TopoToolbox – a set of Matlab functions for topographic analysis

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TopoToolbox provides a set of Matlab functions that support the analysis
of relief and flow pathways in digital elevation models. The major
aim of TopoToolbox is to offer helpful analytical GIS utilities in a
non-GIS environment in order to support the simultaneous application
of GIS-specific and other quantitative methods.

If you have any questions or remarks, please contact the authors:

Wolfgang Schwanghart

Dirk Scherler


TopoToolbox is plat-form independent and requires
Matlab 2016b or higher and the Image Processing Toolbox. The Mapping
Toolbox is not mandatory, but good to have to facilitate easy data
exchange with GIS software. Some functions support parallelisation using the
Parallel Toolbox. Few functions require the Optimization or Statistics
and Machine Learning Toolbox.


When you use TopoToolbox in your work, please reference following

  • Schwanghart, W., Scherler, D. (2014): TopoToolbox 2 – MATLAB-based
    software for topographic analysis and modeling in Earth surface sciences.
    Earth Surface Dynamics, 2, 1-7. DOI: 10.5194/esurf-2-1-2014

If you are using version 1, then please refer to this publication:

  • Schwanghart, W., Kuhn, N.J. (2010): TopoToolbox: a set of MATLAB
    functions for topographic analysis. Environmental Modelling & Software,
    25, 770-781. DOI: 10.1016/j.envsoft.2009.12.002

In addition, various models and algorithms used in TopoToolbox have been published in the following articles.

DEM preprocessing and carving

  • Schwanghart, W., Groom, G.B., Kuhn, N.J., Heckrath, G., 2013: Flow network derivation from a high
    resolution DEM in a low relief, agrarian landscape. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 38,
    1576-1586. DOI: 10.1002/esp.3452

  • Schwanghart, W., Scherler, D., 2017. Bumps in river profiles: uncertainty assessment and smoothing
    using quantile regression techniques. Earth Surface Dynamics, 5, 821-839. DOI: 10.5194/esurf-5-821-2017

TopoToolbox Landscape Evolution Modelling (TTLEM) and HyLands

  • Campforts, B., Schwanghart, W., Govers, G. (2017): Accurate simulation of transient
    landscape evolution by eliminating numerical diffusion: the TTLEM 1.0 model.
    Earth Surface Dynamics, 5, 47-66. DOI: 10.5194/esurf-5-47-2017

  • HyLands: Campforts B., Shobe M.C., et al. (2020): HyLands 1.0: a Hybrid Landscape
    evolution model to simulate the impact of landslides and landslide-derived sediment on landscape evolution.
    Geosci. Model Dev., 13, 3863–3886. DOI: 10.5194/gmd-13-3863-2020

Excess topography

  • Blöthe, J.H., Korup, O., Schwanghart, W., 2015: Large landslides lie low: Excess topography in the Himalaya-Karakorum ranges.
    Geology, 43, 523-526. DOI: 10.1130/G36527.1


  • Stolle, A., Schwanghart, W., Andermann, C., Bernhardt, A., Fort, M., Jansen, J.D., Wittmann, H., Merchel, S.,
    Rugel, G., Adhikari, B.R., Korup, O., 2019. Protracted river response to medieval earthquakes. Earth Surface Processes
    and Landforms, 44, 331-341. DOI: 10.1002/esp.4517 (The description here is very terse, yet)

Divide functions

  • Scherler, D., Schwanghart, W., 2020. Drainage divide networks – Part 1: Identification and ordering in digital elevation models.
    Earth Surface Dynamics, 8, 245–259. DOI: 10.5194/esurf-8-245-2020

  • Scherler, D., Schwanghart, W., 2020. Drainage divide networks – Part 2: Response to perturbations.
    Earth Surface Dynamics, 8, 261-274. DOI: 10.5194/esurf-8-261-2020

Point patterns on stream networks

  • Schwanghart, W., Molkenthin, C., & Scherler, D. (2020). A systematic approach and software for the analysis
    of point patterns on river networks. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, accepted. DOI: 10.1002/esp.5127

Getting started

Before working with TopoToolbox the directories and functions must be on the search
path of Matlab. Enter following code into the command line:


To remove .git-folders from the path, run


Type doc in the command line to open the main documentation page. You'll
find the TopoToolbox documentation in the section Supplemental Software.
The documentation contains several user's guides that will help you
getting started. In addition, TopoToolbox functions have extensive help
sections (e.g. help gradient8 or help STREAMobj/modify. An additional
resource for code and examples is the TopoToolbox blog.

