Accuracy assessment of the TanDEM-X 90 Digital Elevation Model for selected floodplain sites

Laurence Hawker*, Jeffrey Neal, Paul Bates

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
180 Downloads (Pure)


Freely available Global Digital Elevation Models (GDEMs) are essential for many scientific and humanitarian applications. Recently, TanDEM-X 90 has been released with a global coverage at 3 arc second resolution. Its release is sure to generate keen interest as it provides an alternative to the widely used Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) DEM, especially for flood risk management as for low slope floodplains height errors can become particularly significant. Here, we provide a first accuracy assessment of TanDEM-X 90 for selected floodplain sites and compare it to other popular global DEMs – the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) and the error-reduced version of SRTM called Multi-Error Removed-Improved-Terrain (MERIT) DEM. We characterize vertical height errors by comparing against high resolution LiDAR DEMs for 32 floodplain locations in 6 continents. Results indicate that the average vertical accuracy of TanDEM-X 90 and MERIT are similar and are both a significant improvement on SRTM. We further our analysis by assessing vertical accuracy by landcover, with our results suggesting that TanDEM-X 90 is the most accurate global DEM in all landcover categories tested except short vegetation and tree covered areas where MERIT is demonstrably more accurate. Lastly, we present the first characterization of the spatial error structure of any TanDEM-X DEM product, and find the spatial error structure is similar to MERIT, with MERIT generally having lower sill values and larger ranges than TanDEM-X 90 and SRTM. Our findings suggest that TanDEM-X 90 has the potential to become the benchmark global DEM in floodplains with careful removal of errors from vegetation, and at this stage should be used alongside MERIT in any flood risk application.
Original languageEnglish
Article number111319
Number of pages15
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Early online date19 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • Floodplains
  • Accuracy
  • SRTM
  • TanDEM-X 90
  • Digital Elevation Model


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