High-resolution DEM Effects on Geophysical Flow Models

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Matthew R Williams1, Marcus I Bursik1, Elena Ramona Stefanescu2 and Abani K Patra2, (1)SUNY Buffalo, Department of Geology, Buffalo, NY, United States, (2)SUNY Buffalo, Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Buffalo, NY, United States
Geophysical mass flow models are numerical models that approximate pyroclastic flow events and can be used to assess the volcanic hazards certain areas may face. One such model, TITAN2D, approximates granular-flow physics based on a depth-averaged analytical model using inputs of basal and internal friction, material volume at a coordinate point, and a GIS in the form of a digital elevation model (DEM). The volume of modeled material propagates over the DEM in a way that is governed by the slope and curvature of the DEM surface and the basal and internal friction angles. Results from TITAN2D are highly dependent upon the inputs to the model. Here we focus on a single input: the DEM, which can vary in resolution. High resolution DEMs are advantageous in that they contain more surface details than lower-resolution models, presumably allowing modeled flows to propagate in a way more true to the real surface. However, very high resolution DEMs can create undesirable artifacts in the slope and curvature that corrupt flow calculations. With high-resolution DEMs becoming more widely available and preferable for use, determining the point at which high resolution data is less advantageous compared to lower resolution data becomes important. We find that in cases of high resolution, integer-valued DEMs, very high-resolution is detrimental to good model outputs when moderate-to-low (<10-15°) slope angles are involved. At these slope angles, multiple adjacent DEM cell elevation values are equal due to the need for the DEM to approximate the low slope with a limited set of integer values for elevation. The first derivative of the elevation surface thus becomes zero. In these cases, flow propagation is inhibited by these spurious zero-slope conditions. Here we present evidence for this “terracing effect” from 1) a mathematically defined simulated elevation model, to demonstrate the terracing effects of integer valued data, and 2) a real-world DEM where terracing must be addressed. We discuss the effect on the flow model output and present possible solutions for rectification of the problem.