Topography of various types and scales can be fingerprinted by computer analysis of altitude matrices (digital elevation models, or DEMs). The critical analytic tool is the geometric signature, a set of measures that describes topographic form well enough to distinguish among geomorphically disparate landscapes. Different surficial processes create topography with diagnostic forms that are recognizable in the field. The geometric signature abstracts those forms from contour maps or their DEMs and expresses them numerically. This multivariate characterization enables once-in-tractable problems to be addressed. The measures that constitute a geometric signature express different but complementary attributes of topographic form. Most parameters used here are statistical estimates of central tendency and dispersion for five major categories of terrain geometry; altitude, altitude variance spectrum, slope between slope reversals, and slope and its curvature at fixed slope lengths. As an experimental application of geometric signatures, two mapped terrain types associated with different processes of shallow landsliding in Marin County, California, were distinguished consistently by a 17-variable description of topography from 21??21 DEMs (30-m grid spacing). The small matrix is a statistical window that can be used to scan large DEMs by computer, thus potentially automating the mapping of contrasting terrain types. The two types in Marin County host either (1) slow slides: earth flows and slump-earth flows, or (2) rapid flows: debris avalanches and debris flows. The signature approach should adapt to terrain taxonomy and mapping in other areas, where conditions differ from those in Central California. ?? 1988 International Association for Mathematical Geology.
Additional publication details
The geometric signature: Quantifying landslide-terrain types from digital elevation models