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This letter presents an effective approach for selection of appropriate terrain modeling methods in forming a digital elevation model (DEM). This approach achieves a balance between modeling accuracy and modeling speed. A terrain complexity index is defined to represent a terrain's complexity. A support vector machine (SVM) classifies terrain surfaces into either complex or moderate based on this index associated with the terrain elevation range. The classification result recommends a terrain modeling method for a given data set in accordance with its required modeling accuracy. Sample terrain data from the lunar surface are used in constructing an experimental data set. The results have shown that the terrain complexity index properly reflects the terrain complexity, and the SVM classifier derived from both the terrain complexity index and the terrain elevation range is more effective and generic than that designed from either the terrain complexity index or the terrain elevation range only. The statistical results have shown that the average classification accuracy of SVMs is about 84.3% ± 0.9% for terrain types (complex or moderate). For various ratios of complex and moderate terrain types in a selected data set, the DEM modeling speed increases up to 19.5% with given DEM accuracy.