Modeling river bed morphology, roughness, and surface sedimentology using high resolution terrestrial laser scanning


Corresponding author: J. Brasington, Queen Mary, University of London, London E1 4NS, UK. (


[1] Recent advances in technology have revolutionized the acquisition of topographic data, offering new perspectives on the structure and morphology of the Earth's surface. These developments have had a profound impact on the practice of river science, creating a step change in the dimensionality, resolution, and precision of fluvial terrain models. The emergence of “hyperscale” survey methods, including structure from motion photogrammetry and terrestrial laser scanning (TLS), now presents the opportunity to acquire 3-D point cloud data that capture grain-scale detail over reach-scale extents. Translating these data into geomorphologically relevant products is, however, not straightforward. Unlike traditional survey methods, TLS acquires observations rapidly and automatically, but unselectively. This results in considerable “noise” associated with backscatter from vegetation and other artifacts. Moreover, the large data volumes are difficult to visualize; require very high capacity storage; and are not incorporated readily into GIS and simulation models. In this paper we analyze the geomorphological integrity of multiscale terrain models rendered from a TLS survey of the braided River Feshie, Scotland. These raster terrain models are generated using a new, computationally efficient geospatial toolkit: the topographic point cloud analysis toolkit (ToPCAT). This performs an intelligent decimation of point cloud data into a set of 2.5-D terrain models that retain information on the high-frequency subgrid topography, as the moments of the locally detrended elevation distribution. The results quantify the degree of terrain generalization inherent in conventional fluvial DEMs and illustrate how subgrid topographic statistics can be used to map the spatial pattern of particle size, grain roughness, and sedimentary facies at the reach scale.