Is there any (photogrammetric or other) FOSS package to support the generation of a DEM from ASTER L1B products (i.e. combining the spectral bands 3N and 3B)? Are there any practical examples or/and tutorials? It would certainly be preferable if the tools in question integrate easily in (workflows implemented in) well known GFOSS GIS/RS tools.

Relevant Information

Information about ASTER and its products specifications available at:

Related ASTER data products

DEM-generation related works



6 Answers 6


Some time has passed, the topic is still relevant since new software became available:

Did anyone try out the NASA Ames Stereo Pipeline (ASP, http://ti.arc.nasa.gov/tech/asr/intelligent-robotics/ngt/stereo/)? The source code is on github.

Furthermore, in the open source software Orfeo Toolbox (OTB, http://orfeo-toolbox.org) they offer "One-click DEM generation" in their Stereo Framework (announcement). In the manual, there is a chapter on "Stereoscopic reconstruction from VHR optical images pair". Did anyone try Orfeo?


Look into the recently developed open source code base for cleaning up ASTER jitter and successively producing DEMs from the ASTER Scenes (MMASTER, Luc Girod). A link to the paper is http://www.mdpi.com/2072-4292/9/7/704/html . Seems to quite effectively eliminate jitter problems.


In NASA's Ames Stereo Pipeline (ASP) latest documentation there is a section dedicated to ASTER describing how to process ASTER Level 1A VNIR imagery. It is also noted that

ASP cannot process ASTER Level 1B imagery, as those images lack camera information.

Essentially, ASTER L1B imagery lacks of the rational polynomial coefficients (RPCs) metadata that eventually enables orthocorrection and other 3D operations. Therefore, it is unlikely that any (other) FOSS tool would be able to generate a DEM for ASTER L1B.

ps- Thanks to http://www.mssl.ucl.ac.uk/imaging/members/jpm.html for the updated hint.


MicMac (https://github.com/micmacIGN) can extract a DSM from ASTER 3B/3N stereo bands. Furthermore, there is a pipeline available that uses full capability of the software and automates the procedure, MMASTER MMASTER .sh bash files are available here: https://github.com/luc-girod/MMASTER-workflows A more detailed description for the MMASTER procedure can be found here: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-4292/9/7/704

I've tried both Ames Stereo and MicMac/MMASTER, and results are better in MicMac. Final products are a 10m max digital surface raster file, and optional orthophotomosaic tif files and point cloud with the orthophotomosaic RGB values.


GRASS GIS, look at r.in.aster:

r.in.aster rectifies, georeferences, and imports Terra-ASTER imagery to current location using gdalwarp, hdf 4, and r.in.gdal, using projection parameters from g.proj. It can import Level 1A, Level 1B, and relative DEM products. The program may be run interactively or non-interactively from the command line. In either case, the user must specify an input *.hdf file name, the type of processing used, the image band to import, and an output GRASS raster map name. The type paremeter can take values of L1A, L1B, or DEM. The band parameter can take values of 1, 2, 3n, 3b, 4-14

see also Open Source Alternatives to Erdas ATCOR

  • 1
    Gene, r.in.aster is an import module. It handles all types of the ASTER L1A/B family products, as mentioned. This has nothing to do with generating a DEM by using the ASTER's NIR band and the same "backwards" scanned NIR information. Essentially, 3N and 3B are the same measurement acquired from a different angle. Also, the question you linked (and its accepted answer) has nothing important regarding the generation of a DEM. Nov 12, 2013 at 11:04

Using QGIS, you can load any file format supported by GDAL (for raster data) and OGR (for vector). You can look at the following tutorial to see how to convert ASTER L1B data to other format using Python.

Anyway, in QGIS simply open your ASTER file as a raster data source and it will allow you to pick the bands you want as layers. Once done, you can explore the Analysis Tools there, but you simply need to export them to tif (in the menu: Raster -> Convert -> Translate). Then merge them:

  • in the menu: Raster -> Miscellaneous -> Merge
  • select the two new tif in Input
  • click "Layer Stack"
  • Type your desired output file name
  • Click "Load into canvas when finished"

This will give you a single file with 2 bands that can be used to generate DEM. To generate a DEM follow the instruction:

  • in the menu: Raster -> Analysis -> DEM
  • select the new tif file and the band you want
  • select the option you want
  • Type your desired output file name
  • Click "Load into canvas when finished"

Via command-line if you prefer:

$ gdalinfo path/to/your/file.hdf
$ gdal_translate 'HDF4_EOS:EOS_SWATH:"path/to/your/file.hdf":VNIR_Swath:ImageData3N' 3N.tif
$ gdal_translate 'HDF4_EOS:EOS_SWATH:"path/to/your/file.hdf":VNIR_Swath:ImageData3B' 3B.tif
$ gdal_merge.py -o combined.tif -of GTiff -seperate 3B.tif 3N.tif
$ gdaldem hillshade 3B.tif hillshade.tif -z 1.0 -s 1.0 -az 315.0 -alt 45.0 -b 1 -of GTiff

Note that the 2 gdal_translate command need the 'HDF4....' string to be taken from the output of gdalinfo.

  • 1
    Julien-Samuel, how does your answer relate to the generation of a DEM? Nov 12, 2013 at 11:06
  • Sorry I forgot to add the part about DEM. QGIS does have some tools to generate DEM from raster files. I edited my answer accordingly. I hope this answer your question as I'm not sure what you are trying to do exactly. Nov 12, 2013 at 16:16
  • No, this is not relevant. The question is (as in the title, as well as in the question's text): is there any FOSS package to support the generation of a DEM from ASTER L1B imagery?. ASTER features two Near-Infrared bands, the 3N (which operates as a nadir band) and the 3B (which is a backward scanning product). These two (the 3N and the 3B) constitute a stereo pair from which a DEM can be/is generated. I will try to improve my question as it seems it's not clear. Nov 12, 2013 at 16:52
  • Sorry I tried to reply from the best of my knowledge, but don't know much about ASTER. Maybe you should ask directly on the gdal mailing-list. This is where all the imagery guru of the FOSS world are. I'm 100% sure there's someone who can help you over there. Here's the link: lists.osgeo.org/listinfo/gdal-dev Nov 12, 2013 at 17:47
  • See gis.stackexchange.com/q/41432/5256 Nov 13, 2013 at 20:27

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