Geoprocessing considerations for elevation surface input

Elevation surfaces define height values across the extent of a map or scene. The most common uses for elevation surfaces are to define the elevation source for rasterized content and on-ground vector symbols and to define heights or z-values when editing features. You can also use elevation surfaces as input to geoprocessing tools that support those surface datasets.

Each elevation surface can have one or more elevation data sources that define the height across the surface. The following table lists the supported elevation sources:

Supported elevation sourceData location

Raster dataset

File on disk

TIN dataset

File on disk

Web elevation layer

Portal item

Web imagery layer

Portal item

Cached elevation image service

ArcGIS Server service

Select an elevation surface as input

If your map or scene has an elevation surface, most geoprocessing tools that accept elevation datasets can also use the elevation surface as input. To use the elevation surface as input, select the name of the elevation surface from the drop-down list of layers for the input parameter.

Select an elevation surface from the drop-down list of layers for the input parameter.

After selecting the elevation surface by name, the value in the parameter text box will be transformed into the path to the source dataset that the elevation surface represents.

Usage notes

Using an elevation surface as input to a geoprocessing tool is essentially a shortcut to selecting the data that is used as the elevation surface source. Properties or settings that are applied to an elevation surface do not apply to the geoprocessing operation. This is why, after selecting the elevation surface name, the parameter value changes to the elevation surface source data path;, so it is understood the exact data that is being used as input to the geoprocessing tool.

When you use a large portal or server-based elevation surface such as the default World Elevation 3D surface as input, be aware that performance will be significantly slower than if you use an elevation surface with a local data source. Some tools may not complete successfully due to attempting to load the entire service into memory. Using service-based elevation surfaces will work best if you apply the geoprocessing extent environment to limit the processing to as small an area as necessary for the analysis.


Use the Make Image Server Layer tool to create a new layer that can be used as input to tools that accept raster layers. This tool allows you to specify an extent, cell size, and other important settings to perform analysis using an image service that are not possible by selecting the elevation surface as input as described above.