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Open-File Report 02-470

Evaluation of airborne image data for mapping riparian vegetation within the Grand Canyon

By Philip A. Davis, Matthew I. Staid, Jeffrey B. Plescia, and Jeffrey R. Johnson

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This study examined various types of remote-sensing data that have been acquired during a 12-month period over a portion of the Colorado River corridor to determine the type of data and conditions for data acquisition that provide the optimum classification results for mapping riparian vegetation. Issues related to vegetation mapping included time of year, number and positions of wavelength bands, and spatial resolution for data acquisition to produce accurate vegetation maps versus cost of data. Image data considered in the study consisted of scanned color-infrared (CIR) film, digital CIR, and digital multispectral data, whose resolutions from 11 cm (photographic film) to 100 cm (multispectral), that were acquired during the Spring, Summer, and Fall seasons in 2000 for five long-term monitoring sites containing riparian vegetation. Results show that digitally acquired data produce higher and more consistent classification accuracies for mapping vegetation units than do film products. The highest accuracies were obtained from nine-band multispectral data; however, a four-band subset of these data, that did not include short-wave infrared bands, produced comparable mapping results. The four-band subset consisted of the wavelength bands 0.52-0.59 µm, 0.59-0.62 µm, 0.67-0.72 µm, and 0.73-0.85 µm. Use of only three of these bands that simulate digital CIR sensors produced accuracies for several vegetation units that were 10% lower than those obtained using the full multispectral data set. Classification tests using band ratios produced lower accuracies than those using band reflectance for scanned film data; a result attributed to the relatively poor radiometric fidelity maintained by the film scanning process, whereas calibrated multispectral data produced similar classification accuracies using band reflectance and band ratios. This suggests that the intrinsic band reflectance of the vegetation is more important than inter-band reflectance differences in attaining high mapping accuracies. These results also indicate that radiometrically calibrated sensors that record a wide range of radiance produce superior results and that such sensors should be used for monitoring purposes.

When texture (spatial variance) at near-infrared wavelength is combined with spectral data in classification, accuracy increased most markedly (20-30%) for the highest resolution (11-cm) CIR film data, but decreased in its effect on accuracy in lower-resolution multi-spectral image data; a result observed in previous studies (Franklin and McDermid 1993, Franklin et al. 2000, 2001). While many classification unit accuracies obtained from the 11-cm film CIR band with texture data were in fact higher than those produced using the 100-cm, nine-band multispectral data with texture, the 11-cm film CIR data produced much lower accuracies than the 100-cm multispectral data for the more sparsely populated vegetation units due to saturation of picture elements during the film scanning process in vegetation units with a high proportion of alluvium. Overall classification accuracies obtained from spectral band and texture data range from 36% to 78% for all databases considered, from 57% to 71% for the 11-cm film CIR data, and from 54% to 78% for the 100-cm multispectral data. Classification results obtained from 20-cm film CIR band and texture data, which were produced by applying a Gaussian filter to the 11-cm film CIR data, showed increases in accuracy due to texture that were similar to those observed using the original 11-cm film CIR data. This suggests that data can be collected at the lower resolution and still retain the added power of vegetation texture. Classification accuracies for the riparian vegetation units examined in this study do not appear to be influenced by season of data acquisition, although data acquired under direct sunlight produced higher overall accuracies than data acquired under overcast conditions. The latter observation, in addition to the importance of band reflectance for classification, implies that data should be acquired near summer solstice when sun elevation and reflectance is highest and when shadows cast by steep canyon walls are minimized.

First posted December 12, 2002

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Astrogeology Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
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Flagstaff, Arizona 86001-1600

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Suggested citation:

Davis, Philip A., Staid, Matthew I., Plescia, Jeffrey B., Johnson, Jeffrey R., 2002, Evaluation of airborne image data for mapping riparian vegetation within the Grand Canyon: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 02-470, 65 pp.,

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