Version History

pre 2.4

  • HyLands 1.0 added: see paper: Campforts, B. et al. (2020): HyLands 1.0: a Hybrid Landscape evolution
    model to simulate the impact of landslides and landslide-derived sediment on landscape evolution
    Geoscientific Model Development. DOI:10.5194/gmd-13-3863-2020
  • new class: DIVIDEobj Paper 1 DOI: 10.5194/esurf-8-245-2020
    Paper 2 DOI: 10.5194/esurf-8-261-2020
  • new class: PPS DOI: 10.1002/esp.5127
  • modification: update to ttscm to Scientific Colormaps 7.0
    see Fabio Crameri's website
  • new function: GRIDobj/diffusion
  • new function: GRIDobj/histogram
  • new function: STREAMobj/extend2divide
  • new function: STREAMobj/binarize
  • modification: STREAMobj/modify
  • modification: STREAMobj/wmplot
  • new function: STREAMobj/STREAMobj2shape
  • new function: STREAMobj/isequal
  • new function: STREAMobj/STREAMobj2kml
  • new function: STREAMobj/getlocation
  • modification: STREAMobj/smooth
  • new function: STREAMobj/mnoptimvar
  • modification: STREAMobj/STREAMobj2cell
  • modification: GRIDobj/demprofile
  • new function: ScaleBar
  • new function: xlinerel and ylinerel
  • topoapp was removed from this version
  • updates to readopentopo
  • updates to utilities: setextent and getextent
  • new function: padextent


  • Documentation in the documentation browser
  • new function: ttcmap for creating nice colormaps for DEMs, particularly
    if DEMs include topography and bathymetry
  • FLOWobj2gradient renamed to gradient
  • new function: ttscm for access to scientific colormaps;
    see Fabio Crameri's website
  • new function: mappingapp (lightweighed GUI for mapping points simultaneously in
    planform and profile view) still beta!
  • new function: FLOWobj/mapfromnal
  • enhancement: FLOWobj/multi2single allows area thresholding
  • new function: STREAMobj/getvalue
  • new function: STREAMobj/hillslopearea
  • new function: STREAMobj/zerobaselevel
  • new function: STREAMobj/knickpointfinder
  • new function: STREAMobj/stackedplotdz
  • new function: STREAMobj/sinuosity
  • new function: STREAMobj/clean
  • new function: STREAMobj/nal2nal
  • new function: STREAMobj/netdist
  • new function: STREAMobj/tribdir
  • new function: GRIDobj/clip
  • new function: GRIDobj/GRIDobj2im
  • new function: GRIDobj/getextent
  • new function: IOtools/readexample
  • renamed GRIDobj/project2GRIDobj to GRIDobj/project. In addition, the function has
    a number of new functionalities.
  • modification: STREAMobj/modify has new options for interactively modifying stream networks
    and to extract streams that confluence from a specified direction.
  • changes to readopentopo, getcoordinates, getoutline, polygon2GRIDobj, line2GRIDobj
  • new function: hydrosheds2FLOWobj (see in IOtools)
  • new function: egm96heights including the grid ww15mgh.grd that contains global geoid
    undulations based on the EGM96 geoid.


