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com

By Colin Childs, ESRI Education Services

Editors note: In addition to supplying tools for spatial analysis (i.e.,

for modeling suitability, distance, or hydrology), the ArcGIS 9 Spatial

Analyst extension provides tools for spatial data analysis that apply sta-

tistical theory and techniques to the modeling of spatially referenced data.

Elevation, temperature, and contamination concentrations are types of

data that can be represented by surfaces. Each raster cell represents a mea-

surement such as a cells relationship to a xed point or specic concentra-

tion level. Because obtaining values for each cell in a raster is typically

not practical, sample points are used to derive the intervening values using

the interpolation tools in ArcGIS Spatial Analyst. This article provides an

introduction to the interpolation methods used by these tools.

GIS is all about spatial data and the tools for managing, compiling,

and analyzing that data. ArcGIS Spatial Analyst extension provides a

toolset for analyzing and modeling spatial data. A set of sample points

representing changes in landscape, population, or environment can be

used to visualize the continuity and variability of observed data across a

surface through the use of interpolation tools. These changes can be ex-

trapolated across geographic space. The morphology and characteristics

of these changes can be described. The ability to create surfaces from

sample data makes interpolation both powerful and useful.

Understanding Surfaces

Before discussing different interpolation techniques, the differences in

the methods used for surface representation need to be discussed. Each

representation is useful for specic situations. This discussion concen-

trates on the creation of a surface in the native ArcGIS grid format.

A grid representation of a surface is considered to be a functional sur-

face because for any given x,y location, it stores only a single Z value as

opposed to multiple Z values. Functional surfaces are continuous because

an x,y location has one and only one Z value regardless of the direction

from which the x,y point is approached. Functional surfaces are 2.5-di-

mensional surfaces, not true three-dimensional surfaces.

Functional surfaces can be used to represent terrestrial surfaces that

depict the earths surface, statistical surfaces that describe demographic

and other types of data, and mathematical surfaces that are based on arith-

metic expressions. Surface representation in its simplest form is done

by storing x,y and Z values that dene the location of a sample and the

change characteristic represented by the Z value.

Contours or isolines are used to dene a common characteristic along

a line. Technically, contours join locations of equal value to each other.

In the case of a contour line representing height, it is a line drawn on a

map that connects points of equal elevation above a datum that usually

represents mean sea level.

A triangulated irregular network (TIN) is a vector data structure used

to store and display surface models. A TIN partitions geographic space

using a set of irregularly spaced data points, each of which has x-, y-,

and Z-values. These points are connected by edges that form contiguous,

nonoverlapping triangles and create a continuous surface that represents

the terrain.

A grid is a spatial data structure that denes space as an array of cells

of equal size that are arranged in rows and columns. In the case of a grid

that represents a surface, each cell contains an attribute value that repre-

sents a change in Z value. The location of the cell in geographic space is

obtained from its position relative to the grids origin.

Interpolation Methods

To create a surface grid in ArcGIS, the Spatial Analyst extension employs

one of several interpolation tools. Interpolation is a procedure used to

predict the values of cells at locations that lack sampled points. It is based

on the principle of spatial autocorrelation or spatial dependence, which

measures degree of relationship/dependence between near and distant

objects.

Spatial autocorrelation determines if values are interrelated. If values

are interrelated, it determines if there is a spatial pattern. This correlation

is used to measure

n Similarity of objects within an area

n The degree to which a spatial phenomenon is correlated to itself in

space

n The level of interdependence between the variables

n Nature and strength of the interdependence

Different interpolation methods will almost always produce different results.

Points

Methods of Surface Representation

Contours

TINs Grids

Interpolation is the proce-

dure used to predict cell

values for locations that

lack sampled points.

