Given my occasional forays into surface analysis (and lack of conviction that it's necessarily a good idea for fMRI), I was intrigued by some of the analyses in a recent paper from Dave Langers ("Assessment of tonotopically organised subdivisions in human auditory cortex using volumetric and surface-based cortical alignments").
For task fMRI, the most transparent way to compare different analysis methods seems to use a task that's fairly well defined and anatomically predictable. Motion and primary senses are probably most tractable; for example a task that has blocks of finger-tapping and toe-wiggling should produce very strong signal, and be distinguishable in motor cortex. This gives a basis of comparison: with which method do we see the finger and toe signals most distinctly?
Langers (2014) investigated tonotopic maps in auditory cortex, which map the frequency of heard sounds, using volumetric and surface analysis. While tonotopic maps are not fully understood (see the paper for details!), this is a well-defined question for comparing surface and volumetric analysis of fMRI data: we know where the primary auditory cortex is located, and we know when people were listening to which sounds. He used a Hotelling's T2-related statistic for describing the "tonotopic gradient vectors" which reminds me a bit of cvMANOVA and the LD-t, but I'll just concentrate on the surface vs. volume aspects here.
Figure 2 from the paper, which, gives a flowchart of the procedures for the surface and volume versions of the analysis. He mapped the final volumetric results onto a (group) surface to make it easier to compare the surface and volume results, but the preprocessing and statistics were carried out separately (and it seems to me, reasonably): SPM8 for volumetric, freesurfer for surface. The fMRI voxels were small - just 1.5 x 1.5 . 1.5 mm, which is plausible to support surface analysis.
So, which did better, surface or volume? Well, to quote from the Discussion, "... the activation detected by the surface-based method was stronger than that according to the volumetric method. At the same time, the related statistical confidence levels were more or less the same." The image below is part of Figure 4 from the paper, showing a few of the group-level results (take a look at the full paper). As he observes, "The surface-based results had a noisier appearance than the volumetric ones, in particular for the frequency-related outcomes shown in Figure 4c–e."
So, in this paper, while the surface analysis seemed to result in better anatomic alignments between people, the activation maps were not clearer or more significant. I'd very much like to see more comparisons of this type (particularly with HCP processing, given its unique aspects), to see if this is a common pattern, or something unique to tonotopic maps in auditory cortex and this particular protocol.
Langers, D. (2014). Assessment of tonotopically organised subdivisions in human auditory cortex using volumetric and surface-based cortical alignments Human Brain Mapping, 35 (4), 1544-1561 DOI: 10.1002/hbm.22272