ArcGIS Pro

Terrain datasets—Surfaces in a centralized location

Physical infrastructure projects generally involve modification of ground, requiring considerable efforts for planning, design, and construction. Establishing centralized access to ground surface models for use by designers and stakeholders during these project stages promotes collaboration and allows for more broadly informed design decision-making. Additionally, removing data silos when characterizing existing ground—and managing frequent changes to proposed ground surface models—reduces the chances of discrepancies and rework.  

Workflows that avoid use of surface models siloed in files also lead to smoother cross-team collaborations, such as those involving civil engineers and GIS professionals. Maintaining centralized, readily accessible models of surfaces across the teams of organizations is crucial for ensuring data consistency and accuracy throughout the project lifecycle (for example, ensuring up-to-date analysis of proposed surface models for design). ArcGIS Pro provides a set of tools that facilitate non-siloed workflows, drawing upon commonly used triangular irregular networks (TIN) as surface model representations. Namely, the terrain dataset in ArcGIS Pro is a multiresolution, TIN-based surface built from measurements stored as features in a geodatabase, including an enterprise geodatabase. 

Streamlined approach for generating terrain models 

Previously implemented capabilities in ArcGIS Pro support a manual process for working with terrain datasets. However, the manual process requires use of several geoprocessing tools in sequence. Furthermore, in certain tools, you must also specify parameters related to the surface model characteristics (for example, the extents) as well as parameters that may involve separate calculations.  

Available feature classes relevant to surface modeling (SurfaceBorder, SurfaceBoundary, Breakline and SurfacePoint) provide a backdrop for streamlined use of terrain datasets. Terrain models generated in this way uphold the accuracy of TIN surface models originating in Autodesk® Civil 3D®. To further streamline this process, a script is available: Convert Civil 3D Surface to Terrain 

Surface Script

After connecting the script to the project toolbox, terrain datasets can be created in a streamlined process, in which the script combines the following steps: 

Note that the script is intended for use with surface models that contain fewer than 2 million points when represented as a TIN in Autodesk Civil 3D.  

Benefits of the streamlined approach 

Use of the script effectively automates the sequence of calls to the geoprocessing tools and specification of parameters necessary to create terrain models in ArcGIS Pro. The script capabilities also include automated naming of the various entities that are created along the way. This approach produces highly accurate surface models with a single processing tool (script) and minimizes the otherwise necessary efforts of specifying and calculating several surface model parameters.  

In turn, focus of the overall workflow in ArcGIS Pro can remain on how to make effective use of the terrain model rather than how to generate the terrain model. Furthermore, existing functionality allows for key components of the terrain dataset to be stored in centralized locations such as an enterprise geodatabase. For example, mass points in the terrain model (for example, the points of the TIN) may physically correspond to topographic survey data collected for characterization of existing ground. Storing the points (for example, as a point feature class) in a centralized location allows for other interested parties in the organization to work with the most up-to-date data when carrying out activities such as analyzing differences between existing and proposed ground surface models. 

About the authors

Richard Horrocks

Richard is a Product Engineer for AEC at Esri located in Ottawa, Ontario. He enjoys improving workflows for the integration with the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry.


Michael Davidson

As a Product Manager, Michael pushes the boundaries of interoperability across GIS/CAD/BIM and ArcGIS for AutoCAD. Michael possesses 10 years of experience in civil engineering software development, including past focuses on Building Information Modeling (BIM) for bridges and geostatistics. He has a PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Florida and is a licensed PE in Florida.

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