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GIS data

I'm trying to find geospatial data, specifically terrain/topography/landcover like urban, forest, desert, tundra, ocean, river, etc...

The first question I had asked on this site (see below) had an answer which stated that I'd need to interrogate the layers in order to generate the dataset I'd like to get. I have some idea of what the user is talking about now, but it implies that in order for me to get this data, I will need to learn some sort of GIS application, load up some raster/vector data, and then get the information on a per lat/long/elevation basis.

Some related questions I've asked on stack exchange while trying to figure out how to get this data include http://gis.stackexchange.com/questions/200767/geographic-characteristics-by-lat-long and http://opendata.stackexchange.com/questions/9145/geospatial-data-at-a-particular-lat-long. I've also skimmed through the sites listed here: http://opendata.stackexchange.com/questions/7303/collection-of-large-geospatial-datasets and it seems to me that most of the information I'm looking for exists, but is going to be in raster and vector format.

tl;dr: if I want to get the data in a tabular format, indexed by lat/long/elevation, is my impression that I will need to learn some type of GIS application in order to extract/export the data in the format I want?

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