Natural Hazards

, Volume 61, Issue 1, pp 65–83 | Cite as

Geomorphic features extraction from high-resolution topography: landslide crowns and bank erosion

  • Paolo TarolliEmail author
  • Giulia Sofia
  • Giancarlo Dalla Fontana
Original Paper


In recent years, new remote-sensed technologies, such as airborne and terrestrial laser scanner, have improved the detail and the quality of topographic information, providing topographical high-resolution and high-quality data over larger areas better than other technologies. A new generation of high-resolution (≤3 m) digital terrain models (DTMs) is now available for different areas and is widely used by researchers, offering new opportunities for the scientific community. These data call for the development of a new generation of methodologies for an objective extraction of geomorphic features, such as channel heads, channel networks, bank geometry, debris-flow channel, debris-flow deposits, scree slope, landslide and erosion scars, etc. A high-resolution DTM is able to detect the divergence/convergence of areas related to unchannelized/channelized processes with better detail than a coarse DTM. In this work, we tested the performance of new methodologies for an objective extraction of geomorphic features related to shallow landsliding processes (landslide crowns), and bank erosion in a complex mountainous terrain. Giving a procedure that automatically recognizes these geomorphic features can offer a strategic tool to map natural hazard and to ease the planning and the assessment of alpine regions. The methodologies proposed are based on the detection of thresholds derived by the statistical analysis of variability of landform curvature. The study was conducted on an area located in the Eastern Italian Alps, where an accurate field survey on shallow landsliding, erosive channelized processes, and a high-quality set of both terrestrial and airborne laser scanner elevation data is available. The analysis was conducted using a high-resolution DTM and different smoothing factors for landform curvature calculation in order to test the most suitable scale of curvature calculation for the recognition of the selected features. The results revealed that (1) curvature calculation is strongly scale-dependent, and an appropriate scale for derivation of the local geometry has to be selected according to the scale of the features to be detected; (2) such approach is useful to automatically detect and highlight the location of shallow slope failures and bank erosion, and it can assist the interpreter/operator to correctly recognize and delineate such phenomena. These results highlight opportunities but also challenges in fully automated methodologies for geomorphic feature extraction and recognition.


DTM High-resolution topography Landslide crowns Bank erosion Landform curvature Feature extraction 



This study was partly funded by the Italian Ministry of University and Research—GRANT PRIN 2005 “National network of experimental basins for monitoring and modelling of hydrogeological hazard”. Analysis resources were provided by the Interdepartmental Research Center for Cartography, Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and GIS, at the University of Padova—CIRGEO. The authors are grateful to Ian S. Evans for his helpful advices and constructive discussion. We thank the Guest Editors and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments which improved our work.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paolo Tarolli
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Giulia Sofia
    • 1
  • Giancarlo Dalla Fontana
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Land and Agroforest EnvironmentsUniversity of PadovaLegnaroItaly
  2. 2.Institute of Inland WatersHellenic Center for Marine ResearchAnavyssosGreece

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