A scale-adaptive DEM for multi-scale terrain analysis

Yumin Chen, Qiming ZHOU*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


A scale-adaptive digital elevation model (S-DEM) method is proposed for multi-scale terrain analysis using a single high-resolution digital elevation model (DEM) database. The motivation is to construct a DEM that is self-adaptive to a given scale of an application, rather than letting the application fit into the built-in scale of the DEM. The method is based on an adaptive compound point extraction (CPE) algorithm that extracts surface 'significant points' from a high-resolution DEM according to their degree of importance (DOI) to the scale of an application. A data structure can be established to match the demand from an application at a coarser scale. Based on the data structure, a triangulated irregular network (TIN) model can be generated to support the terrain analysis at the desired scale. The aim of the S-DEM is to support multi-scale applications in three aspects, namely, 'one database for all scales and scale-adaptive' (i.e. matching any application scale using a single high-resolution DEM), 'consistent measurement' (i.e. delivering more constant measurements of terrain parameters with changing scales), and 'skeleton preservation' (i.e. preserving basic streamlines with changing scales). Compared with the raster resampling algorithm and the maximum z-tolerance algorithm, we find that the proposed method offers better performance, providing values that meet the accuracy requirements set by DEM data standards for different scales, and producing analytical derivatives that retain terrain features with consistent measurements of terrain parameters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1329-1348
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Geographical Information Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Information Systems
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Library and Information Sciences

User-Defined Keywords

  • generalization
  • multi-resolution
  • scale
  • triangulation


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