Automatically Calculating and Navigating to the Optimal Flattened Site Plan in Global Mapper

GIS is a vital component of construction management for optimizing efficiency, creating and communicating plans, measuring terrain, and maximizing resources. Many construction plans begin with finding or building a relatively flat location to minimize the required earthworks for digging a foundation or setting a concrete pad. Modeling these sites ahead of time with Global Mapper’s flattened site plan tool and least cost path tool can help users save time, money, and effort by providing a way to begin planning without using limited resources on field visits and surveys. 

This workflow demonstrates how Global Mapper’s extensive terrain analysis toolset can be used to find the best placement to construct a flat site and the most efficient way to navigate to that site. The Create a Flattened Site Plan tool optimizes location and elevation to even out terrain cut-and-fill values into a flat surface using only the soil on site, minimizing soil removal or fill transportation costs. The Least Cost Path Analysis tool analyses terrain to find the path of least resistance within determined area, slope, and elevation thresholds. 

To see a demonstration of this workflow, check out this presentation from GeoTalks 2024: Positioning the Optimal Flattened Site & Measuring the Effects on Terrain in Global Mapper 

Automatically Locating the Optimal Location for a Flattened Site 

The Create a Flattened Site plan tool has been a popular function in Global Mapper for over a decade. Construction teams use this tool to calculate the specific elevation to build a flattened surface and take advantage of the existing soil on site. An option allows the flattened area elevation to be determined by the equalization of cut and fill volumes, eliminating the cost of transporting fill. This tool was recently expanded to provide the ability to automatically assess a terrain layer to find the most efficient location to build on. 

Required data: A digital elevation/terrain layer and an area feature.

3 well pad site plan vector layer loaded in Global Mapper
While only the area feature is measured, any simultaneously selected point or line features will be reoriented alongside the area, keeping projects and structures together.


The Flattened Site Plan tool uses area features to measure the bounds for volume measurements. In cases where the area feature is moved or reoriented, have no fear about separating structures, any selected point or line features will be moved along with the area feature. This allows for project plans to be easily moved without any manual data adjustments.

The example used in this scenario creates a flat site for an oil pad, which is a relatively flat area designed for the drilling and extraction of oil and natural gas. Find the template for this “3 well exhibit pad” in Global Mapper’s built-in templates.

Compatible with a variety of applications and goals, the Flattened Site Plan tool provides multiple methods for working with existing or finding the optimal position for construction. If the specific location of the site is inflexible, a flattened site can be modeled and calculated based on the existing position of the area feature. Manually place the polygon where the pad will be built, and Global Mapper will provide the break-even elevation. Similarly, with inflexible elevation, the Fixed Height to Flatten to option will calculate the soil volume to create the site at a specific elevation.

A flattened well pad site in a terrain layer
To create this flattened site on the side of a hill, Global Mapper calculates the elevation at which the site should be built to take advantage of existing cut and fill volumes and minimize soil transportation costs.

A newer method in the tool, Create an Optimal Flattened Site Plan, takes advantage of any flexibility in the exact placement and orientation of the flattened site. With this option, Global Mapper assesses the terrain in a specified location to find the optimal placement and orientation for the site that requires the least amount of earthwork. Once the optimal site has been calculated, the tool will generate a 3D model and provide measurements of the soil volume to be added or removed to create a level surface at a break-even elevation.

Soil Volume Measurements

The calculated soil volume result in Global Mapper
Volumetric Calculations provide the soil volume measurements needed for the Optimal Site Plan.

Creating any flattened site plan will generate two outputs: a 3D terrain elevation model and soil volume measurements. Volumetric Calculations are reported to provide precise measurements of the work to be done. The Cut Volume measures the soil to be removed, and the Fill Volume measures the soil to be added. The Break-Even Height is the local elevation to build the site plan to meet the minimized volumes. These measurements are vital to the preplanning of construction projects involving earthwork. Cut and Fill volumes are calculated for all flattened site plan methods. There are additional tools in Global Mapper for measuring the volume of terrain without creating a flattened site plan, such as the Cut and Fill tool

3D Terrain Model:

A picture is worth a thousand words, and that especially applies to 3D data. Along with the soil volume measurements, the tool also generates a 3D terrain layer to display the final flattened site plan. This layer models the final location, orientation, and shape of the calculated construction site. There are multiple ways to share this data with a customer or construction crew, including sending it to a mobile device via Global Mapper Mobile, creating a 3D PDF, exporting it to one of the over 380 different file formats available, and more.

Swipe to see the site pad placed in the optimal, flattest area within the defined bounds (black polygon). This location and orientation were calculated to minimize the amount of earthwork to be done.
2D and perpendicular perspective of terrain data with a calculated lfattened sire plan
Compare the original terrain layer (blue line) to the newly calculated flattened site (Orange with fill). From this hilly location, the most efficient location still requires a bit of earthwork, but it will be easier knowing that this is the most efficient method.

For more information on creating a flattened site plan with Global Mapper, check out these other resources:
Ask The Experts: How do I use the Flattened Site Plan Option in Global Mapper v25?
Creating an Optimal Site Plan in Terrain Data

Calculating the Least Cost Terrain Path Between Locations 

Well pads, and other similar construction, are frequently established in uninhabited areas without an existing road structure. These areas require the planning and constitution of road access for original construction vehicles and future maintenance. Manually calculating these paths would require a turn-by-turn analysis to determine which possible paths cross the least steep areas while still being the shortest path for the vehicle. Thankfully, the Least Cost Path tool in Global Mapper can do this automatically in a fraction of the time. 

Required data:  A digital elevation/terrain layer and point features to represent locations to navigate between. 

The Least Cost Path tool provides a terrain analysis method for mapping the shortest and most efficient path between locations. By iterating through all possible options, it identifies the best route between specified point features across a terrain layer based on minimized terrain slope angle and avoiding unwanted areas. This simple tool can connect two locations, map multiple locations into a single path, or discover the most accessible location. Great for planning roads through a construction site, this tool is a quick and easy way to avoid the pitfalls of poor road planning. 

A path calculated across the terrain layer around boundaries
This path was built to connect a set of flattened well pads while avoiding the red-checked areas, slopes steeper than forty degrees, and the low-elevation areas of the river.

Creating a Flattened Site plan gives users the power to take into account how the landscape can be changed to accommodate the new construction. In contrast, the Least Cost Path tool creates plans based on the existing landscape. To artificially ease the path of travel, other terrain analysis and editing tools in Global Mapper can be used to alter the landscape, such as the Terrain Paint tool as shown below.

A generated brisge in terrain across a river shown in 3d and perpendicular view
The Terrain Paint tool was used to alter the DEM layer to create a bridge across the river. This alteration is taken into account when calculating the least cost path.
The least cost path navigating across the terrain bridge
Here, the option to avoid elevations below a certain threshold was used to ensure the path stayed within the predetermined shallowest water crossing available.


For more information on planning road construction with Global Mapper, check out these other resources:
Road Site Planning
GeoTalks Express: Road Repair Modeling in Global Mapper Pro

Terrain Analysis is one of Global Mapper’s many strong suits. By exporting the flattened plan layer to combine it with the original data, the final ground plan can be used in many other tools such as watershed calculations to map where water will flow across the new terrain, contour generation, and more.


Want to try Global Mapper? Sign up for a 14-day free trial. You can also request a demo from one of our experts to see this workflow or other Global Mapper processing abilities.

Learn More

Companies using Blue Marble’s geospatial technology