I would like to know what's the best method(s) to compare two DEMs without using any GUI soft like QGIS or ArcGIS.
I'd like to do it in Python or C++, with GDAL or other similar lib.
Does calculating the RMSE (Root mean square error/deviation) is useful?
How to proceed to subtract DEM1 from DEM2? And I should find a flat result, right? Is their other ways?
Because reading for each coordinate the elevation z and compare it with the other DEM is a bit heavy I think.

Thanks for help,

  • How else would you subtract A from B without comparing each cell?
    – Nathan W
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 8:32
  • 1
    Don't know, you're right...
    – eouti
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 8:34
  • 2
    For some methods and insights, you might be interested in reading through a recent case study. Subtracting one DEM from the other (which is quick and easy) is only the very beginning: there will be differences that you have to explore, measure, and seek to understand. Computing the RMSE has its place, but as a single number it's not going to tell you much about how the DEMs differ.
    – whuber
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 15:31
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    +1 @whuber. Without knowing much about the DEMs (are they either identical or not identical?) I would think you'd need to consider more than just the difference between matching pixel values. A more in-depth analysis of slope (or other metrics) across a neighborhood would yield more information. To start you can use R for the programmatic calculations and GRASS/GDAL for the file handling without using the GUIs.
    – Radar
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 17:02
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    @Radar Yes, slope is important. But you don't need R for these calculations: much (maybe most) of what is needed can be accomplished with relatively simple "map algebra" calculations available in ArcGIS/Spatial Analyst or GRASS, for instance. I would recommend R when analytical needs are sophisticated and the DEM is relatively small (perhaps a million cells or less), but for large DEMs you need the efficiency of a raster-based GIS (which R is definitely not).
    – whuber
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 17:30

1 Answer 1


There's a similar question, but not doing it with a programming language.

here's a small python snippet which checks the difference between two numpy matrixes.

a = np.random.randint(-10,400,(500,500))      # or gdal.Open("path/to/raster").GetRasterBand(0).ReadAsArray()
b = np.random.randint(-10,400,(500,500))
dif = abs((a-b)/(b+1e-5))<0.05                # Returns a T/F matrix if difference is more than 5%. 
                                              # I add 1e-5 at the denominator to avoid div by zero
float(np.count_nonzero(tf))/len(tf.flatten()) # Ratio between Trues vs length of matrix

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