Digital Terrain Models

Obtain detailed digital terrain model (DTM) renderings of specified locations to streamline mapping and surveying projects.

Obtain detailed digital terrain model (DTM) renderings of specified locations to streamline mapping and surveying projects. The professionals at TOPS offer advanced DTM services to create a precise representation of the Earth’s surface to facilitate an informed planning stage for roads, railways, and other infrastructure. We successfully integrate cutting-edge technology within our workflow, ensuring our ability to tackle your unique project demands. 

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Understanding Digital Terrain Data

Digital terrain modeling is the process of generating an accurate illustration of the Earth’s surface, often referred to as a “bare-earth extraction.” Many believe DTMs are an augmentation of Digital Elevation Models (DEMs), which focus on elevation, including man-made structures and vegetation. However, DTMs are 3D models comprising vector data sets with X, Y and Z coordinates to describe the height and elevation of natural surface features like ridges, ridge lines, rivers, valleys and mountains. 

The accurate terrain data that this modeling process requires is typically collected using remote sensing technologies and photographic strategies, including LiDAR and photogrammetry. Once collected, it is imported into specialized software to digitize contour lines and efficiently remove noise, errors and unwanted topographical features. This digital process offers unrivaled benefits to facilitate informed decision-making procedures within various applications and industries, including: 

  • Natural resource management 
  • Disaster risk assessments 
  • Urban planning 
  • Land development 
  • Military mission planning

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The Process of Digital Surface Modeling

Converting data points and images describing real-world objects requires specific planning and steps to generate an accurate DSM successfully. This process begins by determining your project’s scope and the kind of information you need to collect. With this complete, you’ll have a better idea of how to split up your data, decide on raster output models and realize how to best size your model for maximized success. Once your team better understands the goal and scope of your digital surface modeling project, you can get started with the following steps.


A model is nothing without the data it leverages. DSMs require accurate data points relating to surface structures like trees, buildings, roadways, and rivers. This information should comprehensively describe each object, including its shape, location, elevation, and texture. This data can be collected through any combination of strategies, such as 3D scanning, photogrammetry, and satellite imagery. Each strategy provides unique angles and sheds new insight into elements like surface elevations, building heights and terrain textures to facilitate the creation of a cohesive model.

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Surface data must be imported into specialty software to be cleaned and organized. There are countless software options available, including AutoCAD, SketchUp and Blender. These programs offer tools and features to create precise visualizations while maintaining the ability to modify, update and adjust models continuously. You’ll want to classify the points into different categories, apply filters and reduce their density to develop an effective and usable model that generates meaningful insight into the land.

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Reconstruction is an important next step in designing a cohesive visualization. This is when you watch your data come to life, giving your data form and function. Interpolation and triangulation are two advanced processes that make this reconstruction possible. Triangulation involves creating a Triangulated Irregular Network (TIN), similar to a mesh, by connecting neighboring points through triangles. Delaunay triangulation is the most common type, which minimizes irregularities and maximizes triangle quality. Interpolation is a similar process used to estimate data points and fill in missing gaps to create a more consistent and accurate representation of the terrain and its elevation.

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Quality Assurance and Utilization

Quality control checks are a staple of any digital surface modeling project. These inspections look for any errors or inconsistencies in your data by comparing the digital product to reference data. This step ensures you utilize high-quality information that strengthens your construction, environmental and communication decision-making procedures. 

Once complete, you’ll have a precise and visually appealing DSM informing important analyses like hydrological modeling, slope stability assessments and terrain analyses, depending on your application. 

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Three Simple Steps to Begin Your Project

To get started with TOPS, you just need to follow three easy steps:

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Step 1: CAD Files

Provide the CAD files for the project in formats like AutoCAD .DXF and .DWG, among others. Files can be uploaded to their FTP site or shipped with the paper plans.

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Step 2: Paper Plans

If sending paper plans, they will scan and store them electronically. You can transmit the scans or ship the paper plans.

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Step 3: Work Order

Fill out a data prep work order on their website with the details of your scope of work. TOPS can accommodate various needs; just specify how you want the job to look.

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Benefits of Digital Surface Modeling

DSMs paint a realistic picture of the world around us. Collecting dense volumes of data and detailed images allows professionals to look at vast regions and specific project sites in real-time. Countless industries rely on these detailed tools to strengthen their decision-making procedures, ensuring your team has the dependable information required within applications like urban planning, architecture and even the film industry. 

Take advantage of benefits like: 

  • Realistic visualizations: Digital surface models leverage advanced algorithms and tools to create accurate representations of specified terrains. They capture the size, elevation and texture of manufactured structures, natural landforms, and vegetation.
  • Meaningful collaboration: 3D project modeling makes it easy for all levels of your business to understand your project development. Models can easily be shared, from shareholders to contractors, to facilitate meaningful teamwork and cohesive project completion. 
  • Efficient resource allocation: Understanding the landscape requires a significant investment of time and money, and DSMs can make the most of these resources. Digital models are quickly generated and are easily updated as needed to adhere to changing project demands. 
  • Diverse applications: DSMs are blank canvases that can be applied to various applications and situations. From designing a new building to understanding how climate change affects a specific area, this type of modeling can take many forms to ensure it provides information relevant to your project. 

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Partner With Our Team at TOPS

Having confidence in your 3D topographic models is paramount. At TOPS, we devote our resources to supplying trustworthy DSM services that contour to fit your specific project scope. Our 30 years of industry experience position us as the preferred data specialist and allow us to tackle over 1,000 projects annually. Throughout our time in business, we’ve evolved our technological infrastructure to remain on the cutting edge of the industry to deliver innovative solutions. 

We’re committed to the data industry and are passionate about establishing lasting relationships with our clients to become a lasting partner. Our TOPS team comprises a dedicated group of surveyors, operators, engineers and technicians with high-quality licenses and certifications. Their expertise empowers us to handle DSM projects of any size, tackling every aspect of the required scope to simplify your workflow and generate meaningful results. 

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Industries We Serve

At TOPS, we have extensive experience working across a wide range of industry sectors to provide expert data preparation, modeling, and analysis services. Our team of experienced professionals is adept at tailoring our solutions to meet the unique needs of clients in several different industries.

Get in Touch With Our Team to Learn More

Working with TOPS is the best choice to keep your surveying and mapping projects on track. We strive to provide a valuable service to our clients, ensuring a seamless partnership that simplifies your operation. The only documents our experts need are your CAD files, paper plans and work orders before getting started on a high-quality DTM that provides information you can trust. We work quickly and can often send you an email with your models within 48 hours when needed.

The professionals at TOPS are ready to supply precision terrain mapping services to offer more topographical insight across your site. You can reach out to our team online or give us a call to learn more about our services today.

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