elevation data and APIs

So I found a bit of time to hack on my project today. Today’s task was to load and validate data coming from Geoscience Australia’s SRTM digital elevation model data, which I downloaded from their elevation data portal last week.1 The data is Creative Commons, so I might just upload it somewhere, if I can find a place for 2GB of elevation data.

This let me load elevation data in a 3 arcsecond (about 100m) grid, which I did using the ubiquitous GDAL via its Python API. Initial code is here. It doesn’t do anything super clever yet, like check and normalise the projection, because I don’t need to.2

Looking at plots of values can give you a gist of what’s what (oh look, it goes out to sea, and then the data is masked out) but it doesn’t really validate anything. I could do validation runs against my GPS tracks, but for a first pass, I decided it would be easier to validate using Google’s Elevation API. This is a pretty neat web service that you make a request to, and it gives you back some JSON (or XML). There are undoubtedly Python APIs to access this, but it’s pretty easy to do a simple call with urllib2 or httplib. I chose to reuse my httplib Client wrapper from my RunKeeper/HealthGraph API. I wrote it directly in the test.

For a real unit test, I would have probably calculated the residuals, and ensured they sat within some acceptable range, but I’m lazy, so instead I just plotted them together. Google’s data, you will notice, includes bathymetry, which is actually pretty neat.

SRTM v Google Elevation

  1. Note to the unwary, seems to be buggy in Chrome? []
  2. I did write a skeleton context manager for gdal.Open. I say skeleton because it doesn’t actually do anything smart like turning errors from GDAL into Exceptions, because I didn’t have any errors to handle. []

Testing warnings with py.test

For those who use like to add warnings to your Python code, and want to test those warnings actually happen in your unit tests, here are two techniques to do so, both are based around fixtures/funcargs.

Firstly is the mechanism built into py.test using recwarn.

The second is to create a fixture that specifically enables warnings as exceptions and combined that with pytest.raises, for instance:

import warnings

def warnings_as_errors(request):

    request.addfinalizer(lambda *args: warnings.resetwarnings())

def test_timers_warn(log, warnings_as_errors):


    with pytest.raises(RuntimeWarning):

The advantage of this second method is you can guarantee exactly what method call raises the warning without repeatedly having to check recwarn.