  • TTLEM is part of TopoToolbox;
    see our paper: Campforts, B., Schwanghart, W., Govers, G. (2017): Accurate simulation
    of transient landscape evolution by eliminating numerical diffusion: the TTLEM 1.0 model.
    Earth Surface Dynamics, 5, 47-66. DOI: 10.5194/esurf-5-47-2017
  • new functions for smoothing and hydrological correction:
    STREAMobj/crs, STREAMobj/crsapp, STREAMobj/smooth, STREAMobj/crslin,
    STREAMobj/quantcarve, FLOWobj/quantcarve;
    see our paper: Schwanghart, W., Scherler, D., 2017. Bumps in river profiles: uncertainty
    assessment and smoothing using quantile regression techniques. Earth Surface Dynamics, 5,
    821-839. DOI: 10.5194/esurf-5-821-2017
  • modification: GRIDobj way to store referencing information was changed
  • modification: FLOWobj now supports multiple flow directions and Dinf.
  • modification: several new options for imageschs
  • new function: FLOWobj/dbentropy
  • new function: FLOWobj/updatetoposort
  • new function: GRIDobj/aggregate
  • new function: GRIDobj/createmask
  • new function: GRIDobj/dist2line
  • new function: GRIDobj/dist2curve
  • new function: GRIDobj/line2GRIDobj
  • new function: GRIDobj/GRIDobj2pm
  • new function: GRIDobj/minmaxnorm
  • new function: GRIDobj/reclabel
  • new function: GRIDobj/zscore
  • new function: GRIDobj/pad
  • new function: STREAMobj/aggregate
  • new function: STREAMobj/labelreach
  • new function: STREAMobj/distance
  • new function: STREAMobj/drainagedensity
  • new function: STREAMobj/plotc
  • new function: STREAMobj/plotdzshaded
  • new function: STREAMobj/meanupstream
  • new function: STREAMobj/plot3
  • new function: STREAMobj/chitransform
  • new function: STREAMobj/cumtrapz
  • modification: STREAMobj/modify includes option rmconncomps
  • new function: STREAMobj/mchi
  • new function: STREAMobj/conncomps
  • modification: STREAMobj/extractconncomps (new GUI and behavior)
  • modification: STREAMobj/union (new syntax)
  • modification: STREAMobj/intersect (new syntax)
  • new function: STREAMobj/isnal
  • new function: STREAMobj/info
  • new function: STREAMobj/orientation
  • new function: STREAMobj/plotstreamorder
  • new function: STREAMobj/removeedgeeffects
  • new function: STREAMobj/split
  • new function: STREAMobj/streamproj
  • new function: STREAMobj/networksegment
  • new function: STREAMobj/maplateral
  • new function: STREAMobj/plotsegmentgeometry
  • new function: STREAMobj/randlocs
  • new function: STREAMobj/zerobaselevel
  • modification: STREAMobj/streamorder plotting option removed
  • modification: STREAMobj/plotdz includes custom distance option
  • modification: STREAMobj/distance includes option to derive distance from different
  • modification: STREAMobj/STREAMobj2cell
  • modification: STREAMobj/STREAMobj2mapstruct
  • new function: STREAMobj/transformcoords
  • new function: FLOWobj/FLOWobj2cell
  • update to several FLOWobj methods to avoid speed loss for MATLAB versions newer
    than R2015b
  • removed bug in GRIDobj/curvature


  • new function: GRIDobj/excesstopography; see our paper Blöthe, J.H., Korup, O.,
    Schwanghart, W. (2015): Large landslides lie low: Excess topography in the
    Himalaya-Karakorum ranges. Geology, 43, 523-526. DOI: 10.1130/G36527.1
  • new function: GRIDobj/GRIDobj2polygon
  • new function: STREAMobj/getnal
  • new function: STREAMobj/sidebranching
  • new function: STREAMobj/mincosthydrocon
  • new function: STREAMobj/intersectlocs
  • new function: STREAMobj/densify
  • new function: STREAMobj/plot3d
  • new function: STREAMobj/widenstream
  • new function: demo_modifystreamnet
  • modification of the function slopearea
  • better performance of FLOWobj when converting from flow direction matrix
    by using dmperm to perform topological sort
  • new function: GRIDobj/toposhielding
  • new function: demarea (incorporation of Juernjakob Dugge's function: )
  • new function: GRIDobj/getoutline
  • removed a bug when some functions such log, log10 were called with integer
  • additional overloading of built-in functions for GRIDobjs. We added matrix
    arithmetics, which, however, perform element-wise operations (e.g. mtimes can
    be used with GRIDobj now, but performs times)
  • the scope of the function GRIDobj/localtopography was enhanced (min, max,
    percentiles, etc in a disk-shaped neighborhood)
  • FLOWobj/streampoi and STREAMobj/streampoi now return 'bconfluences',
    e.g. stream pixels that in downstream direction are located immediately
    before confluences.
  • new function: STREAMobj/imposemin – limits downstream minima imposition
    to the stream network
  • several bug fixes
  • demo_modifystreamnet.m
  • preprocessapp was removed


