Evaluating digital elevation models for glaciologic applications: An example from Nevado Coropuna, Peruvian Andes

Adina E. Racoviteanu*, William F. Manley, Yves Arnaud, Mark W. Williams

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Citations (SciVal)


This paper evaluates the suitability of readily available elevation data derived from recent sensors - the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) and the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) - for glaciological applications. The study area is Nevado Coropuna (6426 m), situated in Cordillera Ampato of Southern Peru. The glaciated area was 82.6 km2 in 1962, based on aerial photography. We estimate the glacier area to be ca. 60.8 km2 in 2000, based on analysis of the ASTER L1B scene. We used two 1:50,000 topographic maps constructed from 1955 aerial photography to create a digital elevation model with 30 m resolution, which we used as a reference dataset. Of the various interpolation techniques examined, the TOPOGRID algorithm was found to be superior to other techniques, and yielded a DEM with a vertical accuracy of ± 14.7 m. The 1955 DEM was compared to the SRTM DEM (2000) and ASTER DEM (2001) on a cell-by-cell basis. Steps included: validating the DEM's against field GPS survey points on rock areas; visualization techniques such as shaded relief and contour maps; quantifying errors (bias) in each DEM; correlating vertical differences between various DEM's with topographic characteristics (elevation, slope and aspect) and subtracting DEM elevations on a cell-by-cell basis. The RMS error of the SRTM DEM with respect to GPS points on non-glaciated areas was 23 m. The ASTER DEM had a RMS error of 61 m with respect to GPS points and displayed 200-300 m horizontal offsets and elevation 'spikes' on the glaciated area when compared to the DEM from topographic data. Cell-by-cell comparison of SRTM and ASTER-derived elevations with topographic data showed ablation at the toes of the glaciers (- 25 m to - 75 m surface lowering) and an apparent thickening at the summits. The mean altitude difference on glaciated area (SRTM minus topographic DEM) was - 5 m, pointing towards a lowering of the glacier surface during the period 1955-2000. Spurious values on the glacier surface in the ASTER DEM affected the analysis and thus prevented us from quantifying the glacier changes based on the ASTER data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-125
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Issue number1-4
Publication statusPublished - 01 Oct 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Andes
  • DEM generation
  • Digital Elevation Model (DEM)
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • Glaciology
  • SRTM


Dive into the research topics of 'Evaluating digital elevation models for glaciologic applications: An example from Nevado Coropuna, Peruvian Andes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this