Research Topic

A global high-resolution digital elevation model: a paradigm shift in high impact research and applications

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To date the only globally and freely available digital elevation models (DEMs) are acquired by satellites with a spatial resolution (finest 30 m) and vertical accuracy (typically >5 m) that are too low to permit detailed research or impact studies locally or even regionally. However the technologies exist to ...

To date the only globally and freely available digital elevation models (DEMs) are acquired by satellites with a spatial resolution (finest 30 m) and vertical accuracy (typically >5 m) that are too low to permit detailed research or impact studies locally or even regionally. However the technologies exist to acquire high resolution, high accuracy DEMs (most often from a light detecting and ranging, LiDAR, instrument) as evidently many countries in Europe, the U.S., and Australia have done on a near national scale. Such high accuracy elevation data in the form of terrain models (bare ground elevations) or surface models (Earth surface features elevations) have a typical horizontal resolution of 2-5 m and a vertical accuracy of around 0.2 m and thus allow detailed analysis, modeling, predictions and high impact studies in many fields including but not limited to hydrology (including flood and landslides), ecology, agriculture, forestry and urban studies, archeology, and cryosphere. In countries where high resolution DEMs are not systematically acquired, some regional patches exist where elevation data have been mapped from airborne LiDAR, interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) or commercial stereo-pair satellite imagery.

In a note to Nature, Schumann et al. (2014, 507, 169, doi:10.1038/507169e) called for governments, industry and humanitarian agencies to coordinate efforts to create a high resolution global DEM that can be freely shared. The impact of this DEM would be equivalent to that of the Human Genome Project and it would transform monitoring, modeling and prediction of disasters, climate change impacts and Earth surfaces processes in general.

In this focused research topic, we would seek paper submissions that showcase research and application studies or review existing studies using high resolution, high accuracy DEMs (<1 m vertical error) in a variety of topical areas to solve societal problems or advance scientific knowledge. Topical areas that will be of particular interest for this compilation are:

Floods, landslides, urban studies, forestry, agriculture, biodiversity, wetlands, deltas, coastal processes, cryosphere studies, general hydrology, and archeology …


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