Interpolating Surfaces

in ArcGIS Spatial Analyst

1.1 1.2 1.3

1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8

2 1

Interpolated Rainfall

Known Rainfall Values

1 Mile

0 0.2 0.5 0.7 1

Developers Corner

www.esri.com ArcUser JulySeptember 2004 33

There are two categories of interpolation techniques: deterministic

and geostatistical. Deterministic interpolation techniques create surfaces

based on measured points or mathematical formulas. Methods such as

Inverse Distance Weight (IDW) are based on the extent of similarity of

cells while methods such as Trend t a smooth surface dened by a math-

ematical function. Geostatistical interpolation techniques such as Kriging

are based on statistics and are used for more advanced prediction surface

modeling that also includes some measure of the certainty or accuracy of

predictions.

The characteristics of an interpolated surface can be controlled by

limiting the input points used in the calculation of output cell values.

This can be done by limiting the number of points sampled or the area

from which sampled points are taken. Specifying the maximum number

of points to be sampled will return the points closest to the output cell

location until the maximum number is reached. Alternatively, specifying

a xed radius in map units will select only input points within the radius

distance from the center of the output cell unless there are not enough

points within that radius.

Maximum Number

The characteristics of an interpolated surface can be controlled

by limiting the input points used. Points can be limited by

specifying a maximum number of points, which will select the

nearest points until that maximum number of points is reached.

Alternatively, a radius can be specied in map units.

Fixed Radius

With Barrier

Without Barrier

Barriers, which reect the presence of fault lines, cliffs,

streams, and other features that create linear discontinuity in

surfaces, also control how surfaces are generated. IDW and

Kriging support the use of barriers.

Many interpolation tools incorporate barriers that dene and control

surface behavior in terms of smoothness and continuity. Barriers are

needed because sometimes interpolation operations should not be per-

formed across features, such as fault lines, levees, cliffs, and streams, that

create a linear discontinuity in the surface. By using barriers, changes in

the behavior of the surface can be described and enforced.

Available Interpolation Options

ArcGIS Spatial Analyst at version 9 offers several interpolation tools for

generating surface grids from point data. PointInterp, Natural Neighbors,

and Trend methods and the Topo to Raster command have been added to

the IDW, Spline, and Kriging interpolation methods that were available in

ArcGIS 8.3 Spatial Analyst. Natural Neighbor and Trend methods were

available in ArcGIS 8.3 3D Analyst, although Trend was only accessible

programmatically. Each method uses a different approach for determin-

ing the output cell values. The most appropriate method will depend on

the distribution of sample points and the phenomenon being studied.

The characteristics of an interpolated surface can be

controlled by limiting the input points used in the

calculation of output cell values.

Continued on page 34

Interpolating Surfaces in ArcGIS Spatial Analyst

Continued from page 33

34 ArcUser JulySeptember 2004 www.esri.com

IDW

The IDW function should be used when the set of points is dense enough

to capture the extent of local surface variation needed for analysis. IDW

determines cell values using a linear-weighted combination set of sample

points. The weight assigned is a function of the distance of an input point

from the output cell location. The greater the distance, the less inuence

the cell has on the output value.

Kriging

A powerful statistical interpolation method used for diverse applications

such as health sciences, geochemistry, and pollution modeling, Kriging

assumes that the distance or direction between sample points reects a

spatial correlation that can be used to explain variation in the surface.

It ts a function to a specied number of points or all points within a

specied radius to determine the output value for each location. Kriging

is most appropriate when a spatially correlated distance or directional

bias in the data is known and is often used for applications in soil science

and geology.

The predicted values are derived from the measure of relationship in

samples using sophisticated weighted average technique. It uses a search

radius that can be xed or variable. The generated cell values can exceed

value range of samples, and the surface does not pass through samples.

There are several types of Kriging. Ordinary Kriging, the most com-

mon method, assumes that there is no constant mean for the data over an

area mean (i.e., no trend). Universal Kriging does assume that an overrid-

ing trend exists in the data and that it can be modeled.

