NGIS Feature Class Definitions

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Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Feature Classes

What is the NGIS?

United States Geological Survey (USGS)The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) is the Federal and national standard for geographic nomenclature.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) developed the GNIS in support of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names as the official repository of domestic geographic names data, the official vehicle for geographic names use by all departments of the Federal Government, and the source for applying geographic names to Federal electronic and printed products.

What are feature classes?

Feature classes are homogeneous collections of common features, each having the same spatial representation, such as points, lines, or polygons, and a common set of attribute columns, for example, a line feature class for representing road centerlines.

Airport

Manmade facility maintained for the use of aircraft (airfield, airstrip, landing field, landing strip).

Arch

Natural arch-like opening in a rock mass (bridge, natural bridge, sea arch).

Area

Any one of several areally extensive natural features not included in other categories (badlands, barren, delta, fan, garden).

Arroyo

Watercourse or channel through which water may occasionally flow (coulee, draw, gully, wash).

Bar

Natural accumulation of sand, gravel, or alluvium forming an underwater or exposed embankment (ledge, reef, sandbar, shoal, spit).

Basin

Natural depression or relatively low area enclosed by higher land (amphitheater, cirque, pit, sink).

Bay

Indentation of a coastline or shoreline enclosing a part of a body of water; a body of water partly surrounded by land (arm, bight, cove, estuary, gulf, inlet, sound).

Beach

The sloping shore along a body of water that is washed by waves or tides and is usually covered by sand or gravel (coast, shore, strand).

Bench

Area of relatively level land on the flank of an elevation such as a hill, ridge, or mountain where the slope of the land rises on one side and descends on the opposite side (level).

Bend

Curve in the course of a stream and (or) the land within the curve; a curve in a linear body of water (bottom, loop, meander).

Bridge

Manmade structure carrying a trail, road, or other transportation system across a body of water or depression (causeway, overpass, trestle).

Building

A manmade structure with walls and a roof for protection of people and (or) materials, but not including church, hospital, or school.

Canal

Manmade waterway used by watercraft or for drainage, irrigation, mining, or water power (ditch, lateal).

Cape

Projection of land extending into a body of water (lea, neck, peninsula, point).

Cave

Natural underground passageway or chamber, or a hollowed out cavity in the side of a cliff (cavern, grotto).

Cemetery

A place or area for burying the dead (burial, burying ground, grave, memorial garden).

Census

A statistical area delineated locally specifically for the tabulation of Census Bureau data (census designated place, census county division, unorganized territory, various types of American Indian/Alaska Native statistical areas). Distinct from Civil and Populated Place.

Channel

Linear deep part of a body of water through which the main volume of water flows and is frequently used as aroute for watercraft (passage, reach, strait, thoroughfare, throughfare).

Church

Building used for religious worship (chapel, mosque, synagogue, tabernacle, temple).

Civil

A political division formed for administrative purposes (borough, county, incorporated place, municipio, parish, town, township). Distinct from Census and Populated Place.

Cliff

Very steep or vertical slope (bluff, crag, head, headland, nose, palisades, precipice, promontory, rim, rimrock).

Crater

Circular-shaped depression at the summit of a volcanic cone or one on the surface of the land caused by the impact of a meteorite; a manmade depression caused by an explosion (caldera, lua).

Crossing

A place where two or more routes of transportation form a junction or intersection (overpass, underpass).

Dam

Water barrier or embankment built across the course of a stream or into a body of water to control and (or) impound the flow of water (breakwater, dike, jetty).

There aren’t any NGIS feature classes that begin with the letter e.

Falls

Perpendicular or very steep fall of water in the course of a stream (cascade, cataract, waterfall).

Flat

Relative level area within a region of greater relief (clearing, glade, playa).

Forest

Bounded area of woods, forest, or grassland under the administration of a political agency (see “woods“) (national forest, national grasslands, State forest).

Gap

Low point or opening between hills or mountains or in a ridge or mountain range (col, notch, pass, saddle, water gap, wind gap).

Glacier

Body or stream of ice moving outward and downslope from an area of accumulation; an area of relatively permanent snow or ice on the top or side of a mountain or mountainous area (icefield, ice patch, snow patch).

Gut

Relatively small coastal waterway connecting larger bodies of water or other waterways (creek, inlet, slough).

Harbor

Sheltered area of water where ships or other watercraft can anchor or dock (hono, port, roads, roadstead).

Hospital

Building where the sick or injured may receive medical or surgical attention (infirmary).

