The International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences
Publications Copernicus
Articles | Volume XLII-2/W7
12 Sep 2017
 | 12 Sep 2017


J. R. Santillan and M. Makinano-Santillan

Keywords: Digital Elevation Model, Vertical Accuracy, Uncertainty, Sea level rise, Vulnerability Assessment, AW3D30, ASTER GDEM, SRTM DEM, Mindanao, Philippines

Abstract. We assessed the vertical accuracies and uncertainties of three freely-available global DEMs as inputs to elevation-based sea-level rise vulnerability assessment of Mindanao, Philippines – an area where above average SLR of 14.7 mm/year was recently found. These DEMs are the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) DEM, ASTER Global DEM (GDEM Version 2), and ALOS World 3D-30 (AW3D30). Using 2,076 ground control points, we computed each DEM’s vertical accuracies and uncertainties, and from these we determined the smallest increment of sea-level rise (SLRImin) that should be considered when using the DEMs for SLR impact assessment, as well as the Minimum Planning Timeline (TLmin) for an elevation-based SLR assessment. Results of vertical accuracy assessment revealed Root Mean Square Errors of 9.80 m for ASTER GDEM V2, 5.16 m for SRTM DEM, and 4.32 m for AW3D30. Vertical uncertainties in terms of the Linear Error at 95 % Confidence (LE95) were found to be as follows: 19.21 m for ASTER GDEM V2, 10.12 m for SRTM DEM, and 8.47 m for AW3D30. From these, we found that ASTER GDEM2 is suitable to model SLR increments of at least 38.41 m and it will take 2,613 years for the cumulative water level increase of 14.7 mm/year to reach the minimum SLR increment afforded by this DEM. For the SRTM DEM, SLRImin and TLmin were computed as 20.24 m and 1,377 years, respectively. For the AW3D30, SLRImin and TLmin were computed as 16.92 m and 1,151 years, respectively. These results suggest that the readily available global DEMs' suitability for mapping coastal inundations due to SLR in our study area is limited by their low vertical accuracies and high uncertainties. All the three DEMs do not have the necessary accuracy and minimum uncertainties that will make them suitable for mapping inundations of Mindanao at smaller increments of SLR (e.g., SLR ≤ 5 m). Hence, users who apply any of these DEMs for SLR impact assessment at SLRIs lower than the DEM’s SLRImin must be cautious in reporting the areas of SLR vulnerable zones. Reporting the inundated areas as a range instead of a singular value for a given SLR scenario can highlight the inherent accuracy and uncertainty of the DEM used in the assessment.