Multi-scale relief model (MSRM): a new algorithm for the visualization of subtle topographic change of variable size in digital elevation models.

14 Mar 2018

Morphological analysis of landforms has traditionally relied on the interpretation of imagery. Although imagery provides a natural view of an area of interest (AOI) images are largely hindered by the environmental conditions at the time of image acquisition, the quality of the image and, mainly, the lack of topographical information, which is an essential factor for a correct understanding of the AOI's geomorphology. More recently digital surface models (DSMs) have been incorporated into the analytical toolbox of geomorphologists. These are usually high-resolution models derived from digital photogrammetric processes or LiDAR data. However, these are restricted to relatively small areas and are expensive or complex to acquire, which limits widespread implementation. In this paper, we present the multi-scale relief model (MSRM), which is a new algorithm for the visual interpretation of landforms using DSMs. The significance of this new method lies in its capacity to extract landform morphology from both high- and low-resolution DSMs independently of the shape or scale of the landform under study. This method thus provides important advantages compared to previous approaches as it: (1) allows the use of worldwide medium resolution models, such as SRTM, ASTER GDEM, ALOS, and TanDEM-X; (2) offers an alternative to traditional photograph interpretation that does not rely on the quality of the imagery employed nor on the environmental conditions and time of its acquisition; and (3) can be easily implemented for large areas using traditional GIS/RS software. The algorithm is tested in the Sutlej-Yamuna interfluve, which is a very large low-relief alluvial plain in northwest India where 10 000 km of palaeoriver channels have been mapped using MSRM. The code, written in Google Earth Engine's implementation of JavaScript, is provided as Supporting Information for its use in any other AOI without particular technical knowledge or access to topographical data. © 2017 The Authors. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.