EGU General Assembly 2023
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the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Optimal resolution of UAV-based digital elevation models (DEMs) for mapping of selected subtle glacial landforms

Szymon Śledź and Marek Ewertowski
Szymon Śledź and Marek Ewertowski
  • Adam Mickiewicz University, Faculty of Geographical and Geological Sciences, Poznan, Poland (

Geomorphological mapping is one of the primary research methods used to collect data on glacial landforms and reconstruct glaciological processes. The most common approach is a combination of field-based and remote mapping using data obtained from various sensors. However, one of the crucial methodical problems is collecting remote sensing data in the appropriate spatial resolution for the analyzed landform, which directly affects the data collection time and costs. This study aims to find the optimal resolution of digital elevation models (DEMs) to map subtle glacial landforms: kame terraces, eskers, flutes, and push moraine. Such landforms contain valuable information about the glacial process–form relationships, however, are often too subtle to be recognized on satellite data, and therefore more detailed data (e.g., UAV-based) are required. By “optimal”, we mean the resolution high enough to enable recognition of the landforms mentioned above, and at the same time, as low as possible to minimize the time spent on data collection during the fieldwork.

To find out the optimal resolution, we used detailed (0.02 – 0.04 m ground sampling distance [GSD]) DEMs of the glacier forelands in Iceland (Kvíárjökull, Fjallsjökull and Svinafellsjökull), created based high-resolution images from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The DEMs were resampled to 0.05, 0.10, 0.15, 0.20, 0.30, 0.40, 0.50, 1.00 and 2.00 m GSD and selected glacial landforms were mapped independently by two operators and cross-checked. The results indicate that 2.0 m resolution is insufficient to properly recognize landforms such as pushed moraines or flutes; however, it can be sufficient to detect kame terraces and major glacifluvial channels. For general mapping of locations of forms such as annual pushed moraines or fluting, the 0.5 m resolution is required. However, to obtain geomorphometric characteristics of the landforms (e.g., height, width, volume) resolution between 0.1 and 0.2 m is necessary. Finer resolution (better than 0.05 m GSD) does not increase the ability to detect landforms or better characterize their geometric properties; however, in some cases might be useful to obtain information about clast characteristics. The experiment proved that decimeter-scale spatial resolution is sufficient for mapping of some geomorphological forms (annual pushed moraines, flutes), which allows for planning UAV missions at a higher elevation above the ground and, therefore, minmizing the duration of field surveys. Moreover, some of the more prominent landforms (e.g., kame terraces, larger moraines) can be successfully detected from aerial or satellite-based DEMs (e.g. freely available ArcticDEM) with a resolution of 2.00 m, the use of which reduces the costs of field research to a minimum.

This research was funded by the National Science Centre, Poland, Grant Number 2019/35/B/ST10/03928.

How to cite: Śledź, S. and Ewertowski, M.: Optimal resolution of UAV-based digital elevation models (DEMs) for mapping of selected subtle glacial landforms, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-151,, 2023.