No accurate global lowland digital terrain model (DTM) exists to date that allows reliable quantification of coastal lowland flood risk, currently and with sea-level rise. We created the first global coastal lowland DTM that is derived from satellite LiDAR data. The global LiDAR lowland DTM (GLL_DTM_v1) at 0.05-degree resolution (~5 × 5 km) is created from ICESat-2 data collected between 14 October 2018 and 13 May 2020. It is accurate within 0.5 m for 83.4% of land area below 10 m above mean sea level (+MSL), with a root-mean-square error (RMSE) value of 0.54 m, compared to three local area DTMs for three major lowland areas: the Everglades, the Netherlands, and the Mekong Delta. This accuracy is far higher than that of four existing global digital elevation models (GDEMs), which are derived from satellite radar data, namely, SRTM90, MERIT, CoastalDEM, and TanDEM-X, that we find to be accurate within 0.5 m for 21.1%, 12.9%, 18.3%, and 37.9% of land below 10 m +MSL, respectively, with corresponding RMSE values of 2.49 m, 1.88 m, 1.54 m, and 1.59 m. Globally, we find 3.23, 2.12, and 1.05 million km2
of land below 10, 5, and 2 m +MSL. The 0.93 million km2
of land below 2 m +MSL identified between 60N and 56S is three times the area indicated by SRTM90 that is currently the GDEM most used in flood risk assessments, confirming that studies to date are likely to have underestimated areas at risk of flooding. Moreover, the new dataset reveals extensive forested land areas below 2 m +MSL in Papua and the Amazon Delta that are largely undetected by existing GDEMs. We conclude that the recent availability of satellite LiDAR data presents a major and much-needed step forward for studies and policies requiring accurate elevation models. GLL_DTM_v1 is available in the public domain, and the resolution will be increased in later versions as more satellite LiDAR data become available.
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