Terrain Analysis

Terrain analysis employs elevation data, usually in conjunction with other geospatial information, to describe the landscape, for basic visualization, modeling, or to support decision making.   While terrain analysis can create tables, scatterplots, or histograms, the primary product will almost always be a map.  The two reasons to do terrain analysis?explore data and see relationships, and then communicate results to others?can be considered part of telling a story.  Terrain analysis is the same as any other study in geography, or indeed any intellectual endeavor, and differs only in the questions asked and the data employed.

Terrain analysis ranges from largely qualitative, typified by military terrain analysis, to sophisticated numerical computations in geomorphometry.  Military terrain analysis is 'the collection, analysis, evaluation, and interpretation of geographic information on the natural and man-made features of the terrain, combined with other relevant factors, to predict the effect of the terrain on military operations' (DoD, 2010).  The same principles would apply to engineering site analysis or the selection of locations for economic development, where users seek to understand how the terrain effects and limits human activity.  Geomorphometry is 'the science of topographic quantification; its operational focus is the extraction of land-surface parameters and objects from digital elevation models' (Pike et al., 2009, p.4).

Key data for terrain analysis

Urban DSM Display

Introduction to terrain analysis in MICRODEM

Last revision 10/30/2017