Land cover mapping of large areas using chain classification of neighboring Landsat satellite images


Satellite imagery is the major data source for regional to global land cover maps. However, land cover mapping of large areas with medium-resolution imagery is costly and often constrained by the lack of good training and validation data. Our goal was to overcome these limitations, and to test chain classifications, i.e., the classification of Landsat images based on the information in the overlapping areas of neighboring scenes. The basic idea was to classify one Landsat scene first where good ground truth data is available, and then to classify the neighboring Landsat scene using the land cover classification of the first scene in the overlap area as training data. We tested chain classification for a forest/non-forest classification in the Carpathian Mountains on one horizontal chain of six Landsat scenes, and two vertical chains of two Landsat scenes each. We collected extensive training data from Quickbird imagery for classifying radiometrically uncorrected data with Support Vector Machines (SVMs). The SVMs classified 8 scenes with overall accuracies between 92.1% and 98.9% (average of 96.3%). Accuracy loss when automatically classifying neighboring scenes with chain classification was 1.9% on average. Even a chain of six images resulted only in an accuracy loss of 5.1% for the last image compared to a reference classification from independent training data for the last image. Chain classification thus performed well, but we note that chain classification can only be applied when land cover classes are well represented in the overlap area of neighboring Landsat scenes. As long as this constraint is met though, chain classification is a powerful approach for large area land cover classifications, especially in areas of varying training data availability.

Remote Sensing of Environment, 113(5) 957-964
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab