Is there an accepted method to determine cliff lines from a DEM?
Mapping Center Answer:
It took me a little while to investigate this but I think I can pretty definitively say now that, “No, there is no accepted way to determine cliff lines from a DEM.” However, I did check with our Spatial Analyst team and they suggested pretty much the same thing I was thinking – try the Curvature tool and see if it helps you to indentify where there MIGHT be cliff lines. With the results of this too, you might be able to digitize cliff lines.
It does not surprise me that there is no automated feature extraction solution for finding cliffs as we did a lot of research into AFE for other physiographic features while we were determining how we should best define the extents of physiographic features for labeling. We published this research in Cartographic Perspectives a couple of years ago:
Buckley, Aileen,and Charlie Frye. 2006. "A Multi-Scale, Multipurpose GIS Data Model to Add Named Features of the Natural Landscape to Maps". Cartographic Perspectives, Number 55, Fall 2006, pp. 34-53.
We also gave a presentation on this at the International Cartographic Association’s Mountain Cartography Commission workshop in 2006. Both the paper and the presentation can be accessed here:
One other resource to try is Patrick Kennelly’s paper, "Terrain maps displaying hill-shading with curvature", Geomorphology 102 (2008) 567–577. Here is what he wrote to me about it:
"I was looking at second derivatives or curvature to try to visually enhance areas of rapid change in slope and aspect...I’m not aware of anyone else researching this currently."
If you figure something out, please do let us know!
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