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The Influence of Land Cover on Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) Elevations in Low-relief Areas

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The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM), the first relatively high spatial resolution near-global digital elevation dataset, possesses great utility for a wide array of environmental applications worldwide. This article concerns the accuracy of SRTM in low-relief areas with heterogeneous vegetation cover. Three questions were addressed about low-relief SRTM topographic representation: to what extent are errors spatially autocorrelated, and how should this influence sample design? Is spatial resolution or production method more important for explaining elevation differences? How dominant is the association of vegetation cover with SRTM elevation error? Two low-relief sites in Louisiana, USA, were analyzed to determine the nature and impact of SRTM error in such areas. Light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data were employed as reference, and SRTM elevations were contrasted with the US National Elevation Dataset (NED). Spatial autocorrelation of errors persisted hundreds of meters spatially in low-relief topography; production method was more critical than spatial resolution, and elevation error due to vegetation canopy effects could actually dominate the SRTM representation of the landscape. Indeed, low-lying, forested, riparian areas may be represented as substantially higher than surrounding agricultural areas, leading to an inverted terrain model.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of GeographyMichigan State University 2: Department of Geography andCenter for Global Change and Earth ObservationsMichigan Agricultural Experiment StationMichigan State University

Publication date: 2010-08-01

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