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Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5059

Using Selective Drainage Methods to Extract Continuous Surface Flow from 1-Meter Lidar-Derived Digital Elevation Data

By Sandra K. Poppenga, Bruce B. Worstell, Jason M. Stoker, and Susan K. Greenlee

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Digital elevation data commonly are used to extract surface flow features. One source for high-resolution elevation data is light detection and ranging (lidar). Lidar can capture a vast amount of topographic detail because of its fine-scale ability to digitally capture the surface of the earth. Because elevation is a key factor in extracting surface flow features, high-resolution lidar-derived digital elevation models (DEMs) provide the detail needed to consistently integrate hydrography with elevation, land cover, structures, and other geospatial features. The U.S. Geological Survey has developed selective drainage methods to extract continuous surface flow from high-resolution lidar-derived digital elevation data. The lidar-derived continuous surface flow network contains valuable information for water resource management involving flood hazard mapping, flood inundation, and coastal erosion.

DEMs used in hydrologic applications typically are processed to remove depressions by filling them. High-resolution DEMs derived from lidar can capture much more detail of the land surface than courser elevation data. Therefore, high-resolution DEMs contain more depressions because of obstructions such as roads, railroads, and other elevated structures. The filling of these depressions can significantly affect the DEM-derived surface flow routing and terrain characteristics in an adverse way. In this report, selective draining methods that modify the elevation surface to drain a depression through an obstruction are presented. If such obstructions are not removed from the elevation data, the filling of depressions to create continuous surface flow can cause the flow to spill over an obstruction in the wrong location. Using this modified elevation surface improves the quality of derived surface flow and retains more of the true surface characteristics by correcting large filled depressions.

A reliable flow surface is necessary for deriving a consistently connected drainage network, which is important in understanding surface water movement and developing applications for surface water runoff, flood inundation, and erosion. Improved methods are needed to extract continuous surface flow features from high-resolution elevation data based on lidar.

First posted March 25, 2010

For additional information contact:
U.S. Geological Survey
Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center
47914 252nd Street
Sioux Falls, SD 57198-0001
Phone: 605-594-6151
Fax: 605-594-6589

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Suggested citation:

Poppenga, S.K., Worstell, B.B., Stoker, J.M., and Greenlee, S.K., 2010, Using selective drainage methods to extract continuous surface flow from 1-meter lidar-derived digital elevation data: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5059, 12 p.





Study Area

Selective Drainage Methods

Identifying and Classifying Depressions


Summary and Conclusion


References Cited

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