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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 11, issue 4 | Copyright

Special issue: Uncertainties in hydrological observations

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 11, 1481-1500, 2007
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-11-1481-2007
© Author(s) 2007. This work is licensed under
the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

  03 Aug 2007

03 Aug 2007

Uncertainties associated with digital elevation models for hydrologic applications: a review

S. P. Wechsler S. P. Wechsler
  • California State University Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach CA 90840, USA

Abstract. Digital elevation models (DEMs) represent the topography that drives surface flow and are arguably one of the more important data sources for deriving variables used by numerous hydrologic models. A considerable amount of research has been conducted to address uncertainty associated with error in digital elevation models (DEMs) and the propagation of error to derived terrain parameters. This review brings together a discussion of research in fundamental topical areas related to DEM uncertainty that affect the use of DEMs for hydrologic applications. These areas include: (a) DEM error; (b) topographic parameters frequently derived from DEMs and the associated algorithms used to derive these parameters; (c) the influence of DEM scale as imposed by grid cell resolution; (d) DEM interpolation; and (e) terrain surface modification used to generate hydrologically-viable DEM surfaces. Each of these topical areas contributes to DEM uncertainty and may potentially influence results of distributed parameter hydrologic models that rely on DEMs for the derivation of input parameters. The current state of research on methods developed to quantify DEM uncertainty is reviewed. Based on this review, implications of DEM uncertainty and suggestions for the GIS research and user communities are offered.

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