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Drone mapping terms explained. What are DEMs, DTMs and DSMs?

Sentry UAS drones are used daily for mapping- some terms we use are DEMS, DTMs and DSMs. These stand for Digital Elevation Model, Digital Terrain Model and Digital Surface Model. DEM is a catchall term for DTM and/or DSM. So lets get specific.

DSM- Digital Surface Model

DSM - Digital Surface Model
DSM - Digital Surface Model

A DSM (Digital Surface Model) taken by a drone or UAV is a graphical representation of the earth's surface with all objects on it. So when a Drone maps a forest, the DSM will show the canopy of the trees, not the floor on which they stand. Trees, buildings and crops in agriculture become the surface of the model. A DSM taken by a drone therefore is ideal for:

  • Forestry and precision agriculture
  • Line of sight analysis
  • Engineering and infrastructure design

DTM- Digital Terrain Model

DTM- Digital terrain model
DTM- Digital terrain model

A DTM (Digital Terrain Model) taken by a drone or UAV is a graphical representation of the earth's surface without any objects on it. So when a Drone maps a forest, the DTM will show the floor on which the trees stand. Trees, buildings and crops in agriculture disappear and the ground becomes the surface of the model. A DTM taken by a drone therefore is ideal for:

  • Extracting terrain parameters for geomorphology
  • Modeling water flow for hydrology or mass movement (for example avalanchesand landslides)
  • Modeling soils wetness with Cartographic Depth to Water Indexes (DTW-index)
  • Creation of relief maps
  • Creation of physical models (including raised relief maps)
  • Rectification of aerial photography or satellite imagery
  • Reduction (terrain correction) of gravity measurements (gravimetry, physical geodesy)
  • Terrain analysis in geomorphology and physical geography
  • Geographic information systems (GIS)
  • Engineering and infrastructure design
  • Surface analysis
  • Intelligent transportation systems
  • Auto safety / advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS)
  • Archaeology

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