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A comparative appraisal of hydrological behavior of SRTM DEM at catchment level

Sharma, Arabinda, Tiwari, K.N.
Journal of hydrology 2014 v.519 pp. 1394-1404
Soil and Water Assessment Tool model, Universal Soil Loss Equation, data collection, digital elevation models, geometry, parameter uncertainty, prediction, radar, runoff, sediment yield, soil erosion, statistical analysis, streams, subwatersheds, topography
The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data has emerged as a global elevation data in the past one decade because of its free availability, homogeneity and consistent accuracy compared to other global elevation dataset. The present study explores the consistency in hydrological behavior of the SRTM digital elevation model (DEM) with reference to easily available regional 20m contour interpolated DEM (TOPO DEM). Analysis ranging from simple vertical accuracy assessment to hydrological simulation of the studied Maithon catchment, using empirical USLE model and semidistributed, physical SWAT model, were carried out. Moreover, terrain analysis involving hydrological indices was performed for comparative assessment of the SRTM DEM with respect to TOPO DEM. Results reveal that the vertical accuracy of SRTM DEM (±27.58m) in the region is less than the specified standard (±16m). Statistical analysis of hydrological indices such as topographic wetness index (TWI), stream power index (SPI), slope length factor (SLF) and geometry number (GN) shows a significant differences in hydrological properties of the two studied DEMs. Estimation of soil erosion potentials of the catchment and conservation priorities of microwatersheds of the catchment using SRTM DEM and TOPO DEM produce considerably different results. Prediction of soil erosion potential using SRTM DEM is far higher than that obtained using TOPO DEM. Similarly, conservation priorities determined using the two DEMs are found to be agreed for only 34% of microwatersheds of the catchment. ArcSWAT simulation reveals that runoff predictions are less sensitive to selection of the two DEMs as compared to sediment yield prediction. The results obtained in the present study are vital to hydrological analysis as it helps understanding the hydrological behavior of the DEM without being influenced by the model structural as well as parameter uncertainty. It also reemphasized that SRTM DEM can be a valuable dataset for hydrological analysis provided any error/uncertainty therein is being properly evaluated and characterized.