The impact of DEM data source on prediction of flooding and erosion risk due to sea-level rise

Seamus Coveney, A. Stewart Fotheringham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Digital elevation model (DEM) elevation accuracy and spatial resolution are typically considered before a given DEM is used for the assessment of coastal flooding, sea-level rise or erosion risk. However, limitations of DEMs arising from their original data source can often be overlooked during DEM selection. Global elevation error statistics provided by DEM data suppliers can provide a useful indicator of actual DEM error, but these statistics can understate elevation errors occurring outside of idealised ground reference areas. The characteristic limitations of a range of DEM sources that may be used for the assessment of coastal inundation and erosion risk are tested using high-resolution photogrammetric, low- and medium-resolution global positioning system (GPS)-derived and very high-resolution terrestrial laser scanning point data sets. Errors detected in a high-resolution photogrammetric DEM are found to be substantially beyond quoted error, demonstrating the degree to which quoted DEM accuracy can understate local DEM error and highlighting the extent to which spatial resolution can fail to provide a reliable indicator of DEM accuracy. Superior accuracies and inundation prediction results are achieved based on much lower-resolution GPS points confirming conclusions drawn in the case of the photogrammetric DEM data. This suggests a scope for the use of GPS-derived DEMs in preference to the photogrammetric DEM data in large-scale risk-mapping studies. DEM accuracies and superior representation of micro-topography achieved using high-resolution terrestrial laser scan data confirm its advantages for the prediction of subtle inundation and erosion risk. However, the requirement for data fusion of GPS to remove ground-vegetation error highlighted limitations for the use of side-scan laser scan data in densely vegetated areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1191-1211
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Geographical Information Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • DEM error validation
  • Flood and erosion risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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