The simulation of surface flow dynamics using a flow-path network model

Yumin Chen*, Qiming Zhou, Sheng Li, Fanrui Meng, Xiaomei Bi, John P. Wilson, Zisheng Xing, Junyu Qi, Qiang Li, Chengfu Zhang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


This paper proposes a flow-path network (FPN) model to simulate complex surface flow based on a drainage-constrained triangulated irregular network (TIN). The TIN was constructed using critical points and drainage lines extracted from a digital terrain surface. Runoff generated on the surface was simplified as ‘water volumes’ at constrained random points that were then used as the starting points of flow paths (i.e. flow source points). The flow-path for each ‘water volume’ was constructed by tracing the direction of flow from the flow source point over the TIN surface to the stream system and then to the outlet of the watershed. The FPN was represented by a set of topologically defined one-dimensional line segments and nodes. Hydrologic variables, such as flow velocity and volume, were computed and integrated into the FPN to support dynamic surface flow simulation. A hypothetical rainfall event simulation on a hilly landscape showed that the FPN model was able to simulate the dynamics of surface flow over time. A real-world catchment test demonstrated that flow rates predicted by the FPN model agreed well with field observations. Overall, the FPN model proposed in this study provides a vector-based modeling framework for simulating surface flow dynamics. Further studies are required to enhance the simulations of individual hydrologic processes such as flow generation and overland and channel flows, which were much simplified in this study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2242-2260
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Geographical Information Science
Issue number11
Early online date22 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2014

Scopus Subject Areas

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

User-Defined Keywords

  • digital terrain analysis
  • flow-path network model
  • surface flow
  • triangulated irregular networks


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