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Influence of survey strategy and interpolation model on DEM quality

Heritage, George L.; Milan, David J.; Large, Andrew R.G.; Fuller, Ian C.


George L. Heritage

Andrew R.G. Large

Ian C. Fuller


Accurate characterisation of morphology is critical to many studies in the field of geomorphology, particularly those dealing with changes over time. Digital elevation models (DEMs) are commonly used to represent morphology in three dimensions. The quality of the DEM is largely a function of the accuracy of individual survey points, field survey strategy, and the method of interpolation. Recommendations concerning field survey strategy and appropriate methods of interpolation are currently lacking. Furthermore, the majority of studies to date consider error to be uniform across a surface. This study quantifies survey strategy and interpolation error for a gravel bar on the River Nent, Blagill, Cumbria, UK. Five sampling strategies were compared: (i) cross section; (ii) bar outline only; (iii) bar and chute outline; (iv) bar and chute outline with spot heights; and (v) aerial LiDAR equivalent, derived from degraded terrestrial laser scan (TLS) data. Digital Elevation Models were then produced using five different common interpolation algorithms. Each resultant DEM was differentiated from a terrestrial laser scan of the gravel bar surface in order to define the spatial distribution of vertical and volumetric error. Overall triangulation with linear interpolation (TIN) or point kriging appeared to provide the best interpolators for the bar surface. Lowest error on average was found for the simulated aerial LiDAR survey strategy, regardless of interpolation technique. However, comparably low errors were also found for the bar-chute-spot sampling strategy when TINs or point kriging was used as the interpolator. The magnitude of the errors between survey strategy exceeded those found between interpolation technique for a specific survey strategy. Strong relationships between local surface topographic variation (as defined by the standard deviation of vertical elevations in a 0.2-m diameter moving window), and DEM errors were also found, with much greater errors found at slope breaks such as bank edges. A series of curves are presented that demonstrate these relationships for each interpolation and survey strategy. The simulated aerial LiDAR data set displayed the lowest errors across the flatter surfaces; however, sharp slope breaks are better modelled by the morphologically based survey strategy. The curves presented have general application to spatially distributed data of river beds and may be applied to standard deviation grids to predict spatial error within a surface, depending upon sampling strategy and interpolation algorithm.


Heritage, G. L., Milan, D. J., Large, A. R., & Fuller, I. C. (2009). Influence of survey strategy and interpolation model on DEM quality. Geomorphology, 112(3-4), 334-344.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 25, 2009
Online Publication Date Jul 14, 2009
Publication Date Nov 15, 2009
Print ISSN 0169-555X
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 112
Issue 3-4
Pages 334-344
Keywords Terrestrial laser scanning; LiDAR; Gravel-bed rivers; DEM; Interpolation; Survey strategy
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