Evaluating DEM source and resolution uncertainties in the Soil and Water Assessment Tool

  • Shengpan Lin
  • Changwei Jing
  • Neil A. Coles
  • Vincent Chaplot
  • Nathan J. Moore
  • Jiaping Wu
Original Paper


DEMs as important input parameters of environmental risk assessment models are notable sources of uncertainties. To illustrate the effect of DEM grid size and source on model outputs, a widely used watershed management model, the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), was applied with two newly available DEMs as inputs (i.e. ASTER GDEM Version 1, and SRTM Version 4.1). A DEM derived from 1:10,000 high resolution digital line graph (DLG) was used as a baseline for comparisons. Eleven resample resolutions, from 5 to 140 m, were considered to evaluate the impact of DEM resolution on SWAT outputs. Results from a case study in South-eastern China indicate that the SWAT predictions of total phosphorus and total nitrogen decreased substantially with coarser resample resolution. A slightly decreasing trend was found in the SWAT predicted sediment when DEMs were resampled to coarser resolutions. The SWAT predicted runoff was not sensitive to resample resolution. For different data sources, ASTER GDEM did not perform better than SRTM in SWAT simulations even it was provided with a smaller grid size and higher vertical accuracy. The predicted outputs based on ASTER GDEM and SRTM were similar, and much lower than the ones based on DLG. This study presents potential uncertainties introduced by DEM resolutions and data sources, and recommends strategies choosing DEMs based on research objects and maximum acceptable errors.


DEM resolution SWAT Model uncertainty ASTER GDEM SRTM 



The funding of this study was provided partly by National Key Project of Water Research (Grant No. 2011ZX07). We sincerely appreciate Stefan Fritsch and GBP Huddlestone for their helps on language improvement of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shengpan Lin
    • 1
  • Changwei Jing
    • 1
  • Neil A. Coles
    • 2
  • Vincent Chaplot
    • 3
  • Nathan J. Moore
    • 1
    • 4
  • Jiaping Wu
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Environment and Natural Resources, Zhejiang UniversityHangzhouChina
  2. 2.Centre of Excellence for Ecohydrology, University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  3. 3.IRD-BIOEMCO School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental HydrologyUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalScottsvilleSouth Africa
  4. 4.Department of GeographyCenter for Global Change and Earth Observations, Michigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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