Improving flood models using LiDAR: progress and problems
Mason, D. C., Bates, P. D., Horritt, M. S. and Hunter, N. M. (2005) Improving flood models using LiDAR: progress and problems. In: Second Flood Risk Management Research Consortium General Assembly , 12-13 July 2005, Nottingham. (Unpublished)
Airborne scanning laser altimetry (LiDAR) is an important new data source for river flood modelling. LiDAR can give dense and accurate DTMs of floodplains for use as model bathymetry. Spatial resolutions of 0.5m or less are possible, with a height accuracy of 0.15m. LiDAR gives a Digital Surface Model (DSM), so vegetation removal software (e.g. TERRASCAN) must be used to obtain a DTM. An example used to illustrate the current state of the art will be the LiDAR data provided by the EA, which has been processed by their in-house software to convert the raw data to a ground DTM and separate vegetation height map. Their method distinguishes trees from buildings on the basis of object size. EA data products include the DTM with or without buildings removed, a vegetation height map, a DTM with bridges removed, etc. Most vegetation removal software ignores short vegetation less than say 1m high. We have attempted to extend vegetation height measurement to short vegetation using local height texture. Typically most of a floodplain may be covered in such vegetation. The idea is to assign friction coefficients depending on local vegetation height, so that friction is spatially varying. This obviates the need to calibrate a global floodplain friction coefficient. It’s not clear at present if the method is useful, but it’s worth testing further. The LiDAR DTM is usually determined by looking for local minima in the raw data, then interpolating between these to form a space-filling height surface. This is a low pass filtering operation, in which objects of high spatial frequency such as buildings, river embankments and walls may be incorrectly classed as vegetation. The problem is particularly acute in urban areas. A solution may be to apply pattern recognition techniques to LiDAR height data fused with other data types such as LiDAR intensity or multispectral CASI data. We are attempting to use digital map data (Mastermap structured topography data) to help to distinguish buildings from trees, and roads from areas of short vegetation. The problems involved in doing this will be discussed. A related problem of how best to merge historic river cross-section data with a LiDAR DTM will also be considered. LiDAR data may also be used to help generate a finite element mesh. In rural area we have decomposed a floodplain mesh according to taller vegetation features such as hedges and trees, so that e.g. hedge elements can be assigned higher friction coefficients than those in adjacent fields. We are attempting to extend this approach to urban area, so that the mesh is decomposed in the vicinity of buildings, roads, etc as well as trees and hedges. A dominant points algorithm is used to identify points of high curvature on a building or road, which act as initial nodes in the meshing process. A difficulty is that the resulting mesh may contain a very large number of nodes. However, the mesh generated may be useful to allow a high resolution FE model to act as a benchmark for a more practical lower resolution model. A further problem discussed will be how best to exploit data redundancy due to the high resolution of the LiDAR compared to that of a typical flood model. Problems occur if features have dimensions smaller than the model cell size e.g. for a 5m-wide embankment within a raster grid model with 15m cell size, the maximum height of the embankment locally could be assigned to each cell covering the embankment. But how could a 5m-wide ditch be represented? Again, this redundancy has been exploited to improve wetting/drying algorithms using the sub-grid-scale LiDAR heights within finite elements at the waterline.