Terrain complexity and uncertainties in grid-based digital terrain analysis

Qiming ZHOU*, Xuejun Liu, Yizhong Sun

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


The objective of this research is to study the relationship between terrain complexity and terrain analysis results from grid-based digital elevation models (DEMs). The impact of terrain complexity represented by terrain steepness and orientation on derived parameters such as slope and aspect has been analysed. Experiments have been conducted to quantify the uncertainties created by digital terrain analysis algorithms. The test results show that (a) the RMSE of derived slope and aspect is negatively correlated with slope steepness; (b) the RMSE of derived aspect is more sensitive to terrain complexity than that of derived slope; and (c) the uncertainties in derived slope and aspect tend to be found in flatter areas, and decrease with increasing terrain complexity. The study shows that although primary surface parameters can be well defined mathematically, the implementation of those mathematical models in a GIS environment may generate considerable uncertainties related to terrain complexity. In general, when terrain is rugged with steep slopes, the uncertainty of derived parameters is quite minimal. While in flatter areas, the DEM-based derivatives, particularly the aspect, may contain a great amount of uncertainty, causing significant limitation in applying the analytical results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1137-1147
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Geographical Information Science
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006

Scopus Subject Areas

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

User-Defined Keywords

  • Digital terrain analysis
  • Error model
  • Slope
  • Terrain complexity
  • Uncertainty


Dive into the research topics of 'Terrain complexity and uncertainties in grid-based digital terrain analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this