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Digital Elevation Models and their

Application in Hydrology
Josef Frst
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Learning objectives
In this section you will learn:
to understand common data structures for DEM,
to assess reliability resp. errors in DEM depending on
primary DEM data sources,
principles of simple algorithms for DEM analysis,
basic application of DEM in hydrological problems.

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Outline
Introduction
Structure of DEM
Origin of DEM
Applications in Hydrology
Derivation of hydrological properties of watersheds
Summary and Conclusions
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Introduction
Definition: a DEM is a set of numbers that describe
the spatial distribution of terrain elevations above a
reference plane
DTM (Digital Terrain Model) is often used
synonymously, but terrain is more (Land use, etc.)
DEM are used not only for earth surface, but also for
other surfaces like groundwater, geological layers,
etc.
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Structure of DEM
Different data structures, choice depends on
application and computer resources
Line models
TIN
Raster
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Line models for DEM
Contours:
popular for display of maps
Overlay
Computation of terrain parameters (e.g. crenulation
ratio)
Digitized contours are often the
primary source of many
country-wide DEM
Stream lines
Orthogonal to contours

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TIN (Triangulated Irregular Networks)
VORONOI diagram
Surface is modelled by
facets of plane triangles
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TIN contd.
Minimum number of points to sufficiently represent
surface: dense points in areas
of high variation, sparse points in flat regions
Breaklines
(rivers, faults)
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TIN contd.
Efficient use of memory
Variable size and shape of triangles, depending on
surface
Breaklines
Computation of terrain properties is possible, although
more complicated than in raster
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TIN contd.
Data structures for TIN:
Triangles and nodes

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Raster DEM
Tesselation of regular triangles, squares and
hexagons
Simple derivates, filtering, ...

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Origin of DEM
Quality of DEM depends primarily on input data, less
on data structure and interpolation method
Geodetic surveying: small number of points with high
precision, systematically selected along breaklines,
contours
Photogrammetric processing of aerial photographs:
semi- or fully automatic, raster- or contour based
SRTM (90 x 90m global DEM)
and Reflection Radiometer), Japan, 30 x 30 m;
Z accuracies 10 - 25 m (RMSE); stereoscopic.
Austria: BEV and BMLFUW deliver 10 x 10 m DEM,
but in many areas this is only a densification of the
native 50 x 50 m DEM
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Example
10 x 10 m DEM with hillshading near Graz
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Laser scanner
Cost efficient, high resolution, airborne
Laser pulse is reflected from ground, distance
between sensor and terrain is measured by travel
time of the reflected laser pulse
Economic for whole countries, pixel size 1-2 m,
positional accuracy < 0.5 m, height 15 cm
Origin of DEM
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Origin of DEM contd.
Derivation from digitised contours and topographic
maps
Frequently used, dominating source of DEM in Europe
Imprecise due to
Errors in contours due to cartographic processing of maps
Digitising errors
Unfavourable distribution of points (dense along contours,
gaps between contours)
inappropriate interpolation
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Flat triangles when creating TIN from
contours

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Origin of DEM contd.
Topogrid (Arc/INFO)
TOPOGRID is an interpolation method specifically designed
for the creation of hydrologically correct DEM from
comparatively small, but well selected elevation and stream
coverages. It is based upon the ANUDEM program by
Michael Hutchinson (1988, 1989).
The interpolation process
takes advantage of the types of input data commonly available,
and the known characteristics of elevation surfaces,
uses a discretised thin plate spline technique,
recognises water as the primary erosive force determining the
general shape of most landscapes,
ensures drainage enforcement,
uses contour data,
performs a multi-resolution interpolation.

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Topogrid (ArcInfo)
Comparison IDW Topogrid for interpolation of
terrain
Topogrid (Arc/Info) IDW
Origin of DEM data
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Applications in Hydrology
DEM and derived products have a large potential for hydrological
modeling. Until recently, technology was not capable to directly
use DEM in models.
Applications: runoff models, soil erosion, snow melt,
evapotranspiration, groundwater studies, ...
Properties that can be defined for each pixel in the DEM:
Terrain elevation
Aspect (Exposition )
Slope
Upslope area, mean height and slope of upslope area
Maximum and mean length of flow path
Profile and contour curvature
Area properties:
Mean slope
Area
Basin length

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Resolution and information content
Correlation length (estimated by semivariogram)

mountainous
flat
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Slope and aspect
Partial derivatives in x and y direction by
fitting surfaces to neighbourhood of pixel,
linear filtering
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Slope and aspect contd.
Linear filter
Input a
i,j
Filter kernel f
k,l
Output b
i,j

Filter kernels
for slope
1
1
1
1
, , ,
k l
l j k i l k j i
a f b
X- y-
Backwards difference
central difference
Smoothing with use of
diagonals
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Slope and aspect contd.
Slope = (gx
2
+ gy
2
)
1/2
Aspect = arctan (gy/gx)
Effective sunshine
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Derivation of hydrological properties of
watersheds
4 essential data layers derived from DEM
Elevation
Flow direction
Rank matrix of elevations
Flow accumulation

Nice, free GIS tool to study many raster-GIS functions
together with VB code: Whitebox GAT
(http://www.uoguelph.ca/~hydrogeo/Whitebox/index.html)
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Elevation
Driving force of runoff
Generated by hydrology-aware interpolation method
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Flow direction
8-pour-point (D8) concept: a cell drains
completely into the cell with the steepest

Formally convenient, but unrealistic, especially for
uniform terrain shapes like plains, cones

4 3 2
5 1
6 7 8

outward cone inward cone
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Flow direction (2)
Dinf (or D ) algorithm
Flow direction is coded as a
continuous angle
Separation of runoff on
2 neighbour cells, proportio-
nal to division of angle
Hydrological
properties of
catchments

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Rank matrix of elevations
Sorts the pixels according to elevation (highest pixel =
1, lowest pixel = n * m
Used as a supporting layer for computing flow
accumulation
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Flow accumulation map
Each pixel receives the number of cells draining into
this pixel (upslope area)
Algorithm:
1. Input: Flow direction, rank matrix of elevation
2. Set all pixels in output = 1
3. Start at highest pixel. Identify all neighboring source
cells and add their values to current cell
4. Procede from highest to lowest pixel
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Flow accumulation map contd.
Example
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Delineation of catchment boundaries
Algorithm
Inputs: Outlet point, Flow direction
Procedure:

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Maximum length of flow path
Inputs: starting point, flow direction, flow
accumulation
Procedure:
1. Let starting point (= outlet) be the target
2. Find neighboring source cells, select the one with
maximum flow accumulation
3. Increase length by 1 or sqrt(2)
4. Let current source be next target
5. Repeat 2 4 until no source found
Useful for time of concentration, SCS dimensionless
UH
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Synthetic drainage network
From all cells in a
depressionless DEM there is
a path to the outlet
All cells above a threshold in
flow accumulation map form
the channels
Useful for:
Automatic channel
ordering (Strahler)
Time-area diagram
Shape parameters
Use with care!
If line map of rivers is
available, burn in!
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Automatic delineation of sub-basins
Elaborate pre-processing of DEM (fill local sinks,
burn in of already known rivers, smoothing)

Hydrological
properties...
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Summary and Conclusions
DEM is primary driving force for and result of
hydrological processes
Source of DEM is responsiple for quality
DEMs for hydrological models need pre-treatment
(filtering, filling sinks)
8-pour-point (D8) concept is simple, popular, but also
simplistic
Derived products to be used with care