Despite post-processing efforts by space agencies and research institutions, contemporary global digital elevation models (DEMs) may contain artefacts, i.e., erroneous features that do not exist in the actual terrain, such as spikes, holes and line errors. The goal of the present paper is to illuminate the artefact issue of current global DEM data sets that might be an obstacle for any geoscience study using terrain information. We introduce the Maximum Slope Approach (MSA) as a technique that uses terrain slopes as indicator to detect and localize spurious artefacts. The MSA relies on the strong sensitivity of terrain slopes for sudden steps in the DEM that is a direct feature of larger artefacts. In a numerical case study, the MSA is applied for globally complete screening of two SRTM-based 3 arc-second DEMs, the SRTM v4.1 and the MERIT-DEM. Based on 0.1° × 0.1° sub-divisions and a 5 m/m slope threshold, 1341 artefacts were detected in SRTM v4.1 vs. 108 in MERIT. Most artefacts spatially correlate with SRTM voids (and thus with the void-filling) and not with the SRTM-measured elevations. The strong contrast in artefact frequency (factor ~12) is attributed to the SRTM v4.1 hole filling. Our study shows that over parts of the Himalaya Mountains the SRTM v4.1 data set is contaminated by step artefacts where the use of this DEM cannot be recommended. Some caution should be exercised, e.g., over parts of the Andes and Rocky Mountains. The same holds true for derived global products that depend on SRTM v4.1, such as gravity maps. Primarily over the major mountain ranges, the MERIT model contains artefacts, too, but in smaller numbers. As a conclusion, globally complete artefact screening is recommended prior to the public release of any DEM data set. However, such a quality check should also be considered by users before using DEM data. MSA-based artefact screening is not only limited to DEMs, but can be applied as quality assurance measure to other gridded data sets such as digital bathymetric models or gridded physical quantities such as gravity or magnetics.
Remote Sensing of Environment – Elsevier
Published: Mar 15, 2018
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