  • removed bug in GRIDobj
  • removed bug with case-sensitivity in some functions
  • removed bug with internal drainage option in FLOWobj


  • new functions STREAMobj/intersect, STREAMobj/union
  • new interactive tools in STREAMobj/modify
  • new interactive tool GRIDobj/measure


V2.0 introduces an object oriented approach towards grid representation, flow direction, stream
networks and swath objects. The performance of various, inparticular flow related, functions was
increased. Mex-files have been written to increase the speed of some functions and are delivered as
64bit Windows binaries. They have been compiled on Windows 7 with an Intel processor, so they should be
compiled before using them, if your system differs. However, compiling is not mandatory, since m
versions are available, too, which are a little slower. Please refer to the Contents.m file for a
complete list of functions.

V1.06 — 11. November 2011

  • new function: acv
  • new function: cropmat
  • new function: dbentropy
  • new function: deminpaint
  • new function: exaggerate
  • new function: label2poly
  • new function: routegeodesic (as optimal method for routing through flats and
    pits). Requires Matlab 2011b and will be made the default routing algorithm
    in future releases.
  • new function: upslopesidelength
  • new function: upslopestats
  • new function: getextent and setextent
  • function enhancements: rasterread and rasterwrite.
  • function enhancements: roughness
  • new users guide on processing flat areas
  • the baranja_hill.mat dataset was added. It was obtained from

V1.05 — 15. September 2010

  • some of the functions now employ the function validateattributes to check
    input arguments. Note that this might return a warning on older versions than
  • a bug in routeflats was removed
  • new function: M2UV
  • new function: twi
  • new function: aspect
  • new function: ismulti
  • new function: postprocflats
  • new function: demsobel
  • new function: hypscurve
  • new function: roughness
  • removed bug in flowacc. flowacc returned an error when called with three
    input arguments
  • gradient8 allows you to output different angular units, major speed
    increase when called with gradient as sole output argument.
  • functional enhancements to flowdistance (see help flowdistance)
  • functional enhancements to identifyflats
  • rasterread and rasterwrite now feature dialog boxes for reading and
    saving files if no filenames are supplied to the function
  • flowdistanceds can now calculate the maximum downward flowpath distance
    for each cell at one step.

V1.04 — 5. January 2010 – first public release

  • a bug in flowacc_lm was removed. When a weight matrix W0
    was supplied as additional input argument, W0 was set to
  • new function: imageschs
  • minor changes to hillshade were made. The algorithm is now
    based on method proposed by Katzil and Doytsher, 2003.
  • flowacc allows for another input argument (runoff ratio).

V1.03 — 5. November 2009

  • sub-basin analysis has been added as new functionality
    (see sbstruct, sbplot, sbprops)
  • new function: adjustgauges

V1.02 — 30. October 2009

  • major speed enhancement for fillsinks with maximum
    fill depth

V1.01 — 16. September 2009

  • hillshade plots the hillshade matrix when no output
    arguments are defined.
  • flowacc_lm was optimized, so that large, flat areas
    are handled more memory efficiently.
  • a bug in routeflats was removed.
  • crossflats was updated to run most efficient on
    Matlab R2009a.
  • drainagebasins functionality was enhanced to allow
    for the delineation of drainage basins of specified
    order. The former support of multiple flow direction
    has been removed.
  • new function: drainagedensity
  • new function: shufflelabel
  • influencemap got a second output Mstreams

V1.0 — 15. March 2009

  • release
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