Inverse Distance Weighted

Spline

Spline estimates values using a mathematical function that minimizes

overall surface curvature. This results in a smooth surface that passes

exactly through the input points. Conceptually, it is like bending a sheet

of rubber so that it passes through the points while minimizing the total

curvature of the surface. It can predict ridges and valleys in the data and

is the best method for representing the smoothly varying surfaces of phe-

nomena such as temperature.

There are two variations of splineregularized and tension. A regu-

larized spline incorporates the rst derivative (slope), second derivative

(rate of change in slope), and third derivative (rate of change in the sec-

ond derivative) into its minimization calculations. Although a tension

spline uses only rst and second derivatives, it includes more points in

the spline calculations, which usually creates smoother surfaces but in-

creases computation time.

Spline

Kriging

PointInterp

A method that is similar to IDW, the PointInterp function allows more

control over the sampling neighborhood. The inuence of a particular

sample on the interpolated grid cell value depends on whether the sample

point is in the cells neighborhood and how far from the cell being inter-

polated it is located. Points outside the neighborhood have no inuence.

PointInterp

Developers Corner

www.esri.com ArcUser JulySeptember 2004 35

The weighted value of points inside the neighborhood is calculated us-

ing an inverse distance weighted interpolation or inverse exponential

distance interpolation. This method interpolates a raster using point fea-

tures but allows for different types of neighborhoods. Neighborhoods can

have shapes such as circles, rectangles, irregular polygons, annuluses, or

wedges.

Natural Neighbor

Natural neighbor interpolation has many positive features, can be used for

both interpolation and extrapolation, and generally works well with clus-

tered scatter points. Another weighted-average method, the basic equa-

tion used in natural neighbor interpolation is identical to the one used in

IDW interpolation. This method can efciently handle large input point

datasets. When using the Natural Neighbor method, local coordinates de-

ne the amount of inuence any scatter point will have on output cells.

Natural Neighbor

Trend

Trend

Trend is a statistical method that nds the surface that ts the sample

points using a least-squares regression t. It ts one polynomial equation

to the entire surface. This results in a surface that minimizes surface vari-

ance in relation to the input values. The surface is constructed so that for

every input point, the total of the differences between the actual values

and the estimated values (i.e., the variance) will be as small as possible. It

is an inexact interpolator, and the resulting surface rarely passes through

the input points. However, this method detects trends in the sample data

and is similar to natural phenomena that typically vary smoothly.

Topo to Raster

By interpolating elevation values for a raster, the Topo to Raster method

imposes constraints that ensure a hydrologically correct digital elevation

model that contains a connected drainage structure and correctly repre-

sents ridges and streams from input contour data. It uses an iterative -

nite difference interpolation technique that optimizes the computational

efciency of local interpolation without losing the surface continuity of

global interpolation. It was specically designed to work intelligently

with contour inputs.

IDW and Spline are two deterministic methods that create surfaces

from samples based on the extent of similarity or degree of smooth-

ing. However, while a spline surface passes exactly through each

sample point, an IDW will pass through none of the points. Kriging is

a geostatistical method that uses a powerful statistical technique for

predicting values derived from the measure of relationship in samples

and employs sophisticated weighted average techniques.

Conclusion

This brief introduction supplies a framework for exploring the interpola-

tion tools available in ArcGIS 9 Spatial Analyst. A more robust and com-

prehensive arsenal of tools for data exploration and spatial data analysis

is available from the ArcGIS 9 Geostatistical Analyst extension. More in-

formation on how to perform spatial data analysis and applications for the

tools in ArcGIS 9 Spatial Analyst may be found in the product manual,

Using ArcGIS Spatial Analyst. Papers that provide background informa-

tion on interpolation methods and their application in various industries

and disciplines can be found at www.esri.com/geostatisticalanalyst.

Each of the interpolation methods available in the

ArcGIS Spatial Analyst extension uses a different

approach for determining output cells. Choose a

method based on the distribution of sample points

and the phenomenon being studied.

Krige

Spline

IDW

Distance

Z-value

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