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As a newcomer to using GIS for research, I am wondering if there are online repositories for spatial data, similar to package repositories for Linux distributions.

For instance, I would be able to find things like "bathymetric map of the world's oceans", or "administrative regions map for the United States", etc.

Is there such a repository/website where I can download such data? Or do I have to "start from scratch" and manually draw a map of the world if I need one?

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What kind of license are you looking for? – James Fee Apr 25 '11 at 18:21
@James Fee: Permissive enough that I can use it in peer reviewed publications and presentations without hassle. – hpy Apr 25 '11 at 22:16
up vote 14 down vote accepted

Natural Earth is a great resource for raster and vector data describing the environment.

Openstreetmap is good for man-made things (roads, cities, buildings).

Unfortunately downloading administrative boundaries (and the associated census data) for countries is usually a fairly complex procedure, despite the fact that the data is usually publicly available.

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Are there any free administrative boundaries available as shapefiles? question provides nice set of links for administrative boundaries.

UNEP's GEO Data Portal gives access to lots of environmental datasets.

Gridded Population of the World project can provide you with interesting data as well.

Although in German you might want to browse through resources of GISWIKI - lots of stuff there.

Perhaps Image 2000 & Corine Land Cover 2000 Project resources might be useful as well.

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for US Data Maps is a greate resource.

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Or, which has a straightforward interface. – jvangeld Apr 26 '11 at 18:14

Are there online spatial data sources similar to software linux package repositories? No.
Are there online collections of free/libre data? Yes, but they are disparate, loosely connected at best.

However there are a few projects I'm aware of which are in a position to eventually become analogous to package repositories:

  • The already mentioned Open Street Map is probably the most well known / largest contributing community. See the downloading data wiki page for actually getting it.

  • Esri's has potential. It is hampered by its focus on their own products and that most of the maps are mashups, with the actual data not necessarily available except as WMS services. If more people (organizations) can be persuaded to upload their products as Layer Packages this will be ameliorated. (Layer packages are just 7zip'ped archives of a file geodatabase, an mxd, and ancillary data. With File GDB API anyone will (eventually) be read the data). Performance is somewhat lacking at present and could be improved.

  • by FortiusOne is the one I have the most hope for. It's not software or user group specific as the others are and is designed from the ground up for uploading & downloading data as well as web mapping.

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I've tried to create a site a bit like the online repository that you want. My Free GIS data list provides links to a huge amount of data, sorted by category. The sort of data that is available includes the things you were looking for - there are about 3 different datasets which include administrative regions of the US, and at least one dataset for bathymetry of the oceans.

Most of the datasets listed by other answers are also listed on this site.

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