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Digital Terrain Modeling – Aspect models

Real world example of slope and aspect

Aspect is measured in degrees (similar to a compass bearing) clockwise from magnetic north.In digital terrain modeling the Aspect of a surface refers to the direction (azimuth) to which a slope face is orientated. The aspect or orientation of a slope can produce very significant influences on it, so it is important to know the aspect of the plane as well as the slope. Together the slope combined with the aspect of the surface can virtually define the surface plane completely in digital terrain modeling.

Aspect is measured in degrees (similar to a compass bearing) clockwise from magnetic north. A surface with 0 degrees Aspect would represent a north direction, an east facing slope would be 90 degrees, a south facing slope would be 180 degrees and a west facing slope would be 270 degrees.

Aspect map derived from a digital elevation model of Lismore, Nova Scotia

The example shown to the left (for larger image click here) is a raster aspect model of Lismore, Nova Scotia was derived from a digital elevation model (DEM) calculated using PCI Geomatica remote sensing software. It is represented with a grey scale color ramp and helps to indicate what direction slope faces are orientated.

The image above is of an actual bedrock cliff with some technical information embedded onto the image to help better understand slope and aspect relationships. The black arrow represents the slope or the measured angle that the rock is dipping towards.

The aspect is the orientation that the arrow (slope) is pointing with respect to North, therefore the aspect for this slope would be in an easterly direction and often represented by 90 degrees. The blue arrows represent the X, Y and Z dimensions that the combination of both the slope and aspect would use to represent the terrain features.

Example of an Aspect Map

The image below is an Aspect Model that I derived from a digital elevation model (DEM) of Lismore, Nova Scotia. The aspect values of the slopes of the DEM are represented in the model by a 0-255 grey scale color ramp. Click here to learn a little more about Aspect Models and how the image below was created.

Aspect map derived from a digital elevation model of Lismore, Nova Scotia

Digital Terrain Modeling – Shaded Relief Models

A shaded relief model uses different color shades according to the varying levels of elevation and azimuth to create an enhanced simulated terrain. The shading is done with the assumption of a defined light source at a fixed location, shone across the surface. The user-specified light source will then determine the positions of shadows and highlighted slopes making ones facing light source appear bright and those facing away appear dark. By default shaded relief models are created with a grey scale ramp that represent the surface reflectance from the light source at any altitude and any azimuth however adding color to it can add an extra chromo stereoscopic component to it.Shaded Relief Model of Lismore, Nova Scotia
Assuming that a straight line is drawn connecting the user defined point source to the top left pixel of the image, the azimuth angle is the aspect of this line in degrees clockwise from north; the elevation angle is the elevation of the line in degrees from the horizontal.

The shaded grey level for each cell is the result of a calculation from the cosine of the angle between the normal vector to the surface (i.e. slope andaspect) and the direction of illumination. All surfaces not illuminated by the light source such as a slope of 90 degrees will be set to 0. An elevation exaggeration is sometimes added to help enhance the features of a fairly homogeneous surface.

In the example shown to the right, a raster aspect map of Lismore, Nova Scotia was derived from a digital elevation model (DEM) calculated with an azimuth angle of 315 degrees and an elevation angle of 45 degrees.

Shaded Relief related: