A comparison of synthetic flowpaths derived from light detection and ranging topobathymetric data and National Hydrography Dataset High Resolution Flowlines

Open-File Report 2018-1058




Bathymetric and topobathymetric light detection and ranging (lidar) digital elevation models created for the Delaware River were provided to the National Geospatial Program and used to evaluate synthetic flowpath extraction from bathymetric/topobathymetric lidar survey data as a data source for improving the density, distribution, and connectivity of the National Hydrography Dataset High Resolution Flowline Network. As the surface-water component of The National Map, the National Hydrography Dataset maintains the Nation’s drainage network flow information and geometries for surface-water features used in hydrologic, hydraulic, and other science and engineering disciplines. The regional lidar survey for the Delaware River between Hancock, New York, and Trenton, New Jersey, was collected for the U.S. Geological Survey using the Experimental Advanced Airborne Research Lidar sensor system and processed by the Coastal National Elevation Database Applications Program.

Using 1 percent of the maximum flow accumulation value for the surveyed Delaware River corridor as the flow accumulation threshold for grid cells at 1-, 5-, and 10-meter resolution created 223 to 283 kilometers of synthetic flowpaths potentially representing the river channel thalweg, which is the deepest point in a riverbed cross-section. There was potential for improving the High Resolution National Hydrography Dataset (HR NHD) Flowline network in places where the Delaware River channel, depicted as an Artificial Path in the HR NHD, is offset from the extracted synthetic river flowpath which sometimes appeared better positioned than the Artificial Path to represent the river thalweg. For the same area, using 0.05 percent of the maximum flow accumulation at the 1-, 5-, and 10-meter resolutions extracted 744 to 1,317 kilometers of synthetic flowpaths, with extracted synthetic flowpaths representing the main river channel and additional synthetic flowpaths representing tributaries or streams adjacent to the main channel. Overlaying these results with the HR NHDFlowline Network indicates that some of the additional synthetic flowpaths are connected to or extend HR NHD stream/river feature types. Some disconnected or isolated synthetic flowpaths not included in stream/river feature types were validated in orthoimagery and U.S. Topo Maps and provide examples of how extracted synthetic flowpaths could be used to delineate new stream/river features. Other additional extracted synthetic flowpaths depict linear features such as canals, tree lines, roads, or linear topographic depressions.

For some river reaches where obstructions to flow or where low-relief topographic or bathymetric surfaces alter the flow direction, the software tool used to develop the flow direction grid did not calculate a primary flowpath for the river channel. Based on the results of this analysis, site conditions for the Delaware River corridor did not affect the quality of lidar bathymetric survey data. However, depending on the resolution of the lidar bathymetric digital elevation models (BDEMs), site conditions do have different effects on results for extracted synthetic flowpaths. We found that synthetic flowpaths extracted from 1-meter resolution lidar DEMs had more varied flow directions around in-channel landforms that obstructed flow than synthetic flowpaths extracted from 5- or 10-meter resolution lidar DEMs. As a result the 1-meter resolution DEM created some isolated or discontinuous synthetic flowpath segments where the 5- and 10-meter DEMs developed more continuous flowpaths. In this case the river bed upstream from the in-channel obstruction is shallower than the river bed downstream. Under these conditions the 1-meter resolution DEM provided synthetic flowpaths delineating a potential river thalweg. In this same area, the software solution modified (virtually raised) the river bed in the 5- and 10-meter resolution DEMs and flattened the bathymetric surface to create a continuous downstream flow direction, which caused trellis-patterned synthetic flowpaths to form. Under different site conditions and converse to the above development of synthetic flowpaths at different resolutions, at an abandoned river flood plain (terrace) with low relief that is adjacent to the river channel, the flow direction grid for the 1-meter resolution DEM developed continuous synthetic flowpath corresponding to a HR NHD Flowline network stream/river feature that connected to the main river channel but the larger resolution DEMs created isolated or disconnected synthetic flowpaths.

A project to continue an evaluation of benefits of or issues caused by extracting synthetic flowpaths to enhance the HR NHD could include a study to assess the potential for merging surface-water flowpaths extracted from lidar topobathymetry and 3D Elevation Program digital elevation models. The merged DEM approach to synthetic flowpath extraction could extend the HR NHDFlowline network and enhance flow accumulations that might develop better flow direction grids in low-relief areas. Because of the confined lateral extent of the Delaware River, the lidar DEMs were not used to create catchments or watersheds; however, the merged DEM approach could also be tested as a resource for enhancing HR NHD catchments and watersheds.

This lidar DEM synthetic flowpath extraction project supports the National Geospatial Program efforts to collect and produce high-quality lidar data to provide 3-dimensional representations of natural feature and aligns with the National Spatial Data Infrastructure to improve utilization of geospatial data. The results also can be useful for understanding strategies that can help maintain quality data in the HR NHD programs.

KEYWORDS: bathymetric, digital elevation model, extracted synthetic flowpath, lidar, High Resolution National Hydrography Dataset, topobathymetric

Suggested Citation

Miller-Corbett, C., 2018, A comparison of synthetic flowpaths derived from light detection and ranging topobathymetric data and National Hydrography Dataset high resolution flowlines: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2018–1058, 29 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Experimental Advanced Airborne Research Lidar Sensor
  • Delaware River Survey Site Conditions
  • Lidar Bathymetric and Topobathymetric Data
  • Method for Developing Synthetic Flowpaths
  • Comparison of Synthetic Flowpaths and National Hydrography Dataset High Resolution Flowlines
  • Discussion
  • Summary
  • References

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
A comparison of synthetic flowpaths derived from light detection and ranging topobathymetric data and National Hydrography Dataset High Resolution Flowlines
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
vii, 29 p.
United States
New Jersey
Hancock Narrows, Middle River, Trenton
Other Geospatial:
Delaware River
Online Only (Y/N):