESRI shapefiles. This format is probably the most useful
for users of GSHHG. Note that due to limitations of most (all?) GIS software
and Google Earth, a handful of polygons straddling the Dateline (chief among them the
Antarctic polar cap polygon) have been split into east and west components.
- Native binary files. No polygon dateline-splitting has occurred.
Software to read these files are distributed
as part of the gshhg supplement to GMT. Developers can use the descriptions
of the gshhg format to deal with these data in their own programs.
The geography data come in five resolutions:
- GMT uses a special netCDF-formatted version of these data that have been tiled to improve
efficiency of map making. Normally, this flavor of GSHHG is offered as an installation option when GMT is
installed; however, you can also obtain it below. We discourage anyone from using the netCDF version
for custom programming applications [due to complexity and lack of documentation, mostly].
- GSHHG used to be called GSHHS (Global Self-consistent, Hierarchical, High-resolution Shorelines)
but since rivers and political boundaries were also included we changed it to GSHHG starting with
- The netCDF version of GSHHG used to be distributed as a part of GMT but as of GMT 4.5.9 the GSHHG is a separate
package. This means when GMT is updated and there are no changes to GSHHG you do not
need to reinstall GSHHG. Likewise, GMT 4 and GMT 5 installations can now share a single GSHHG installation.
Unlike the shoreline polygons at all resolutions,
the lower resolution rivers are not guaranteed not to cross.
- full resolution: Original (full) data resolution.
- high resolution: About 80 % reduction in size and quality.
- intermediate resolution: Another ~80 % reduction.
- low resolution: Another ~80 % reduction.
- crude resolution: Another ~80 % reduction.
Shorelines are furthermore organized into 4 hierarchical levels:
- L1: boundary between land and ocean.
- L2: boundary between lake and land.
- L3: boundary between island-in-lake and lake.
- L4: boundary between pond-in-island and island.
Published information about GSHHG
The processing and assembly of the shoreline data is described in
Wessel, P., and W. H. F. Smith, A Global Self-consistent, Hierarchical, High-resolution
Shoreline Database, J. Geophys. Res., 101, 8741-8743, 1996 [PDF].
Availability of GSHHG data
The latest data files for version 2.2.4 were released on
Nov 1, 2013; details on the changes are described in the README file.
The data set can be accessed below as well as
from the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC),
Boulder, Colorado. Note that the gshhg software is a GMT supplement so
if you have installed GMT you already have the gshhg software.
For GMT 4.5.9 or later, or GMT 5.*, you may download one of these files via ftp
or via HTTP
- FTP: GSHHG coastlines, rivers, and borders for GMT in netCDF 4 format (gzipped tar archive).
- FTP: GSHHG coastlines, rivers, and borders for GMT in netCDF 3 format (bzipped tar archive) [for older netCDF-3-only installations].
For ESRI shapefiles of shoreline polygons, rivers, and borders you can choose to get via ftp or http:
For native binary files of shoreline polygons, rivers, and borders you may download via ftp or http:
The latter requires GMT's gshhg supplement or your own custom programs to access the data.
The native binary shoreline data can also be converted into a GRASS GIS database with
v.in.gshhs, a GRASS
add-on by Markus Metz.
- HTTP: GSHHG coastlines, rivers, and borders for GMT in netCDF 4 format (gzipped tar archive).
- HTTP: GSHHG coastlines, rivers, and borders for GMT in netCDF 3 format (bzipped tar archive) [for older netCDF-3-only installations].
A related product is a global netCDF grid with distances to the nearest GSHHG shoreline in cm. This is a 1x1 arc minute grid based on GSHHS version 1.3 and can be obtained here: dist_to_GSHHS_v1.3_1m.nc [Note: it is 890 Mb and is not yet updated to GSHHG 2.2.4].
Last update Nov 1, 2013 by Paul Wessel