Area and Road Ruggedness Scales
The USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Area and Road Ruggedness Scales data product provides measures of topographic variation, or "ruggedness," for census tracts across 50 States and Washington, DC. Building on USDA, ERS's longstanding work on geographic classifications, the data product serves as a resource for researchers, Federal agencies, policymakers, and practitioners working to better understand and address issues of rural development and demographic change, as well as individual and community well-being. To our knowledge, these are the first ruggedness measures with full nationwide coverage for the United States and the first to provide a roads-only version to help study the impact of rugged terrain on travel by car.
Data Training Webinar: Area and Road Ruggedness Scales
In this webinar, ERS Regional Economist Elizabeth Dobis and Senior Geographer John Cromartie provide an overview of the data available from the Area and Road Ruggedness Scales data product, highlight its uses, and demonstrate how to find the data on the ERS website. See more information on the data training webinar.
- This data product provides continuous and categorical measures of topographic variation for vintage 2010 census tracts, offering users the flexibility to utilize measures of rugged terrain that meet their unique needs.
- The Area Ruggedness Scale (ARS) has six categories based on the changes in elevation for all terrain and classifies census tracts as: (1) level; (2) nearly level; (3) slightly rugged; (4) moderately rugged; (5) highly rugged; and (6) extremely rugged.
- The Road Ruggedness Scale (RRS) has five categories based on the changes in elevation beneath roads and classifies census tracts as: (1) level; (2) nearly level; (3) slightly rugged; (4) moderately rugged; and (5) highly rugged.
- The grid-cell-level Terrain Ruggedness Index (TRI) underlies the ARS and RRS. The TRI is the sum change in elevation between each grid cell and its neighboring cells, with lower values indicating smaller changes in elevation and higher values indicating larger changes.
- Two TRIs were developed, one using all grid cells nationwide—the Area TRI—and one using just the subset of grid cells that contain roads—the Road TRI. Aggregate TRI measures for census tracts were derived by calculating the summary statistics (mean, standard deviation, median, minimum, maximum, and range) of the grid-cell TRI values within each census tract.
- The data file includes geographic identifiers, including the vintage 2010 census tract, county, and State identifiers, as well as region and rurality codes. These identifiers can be used in mapping applications and to explore various spatial categories.
Additional information about the measures can be found in the downloadable Excel file, which includes the data, definitions and sources, and a codebook for the Area and Road Ruggedness Scales and supporting variables. For more details on the background and creation of the Area and Road Ruggedness Scales, see Documentation and Descriptions and Maps.
The next update to this data product is expected to provide the ARS, RRS, and summary statistics for the Area and Road TRIs for vintage 2020 census tracts.
|Data Set||Last Updated||Next Update|
|Area and Road Ruggedness Scales||9/8/2023|