Accuracy Assessment of Digital Terrain Model Dataset Sources for Hydrogeomorphological Modelling in Small Mediterranean Catchments

Digital terrain models (DTMs) are a fundamental source of information in Earth sciences. DTM-based studies, however, can contain remarkable biases if limitations and inaccuracies in these models are disregarded. In this work, four freely available datasets, including Shuttle Radar Topography Mission C-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SRTM C-SAR V3 DEM), Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer Global Digital Elevation Map (ASTER GDEM V2), and two nationwide airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR)-derived DTMs (at 5-m and 1-m spatial resolution, respectively) were analysed in three geomorphologically contrasting, small (3–5 km2) catchments located in Mediterranean landscapes under intensive human influence (Mallorca Island, Spain). Vertical accuracy as well as the influence of each dataset’s characteristics on hydrological and geomorphological modelling applicability were assessed by using ground-truth data, classic geometric and morphometric parameters, and a recently proposed index of sediment connectivity. Overall vertical accuracy—expressed as the root mean squared error (RMSE) and normalised median deviation (NMAD)—revealed the highest accuracy for the 1-m (RMSE = 1.55 m; NMAD = 0.44 m) and 5-m LiDAR DTMs (RMSE = 1.73 m; NMAD = 0.84 m). Vertical accuracy of the SRTM data was lower (RMSE = 6.98 m; NMAD = 5.27 m), but considerably higher than for the ASTER data (RMSE = 16.10 m; NMAD = 11.23 m). All datasets were affected by systematic distortions. Propagation of these errors and coarse horizontal resolution caused negative impacts on flow routing, stream network, and catchment delineation, and to a lower extent, on the distribution of slope values. These limitations should be carefully considered when applying DTMs for catchment hydrogeomorphological modelling.
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Remote Sensing
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