Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2021, Vol. 76 ›› Issue (3): 595-611.doi: 10.11821/dlxb202103008

• Climate Change and Land Surface Processes • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Geomorphology-oriented digital terrain analysis: Progress and perspectives

XIONG Liyang1,2,3(), TANG Guoan1,2,3(), YANG Xin1,2,3, LI Fayuan1,2,3   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Virtual Geographic Environment, Ministry of Education, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210023, China
    2. School of Geography, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210023, China
    3. Jiangsu Center for Collaborative Innovation in Geographical Information Resource Development and Application, Nanjing 210023, China
  • Received:2020-07-09 Revised:2021-03-09 Online:2021-03-25 Published:2021-05-25
  • Contact: TANG Guoan;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(41930102);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41971333);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41771415)


Digital terrain analysis (DTA) is one of the most important contents of research on geographical information science (GIS). However, when a digital elevation model (DEM) is used, many problems arise in DTA geomorphological studies. For instance, current DTA research focused on morphology, phenomenon and modern surface rather than the mechanism, process and underlying terrain. Thus, current DTA research needs to be transformed from the study of landform morphology to the study of landform process and mechanism. On this basis, this study summarised the current research status of geomorphology-oriented DTA and systematically reviewed and analysed the research on geomorphology, terrain modelling, terrain derivative calculation and other terrain analysis methods. The investigated studies showed that with the help of DEM data, DTA research has the advantage of carrying out geomorphology studies from the perspective of surface morphology. However, DTA research has inherent defects in data expression and analysis patterns. Thus, breakthroughs must be achieved in basic theories and key technologies to transform DTA research from phenomenon to mechanism, from morphology to process and from terrain to landform. At present, the development of research on earth science has reached a critical stage wherein DTA research should focus on the discussion of geomorphology. This study proposes several prospects of geomorphology-oriented DTA from the aspects of value-added DEM, terrain derivatives and their spatial relations and macro-terrain analysis. The study of DTA by using DEM is at a critical period along with the issue on whether the current GIS technology can truly support the development of geography. The research idea of geomorphology-oriented DTA is expected to be an important area of exploration and practice in GIS.

Key words: digital terrain analysis, geomorphology, digital elevation model, terrain index, geographical information science