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What is a terrain dataset?

Release 9.3
Last modified April 28, 2009
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A terrain dataset is a multiresolution, TIN-based surface built from measurements stored as features in a geodatabase. They're typically made from lidar, sonar, and photogrammetric sources. Terrains reside in the geodatabase, inside feature datasets with the features used to construct them.


Terrains have participating feature classes and rules, similar to topologies. Common feature classes that act as data sources for terrains include

The terrain dataset's rules control how features are used to define a surface. For example, a feature class containing edge of pavement lines for roads could participate with the rule that its features be used as hard breaklines. This will have the desired effect of creating linear discontinuities in the surface.

Rules also indicate how a feature class participates through a range of scales. Edge of pavement features might only be needed for medium to large-scale surface representations. Rules could be used to exclude them from use at small scales, which would improve performance.

A terrain dataset in the geodatabase references the original feature classes. It doesn't actually store a surface as a raster or TIN. Rather, it organizes the data for fast retrieval and derives a TIN surface on the fly. This organization involves the creation of terrain pyramids that are used to quickly retrieve only the data necessary to construct a surface of the required level of detail (LOD) for a given area of interest (AOI) from the database. The appropriate pyramid level is used relative to the current display scale.


The terrain dataset, along with its collection of supporting tools, facilitates the storage and maintenance of vector-based surface measurements coupled with the ability to use surfaces derived from those measurements. Geoprocessing functions are provided to load data from external sources into geodatabase feature classes. Editing and geodatabase tools are used to maintain and update the data over time. Interactive display and query tools provide the means to explore and use terrain surfaces. TINs and rasters can be extracted from terrains based on AOI and LOD. The suite of tools provides a comprehensive means of surface production and use.

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