Handy reference for finding height above sea level

January 17, 2011

With the recent horrors of the Queensland and eastern Australian floods, I thought I’d better check our house and contents insurance policy to see what coverage we have for flood damage. Why? We live close to an estuary, but some distance from it, and at a slight elevation from it.

Well, the bad news is that our insurance policy clearly says it doesn’t cover flood damage. Water damage from rainwater, pipe breaks, retaining wall collapses etc., but NOT floods. So before I called our insurance broker to find out how and whether to get flood insurance, I thought I’d better check how high we were above sea level. We don’t have any rivers near us, but there’s that estuary, and then over the sand dunes on the other side of the estuary, the Indian Ocean.

It’s not so easy to find your height above sea level. Neither Google Maps or Bing Maps has these details (Google Maps’ ‘Terrain’ view has contour lines, but no key to tell you what the lines are — 5 meters? 10 meters? 20 meters?), and some of the other websites I tried didn’t either — at least, not for our area. Some sites suggested downloading and installing Google Earth, searching for your address,  then looking at the details where you find the elevation. Problem: When I tried to install Google Earth, it crashed my computer!

However, I did find a website that seems to be reasonably accurate, at least based on my gut feeling of what our height above sea level is. It’s http://www.daftlogic.com/sandbox-google-maps-find-altitude.htm. It’s a beta application so it may not be accurate for where you live — some of the comments indicate that some people aren’t getting accurate data from it.

I clicked on the road close to the estuary and it reported it as 2 m above sea level (that would be about right). I then clicked the location of the house at the bottom of our street, and got 8 m. Next, I clicked the top of hill at the end of our street and got 30 m. Our house was reported as somewhere between 15 and 20 m depending on where I clicked. I zoomed in much closer and clicked the western boundary of our property (closest to the estuary) and it was listed as 14.4 m; the eastern boundary was listed as 18 m. There is definitely a rise of about 3 meters on the property, so that looks pretty accurate to me.

I thought we might be somewhere between 10 and 20 meters above sea level, so the 14.4 to 18 meter elevation for our block would fit my gut feeling. Even though 14.4 m is the lowest elevation, the house is a good meter above the western boundary fence, so I’d put it at 15 to 16 meters above sea level.

I probably don’t need to talk to the insurance broker now, but I will — just to see what the story is with flood insurance.

One comment

  1. This is another area where we need technical writers/communicators. Practical information that we need in our lives is hard to come by, but it can be very important like the example here. We may also need it when we are stressed (and not in the mood for long, drawn-out searches and obfuscating legalese). We need help before disasters happen!

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