Island

Area of dry or relatively dry land surrounded by water or low wetland (archipelago, atoll, cay, hammock, hummock, isla, isle, key, moku, rock).

Isthmus

Narrow section of land in a body of water connecting two larger land areas.

There aren’t any NGIS feature classes that begin with the letter j.

There aren’t any NGIS feature classes that begin with the letter k.

Lake

Natural body of inland water (backwater, lac, lagoon, laguna, pond, pool, resaca, waterhole).

Lava

Formations resulting from the consolidation of molten rock on the surface of the Earth (kepula, lava flow).

Levee

Natural or manmade embankment flanking a stream (bank, berm).

Locale

Place at which there is or was human activity; it does not include populated places, mines, and dams (battlefield, crossroad, camp, farm, ghost town, landing, railroad siding, ranch, ruins, site, station, windmill).

Military

Place or facility used for various aspects of or relating to military activity.

Mine

Place or area from which commercial minerals are or were removed from the Earth; not including oilfield (pit, quarry, shaft).

There aren’t any NGIS feature classes that begin with the letter n.

Oilfield

Area where petroleum is or was removed from the Earth.

Park

Place or area set aside for recreation or preservation of a cultural or natural resource and under some form of government administration; not including National or State forests or Reserves (national historical landmark, national park, State park, wilderness area).

Pillar

Vertical, standing, often spire-shaped, natural rock formation (chimney, monument, pinnacle, pohaku, rock tower).

Plain

A region of general uniform slope, comparatively level and of considerable extent (grassland, highland, kula, plateau, upland).

Populated Place

Place or area with clustered or scattered buildings and a permanent human population (city, settlement, town, village). A populated place is usually not incorporated and by definition has no legal boundaries. However, a populated place may have a corresponding “civil” record, the legal boundaries of which may or may not coincide with the perceived populated place. Distinct from Census and Civil classes.

Post Office

An official facility of the U.S. Postal Service used for processing and distributing mail and other postal material.

There aren’t any NGIS feature classes that begin with the letter q.

Range

Chain of hills or mountains; a somewhat linear, complex mountainous or hilly area (cordillera, sierra).

Rapids

Fast-flowing section of a stream, often shallow and with exposed rock or boulders (riffle, ripple).

Reserve

A tract of land set aside for a specific use (does not include forests, civil divisions, parks).

Reservoir

Artificially impounded body of water (lake, tank).

Ridge

Elevation with a narrow, elongated crest which can be part of a hill or mountain (crest, cuesta, escarpment, hogback, lae, rim, spur).

School

Building or group of buildings used as an institution for study, teaching, and learning (academy, college, high school, university).

Sea

Large body of salt water (gulf, ocean).

Slope

A gently inclined part of the Earth’s surface (grade, pitch).

Spring

Place where underground water flows naturally to the surface of the Earth (seep).

Stream

Linear body of water flowing on the Earth’s surface (anabranch, awawa, bayou, branch, brook, creek, distributary, fork, kill, pup, rio, river, run, slough).

Summit

Prominent elevation rising above the surrounding level of the Earth’s surface; does not include pillars, ridges, or ranges (ahu, berg, bald, butte, cerro, colina, cone, cumbre, dome, head, hill, horn, knob, knoll, mauna, mesa, mesita, mound, mount, mountain, peak, puu, rock, sugarloaf, table, volcano).

Swamp

Poorly drained wetland, fresh or saltwater, wooded or grassy, possibly covered with open water (bog, cienega, marais, marsh, pocosin).

Tower

A manmade structure, higher than its diameter, generally used for observation, storage, or electronic transmission.

Trail

Route for passage from one point to another; does not include roads or highways (jeep trail, path, ski trail).

Tunnel

Linear underground passageway open at both ends.

Unknown

This class is assigned to legacy data only. It will not be assigned to new or edited records.
Valley Linear depression in the Earth’s surface that generally slopes from one end to the other (barranca, canyon, chasm, cove, draw, glen, gorge, gulch, gulf, hollow, ravine).

There aren’t any NGIS feature classes that begin with the letter v.

Well

Manmade shaft or hole in the Earth’s surface used to obtain fluid or gaseous materials.

Woods

Small area covered with a dense growth of trees; does not include an area of trees under the administration of a political agency (see “forest“).

There aren’t any NGIS feature classes that begin with the letter x.

There aren’t any NGIS feature classes that begin with the letter y.

There aren’t any NGIS feature classes that begin with the letter z.

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