Smathermather's Weblog

Remote Sensing, GIS, Ecology, and Oddball Techniques

Landscape Position using GDAL

Posted by smathermather on November 22, 2014

Hat tip again to Seth Fitzsimmons. I’ve been looking for a good, easy to use smoothing algorithm for rasters. Preferably something so easy, I don’t even need to write a little python, and so efficient I can run it on 30GB+ datasets and have it complete before I get distracted again by the next shiny project (a few hours).

Seth’s solution? Downsample to a low resolution using GDAL, then sample back up to a higher resolution in order to smooth the raster. My innovation to his approach? Use Lanczos resampling to keep location static, and get a great smooth model:

Unsmoothed DEM

Unsmoothed DEM

Smoothed DEM

Smoothed DEM

Code to do this in gdal follows. “-tr” sets our resamping resolution, “-r lanczos” sets our resampling algorithm, and the “-co” flags are not strictly necessary, but I’ve got a 30GB dataset, so it helps to chop up the inside of the TIFF in little squares to optimize subsequent processing.

gdalwarp -tr 50 50 -srcnodata "0 -32767" -r lanczos  -co "BLOCKXSIZE=512" -co "BLOCKYSIZE=512" oh_leap_dem.tif oh_leap_dem_50.tif
gdalwarp -tr 10 50 -srcnodata "0 -32767" -r lanczos  -co "BLOCKXSIZE=512" -co "BLOCKYSIZE=512" oh_leap_dem_50.tif oh_leap_dem_10-50.tif

At first this excited me for cartographic reasons. We can use this to simplify contours, and then use simplified contours at different zoom levels for maps:

But, we can also use this for analyses. For example, if we difference these smoothed images with our original digital elevation model, we get a measurement of local elevation difference, the first step in establishing where valleys, ridges, and other land forms are.

# Resample to lower resolution
gdalwarp -tr 328.0523587211646 328.0523587211646 -srcnodata "0 -32767" -r lanczos  -co "BLOCKXSIZE=512" -co "BLOCKYSIZE=512" oh_leap_dem.tif oh_leap_dem_328.tif
# Upsample again to get nicely smoothed data
gdalwarp -tr 3.048293887897243 3.048293887897243 -srcnodata "0 -32767" -r lanczos  -co "BLOCKXSIZE=512" -co "BLOCKYSIZE=512" oh_leap_dem_328.tif oh_leap_dem_3-328.tif
# Merge two datasets together into single image as separate bands to ensure they are the same dimensions
# (gdal_calc, as a wrapper for numpy requires this)
gdal_merge -separate -o oh_leap_dem_3-328_m.tif oh_leap_dem.tif oh_leap_dem_3-328.tif
# And now we'll use gdal_calc to difference our elevation model with the smoothed one to get relative elevation 
gdal_calc -A oh_leap_dem_3-328_m.tif -B oh_leap_dem_3-328_m.tif --A_band=1 --B_band=2 --outfile=oh_leap_dem_lp_328.tif --calc="A-B"

So, if we want a good proxy for riparian zones, we can use a technique like this, instead of buffering our streams and rivers a fixed distance (in this case, I’ve used 4 different distances:

Map of landscape position estimated valleys in Cuyahoga County, Ohio

Map of landscape position estimated valleys in Cuyahoga County, Ohio

Pretty snazzy riparian finder. It seems to also find upland headwater wetlands (most of them historic and drained for Cuyahoga County). I am now running on 4 million acres of Ohio at a 10ft (~3 meter) resolution. It’s that efficient.

Addendum: It also finds escarpment edges, like the Portage Escarpment in the above, so it is a mix of a few landforms. Darn handy nonetheless.

2 Responses to “Landscape Position using GDAL”

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