I have a digital elevation model as a GeoTIFF and I'm looking to generate a Shapefile of contours with 5m bands on the command line. Is this possible?

Ideally using GDAL and Python.


1 Answer 1


--- gdal --- use gdal_contour function. documentation here

---- ArcGIS version----- posted before the software was specified

Assuming you are using ArcGIS: 1. Convert the GeoTiff into ESRI GRID (esri raster format) using raster to other formats function, or simply import it in arcGIS and use save (export data) and save it as ESRI GRID. 2. use the Contour function to generate contours at intervals of your choosing.

As an extra: -There are a number of theoretical issues you need to be aware of, for example, what kind of DEM is your data? is it adjusted for the local sea-level? does it have vertical datum information? These questions are important specially if you are going to work on sea level rise projects.

  • Sorry forgot to add I'm using GDAL command line tools and python. The DEM is already adjusted for local sea-level. Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 19:37
  • The gdal_countour should work. Here is an example
    – yanes
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 19:44
  • 1
    Another consideration is whether you want 'accurate' or 'pretty' contours. Accurate contours are great for engineers to understand topography but look horrible on a map and pretty contours only give a vague idea of what the ground is doing. GDAL contours are 'accurate', to make 'pretty' contours for hard copy resample/smooth your raster first - do not try to smooth the contours after they are created, that will only lead to frustration. Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 22:17
  • @MichaelMiles-Stimson "... that will only lead to frustration" too correct :)
    – yanes
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 22:59

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