Tutorial: Stream & catchment delineation using GRASS tools

Course: GIS OpenCourseWare for Hydrological Applications
Book: Tutorial: Stream & catchment delineation using GRASS tools
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Saturday, 29 January 2022, 2:09 PM

1. Introduction

The QGIS Processing Toolbox gives access to many useful GRASS algorithms.

In this tutorial we're going to use the GRASS tools to delineate the Rur river and its catchment.

After this tutorial you're able to:

  • create a hydrologically correct DEM by filling the sinks
  • calculate flow accumulation
  • delineate streams using a flow accumulation threshold
  • delineate a catchment of a specified outlet
The tutorial data is an SRTM 1-Arc Second DEM that has been clipped and reprojected to UTM Zone 32N/WGS-84.

2. Fill sinks in the DEM

The first step is to fill the sinks in the DEM. Sinks are artificial depressions that trap the water and prevent flow to the outlet.

1. Start QGIS Desktop with GRASS.

2. Add dem.tif to the Layers panel.

3. Open the Processing Toolbox panel: in the main menu go to Processing | Toolbox.

4. In the Processing Toolbox choose to GRASS | Raster (r.*) | r.fill.dir.

5. In the r.fill.dir dialogue choose the DEM layer as Elevation. Keep the default Output aspect direction format as grass. Save the Depressionless DEM as DEM_filled.tif (make sure to choose a GeoTiff) and uncheck the other output layers, because we don't need them.

6. Click Run. Close the dialogue after processing. Processing will take a while. Ignore the red warnings in the log.

More info about the algorithm can be found here.

7. Remove the DEM layer from the Layers panel so we only have the DEM_filled layer there to proceed with.

filled DEM

3. Calculate flow accumulation and flow direction

The next step is to calculate the accumulation of water over the filled DEM.

1. In the Processing Toolbox choose GRASS | Raster (r.*) | r.watershed.

The r.watershed tool has a lot of settings. Check the GRASS manual page for this tool to learn more about the settings of the algorithms.

2. In the r.watershed dialogue choose DEM_filled as Elevation. Set the Minimum size of exterior watershed basin to 500 pixels and check the box to Enable Single Flow Direction (D8) flow. Save the Number of cells that drain through each cell to accumulation.tif and save the Drainage direction to flowdir.tif. Uncheck the other outputs, we don't need them.

r.watershed dialogue

3. Click Run. Close the dialogue after processing. Ignore the warnings in red.

The flow direction layer is encoded using the GRASS definition: Drainage is 8 directions numbered counter-clockwise starting from 1 in north-east direction. The value 0 indicates that the cell is a depression area. Negative values indicate that surface runoff is leaving the boundaries of the current geographic region. The absolute value of these negative cells indicates the direction of flow. Therefore we need to convert the flowdir layer to absolute values.

4. In the main menu go to Raster | Raster Calculator.

5. In the Raster Calculator compose the following equation:

( "flowdir@1" < 0 ) * -1 * "flowdir@1" + ( "flowdir@1" >= 0 ) * "flowdir@1"

This equation is a condition which reads as: if the flow direction values are less than zero then the result is boolean True (1), else boolean False (0). Multiply this with -1 and the flow direction . In this way the first part of the equation results in the absolute values of the negative flow directions. Then we add the condition if the cells are larger than or equal to zero, give boolean True (1), else boolean False (0) and multiply this with the flow direction values. This means that non-negative flow direction values will keep their original value.

6. Save the result as flowdirabs.tif and click OK.

Normally we would style the flow direction result with a directional grid, but that's not part of this tutorial.

7. Remove the original flowdir layer from the Layers panel.