An algorithm for calculating minimum Euclidean distance between two geographic features

Donna J. Peuquet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


An efficient algorithm is presented for determining the shortest Euclidean distance between two features of arbitrary shape that are represented in quadtree form. These features may be disjoint point sets, lines, or polygons. It is assumed that the features do not overlap. Features also may be intertwined and polygons may be complex (i.e. have holes). Utilizing a spatial divide-and-conquer approach inherent in the quadtree data model, the basic rationale is to narrow-in on portions of each feature quickly that are on a facing edge relative to the other feature, and to minimize the number of point-to-point Euclidean distance calculations that must be performed. Besides offering an efficient, grid-based alternative solution, another unique and useful aspect of the current algorithm is that is can be used for rapidly calculating distance approximations at coarser levels of resolution. The overall process can be viewed as a top-down parallel search. Using one list of leafcode addresses for each of the two features as input, the algorithm is implemented by successively dividing these lists into four sublists for each descendant quadrant. The algorithm consists of two primary phases. The first determines facing adjacent quadrant pairs where part or all of the two features are separated between the two quadrants, respectively. The second phase then determines the closest pixel-level subquadrant pairs within each facing quadrant pair at the lowest level. The key element of the second phase is a quick estimate distance heuristic for further elimination of locations that are not as near as neighboring locations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)989-1001
Number of pages13
JournalComputers and Geosciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 1992

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Information Systems
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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