From Images to Hydrologic Networks - Understanding the Arctic Landscape with Graphs

tabea.rettelbach [ at ]


Remote sensing-based Earth Observation plays an important role in assessing environmental changes throughout our planet. As an image-heavy domain, the evaluation of the data strongly focuses on statistical and pixel-based spatial analysis methods. However, considering the complexity of our Earth system, there are some environmental structures and dependencies that are not possible to accurately describe with these traditional image analysis approaches. One example for such a limitation is the representation of (spatial) networks and their characteristics. In this study, we thus propose a computer vision approach that enables the representation of semantic information gained from images as graphs. As an example, we investigate digital terrain models of Arctic permafrost landscapes with its very characteristic polygonal patterned ground. These regular patterns, which are clearly visible in high-resolution image and elevation data, are formed by subsurface ice bodies that are very vulnerable to rising temperatures in a warming Arctic. Observing these networks’ topologies and metrics in space and time with graph analysis thus allows insights into the landscape’s complex geomorphology, hydrology, and ecology and therefore helps to quantify how they interact with climate change. We show that results extracted with this analytical and highly automated approach are in line with those gathered from other manual studies or from manual validation. Thus, with this approach, we introduce a method that, for the first time, enables upscaling of such terrain and network analysis to potentially pan-Arctic scales where collecting in-situ field data is strongly limited.

Item Type
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.1145/3538712.3538740

Cite as
Rettelbach, T. , Langer, M. , Nitze, I. , Jones, B. M. , Helm, V. , Freytag, J. C. and Grosse, G. (2022): From Images to Hydrologic Networks - Understanding the Arctic Landscape with Graphs , SSDBM 2022 Conference Proceedings, pp. 1-10 . doi: 10.1145/3538712.3538740

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Research Platforms

POLAR 5 > P5_212_AIRMETH_2018
POLAR 6 > P6_219_ThawTrendR_Air_2019

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