Perspectives on open access high resolution digital elevation models to produce global flood hazard layers

Christopher C. Sampson*, Andrew M. Smith, Paul D. Bates, Jeffrey C. Neal, Mark A. Trigg

*Corresponding author for this work

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

53 Citations (Scopus)
405 Downloads (Pure)


Global flood hazard models have recently become a reality thanks to the release of open access global digital elevation models, the development of simplified and highly efficient flow algorithms, and the steady increase in computational power. In this commentary we argue that although the availability of open access global terrain data has been critical in enabling the development of such models, the relatively poor resolution and precision of these data now limit significantly our ability to estimate flood inundation and risk for the majority of the planet’s surface. The difficulty of deriving an accurate “bare-earth” terrain model due to the interaction of vegetation and urban structures with the satellite-based remote sensors means that global terrain data are often poorest in the areas where people, property (and thus vulnerability) are most concentrated. Furthermore, the current generation of open access global terrain models are over a decade old and many large floodplains, particularly those in developing countries, have undergone significant change in this time. There is therefore a pressing need for a newgeneration of high resolution and high vertical precision open access global digital elevation models to allow significantly improved global flood hazard models to be developed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number00085
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Issue number85
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2016


  • DEM
  • Global flood modeling
  • Hazard modeling
  • Hydraulic modeling
  • Remote sensing of environment


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