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Example of Height above Stream Flood Inundation Mapping Approach

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Created: Nov 28, 2015 at 1:13 a.m.
Last updated: Aug 18, 2016 at 1:36 p.m.
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This data provides an illustration of the height above the nearest stream approach to flood inundation mapping based on the TauDEM vertical distance to stream function. This example uses a 10 m resolution National Elevation dataset for Onion Creek in Texas. Height above the nearest stream may be thought of as a “relative elevation function” which measures for every DEM cell in the landscape the difference in elevation between that cell and the cell to which it flows on the stream channel. This is like a “water depth” or “stage height” function defined using terrain analysis continuously across the landscape. This relative elevation function, combined with a depth in each stream reach provide a simplified terrain based approach to flood inundation mapping premised on the following:

1. Each reach has a water depth hw, from a hydraulic model such as SPRNT or RAPID.
2. Each reach has an ID
3. Each grid cell has the ID of the reach it connects to (catchment grid) and the height above the stream hs
4. Flood extent is “rapidly” mapped as
If(hw(id) > hs(id))
Inundation depth = hw(id) - hs(id)
Inundation depth = 0

The data here can also be used to compute reach averaged hydraulic properties as follows
1. For each reach the stream network file gives reach length L.
2. For a series of water depths using the height above nearest stream intersected with catchment raster the innundation water volume V, surface area As and bed area Ab are obtained.
3. Reach average properties are then computed as
Cross section Area A = V/L
Wetted perimeter P = Ab/L
Top width = As/L
Hydraulic Radius = A/P

This approach is a simplification over finer scale hydraulics, and the inaccuracy due to introduction of this simplification still needs evaluation. This approach is also dependent on how well the DEM represents the channel and flooded area. This is expected to improve as we get better LIDAR DEMs and develop better ways to hydrologically condition DEMs that do not involve pit filling.

Subject Keywords



Coordinate System/Geographic Projection:
WGS 84 EPSG:4326
Coordinate Units:
Decimal degrees
Place/Area Name:
Onion Creek
North Latitude
East Longitude
South Latitude
West Longitude



Data for Onion Creek Example of DEM to Flood Extent approach
David Tarboton

Files in this resource contain

DEM2FloodExtent.pptx.  Powerpoint file that illustrates the method.

Onion.tif. GeoTIFF DEM for Onion Creek that  is used as input.  Shapefile of NHDPlusV2 Flowlines.  Shapefile of NHDPlus Catchments.  Shapefile of start points of NHDPlus Flowlines obtained from ArcGIS Feature Vertices to Points using the DANGLE option and then deleting the single point at the outlet.

source.tif.  Raster created from Sources.shp shapefile to seed watershed delineation.  This has the same extent and cell size as the DEM Onion.tif, a value 1 at the grid locations corresponding to sources, and 0 everywhere else. This was created using convert feature to raster with Environment setting so the cell size and extent of the DEM and then reclassify.  Results from TauDEM functions.  
The final result files are:
Onionnet.shp.  Shapefile with TauDEM delineated stream network almost identical to NHDFlowlines but following the DEM.
Oniondd.tif.  Height above nearest stream raster used for innundation mapping and hydraulic geometry parameterization. 
Following are the command line versions of the functions executed to obtain the above:
mpiexec -n 4 pitremove -z Onion.tif -fel TauDEM\Onionfel.tif
mpiexec -n 4 D8FlowDir -fel TauDEM\Onionfel.tif -p TauDEM\Onionp.tif -sd8 TauDEM\Onionsd8.tif
mpiexec -n 4 DinfFlowDir -fel TauDEM\Onionfel.tif -ang TauDEM\Onionang.tif -slp TauDEM\Onionslp.tif
mpiexec -n 4 Aread8 -p TauDEM\Onionp.tif -ad8 TauDEM\Onionad8.tif
mpiexec -n 4 Aread8 -p TauDEM\Onionp.tif -ad8 TauDEM\Onionssa.tif -wg source.tif
mpiexec -n 4 Threshold -ssa TauDEM\Onionssa.tif -src TauDEM\Onionsrc.tif -thresh 1
mpiexec -n 8 StreamNet -fel TauDEM\Onionfel.tif -p TauDEM\Onionp.tif -ad8 TauDEM\Onionad8.tif -src TauDEM\Onionsrc.tif -ord TauDEM\Onionord.tif -tree TauDEM\Oniontree.txt -coord TauDEM\Onioncoord.txt -net TauDEM\Onionnet.shp -w TauDEM\Onionw.tif
mpiexec -n 4 DinfDistDown -fel TauDEM\Onionfel.tif -ang TauDEM\Onionang.tif -src TauDEM\Onionsrc.tif -dd TauDEM\Oniondd.tif -m ave v

See for details and specifically for file formats and naming conventions.

Onion.mxd.  ArcMap map document for visualization of the above data.


How to Cite

Tarboton, D. (2016). Example of Height above Stream Flood Inundation Mapping Approach, HydroShare,

This resource is shared under the Creative Commons Attribution CC BY.


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